An addiction to prescription drugs can hit you out of the blue because prescription medication can be just as addictive as any other. Jagruti Verma & Pearl Mathias tell you more
It’s easy (and convenient) to self diagnose and self medicate. After all, it’s just a seasonal cold and fever, and we know what can help cure it, just as well as any doctor does, right? However, you’d be wrong for this seemingly innocuous logic! Self medicating can be dangerous, because there are so many things you need to know, and only a good doctor can decide when a particular medicine should be used. Whether it is stressed-out students looking to calm their nerves before an exam, a homemaker who wants an easy remedy for that persistent backache or an ambitious go-getter trying to stay on the edge of competitiveness, prescription drug abuse has become a cause for concern. Although we think that popping a pill or two for immediate relief has never harmed anyone, it can lead to prescription drug abuse — the use of prescription medication in a way not intended by a doctor. Sounds familiar? Well, there’s a very fine line, and before you realise it, you may have already crossed it. Read on to know whether you’re heading there and what to do if you’re caught in the loop.
How it creeps up on you
Dr. Anil Ballani, consultant physician at Lilavati Hospital, tells us that prescription drug addiction manifests as a compulsive drive to use a drug over a prolonged period of time and in ever increasing doses. “It is a craving initiated by the brain. Drug addiction happens with prescription drugs as people consume these medicines for longer than prescribed because of the feel-good factor,” Dr. Anil says. Dr. Nazneen Ladak, psychiatrist at Axis Hospital, adds, “Drug addiction of this kind happens when you continue to take a certain medication over a long period of time.”
Usually, medicines are prescribed for conditions such as pain and sleep disorders, and people continue using them despite attaining relief from the condition. “In our country, another reason for getting addicted is the easy availability of drugs at the chemist, even with expired prescriptions (called over the counter dosing),” says Dr. Era Dutta, consultant psychiatrist at S.L. Raheja, Fortis. She explains that any kind of addiction is triggered due to bio-psycho-social reasons. Biologically, some people are wired to get addicted easily (when neurotransmitters such as dopamine are involved).
Psychologically, people get addicted to feeling good, to ending the suffering from an illness or to straightening out psychological issues. But, this addiction can also start socially due to the influence of our society and surroundings.
The signs of addiction
People who are addicted to prescription medication (like with any other addiction) often start to feel jittery and restless, develop tremors and experience mood swings when they’re unable to get the medicines they are addicted to. And, this can spiral out of control as you need more to give you the same feeling. “If there is a significant increase in the dose that you consume (for example, from three to eight or even ten tablets in a day) you should understand that it is an intense craving that must be curbed,” Dr. Anil tells us. “Sometimes, when people don’t get the drugs that they are addicted to, they tend to hallucinate. Other major risks are respiratory problems and internal bleeding due to overdose. Something as simple as a cough medicine can lead to tremors, lack of sleep and agitation,” adds Dr. Nazneen.
Dr. Era tells us a few things you should look out for:
- As a family member, you should notice changes in the personality of the concerned person, whether there is a social withdrawal or if the person is neglecting their responsibilities. Most importantly, you should pay close attention if they are fixated on procuring the same prescription drug.
- As a doctor, you should check if there are recurring demands for the same drug by the patient or if there is hostile or defensive behaviour when confronted.
- As a person who takes prescription or over-the-counter medication, you should keep a check on whether you are getting increasingly dependent on a drug to feel relieved.
Treat it right
Dr. Era tells us that recovery is a slow and steady process. She says, “Timely intervention by family members and friends helps to open up a channel of communication. When followed by counselling sessions, it can help slow down or ease withdrawal symptoms. Supportive medication can also help a lot. It can either be done on an outpatient or inpatient basis in rehabilitation centres.” It is important to re-structure your lifestyle and learning skills to cope with addiction.
Getting addicted to a drug is more of a mental feeling than physical dependence. It is also known as psychological addiction. Dr. Era tells us that you shouldn’t just be wary of the drugs that you consider medicine, but anything that makes you feel nice — which means it is even possible to get addicted to candy! Dr. Anil gives us a list of commonly misused drugs and what they can lead to:
- Pain killers: can lead to stomach ulcers, bleeding or blood dyscrasia.
- Cough syrups containing codeine: can give you the feeling of a high, but lull your senses.
- Sedatives: can cause memory defects and disturbance in the way you walk over time.
Who is at risk?
Everyone! We don’t mean to scare you, but it’s true. However, it also depends on the circumstances and the drugs involved. Dr. Era tells us, “People with poor coping skills and lack of proper family support, as well as those who suffer from chronic conditions, are at a higher risk of getting addicted to prescription medication.” She adds that innocent sleeping pills are often abused by shift workers and people who are already dependent on alcohol while other drugs, and that those suffering from chronic pain often seek refuge in pain medication. Dr. Anil tells us that youngsters looking for a high tend to mix sedatives, pain killers, tranquilisers or sleeping pills with alcohol, as these help them feel relaxed. “Even the elderly population tends to misuse pain killers to comfort and sleeping pills to relax their mind,” Dr. Anil says.