Dec 03, 2019
Medications have many benefits but unfortunately some can be highly addictive.
The words ‘addiction’ or ‘dependency’ invokes all sorts of imagery, some accurate and some not so much. One that may not appear as frequently is an addiction to legal prescription medication with the person affected being a normal, well-functioning member of society who started down this path is the most legal of ways – with a prescription from their doctor.
This is a condition that can take hold of white collar professionals, tradespersons, stay-at-home parents, retirees, young people, and those who are embarrassed that they ‘should know better’. This is where a large part of the problem occurs: it does not discriminate. And it certainly doesn’t mean the person affected is weak or lacking willpower. Many people are not aware of how addictive certain medications can be; it may take just weeks or even days.
What prescription medications are addictive?
Only some medications have the ability to be addictive, because of their particular properties. These are painkillers including those that are opiate-based (codeine-based), as well as sleeping tablets, ADHD medications like dexamphetamine, and benzodiazepines which are often used to treat anxiety.
Signs of addiction
Addiction can present in two ways. It may be physical – for example, people realise they’ve run out of their script and they notice withdrawal symptoms, while others may become psychologically addicted. The latter happens when someone starts to overuse their prescription during times of stress or if they think it’s not working anymore. For example, they may not be sleeping as well, so they’ll take one or two extra tablets. In fact, the medication appears to not be as effective because their tolerance to the drug has increased.
Unlike alcohol addiction, prescription drug dependence can be concealed for quite some time. However, there are some signs that you or a loved one may be affected by medicine misuse:
- Taking higher than prescribed doses of the medication
- Falling ill more often. But it’s not illness – it’s withdrawal. People may experience flu-like symptoms such as aches, pains, headaches, nausea or generally feeling ‘under the weather’
- Irritability and mood swings
- Changing in work habits. This may be struggling to get up for work, missing deadlines, not being as productive as usual, or disorganisation
- A change in habits such as sleep. For example, over sleeping or struggling to sleep
- Taking less of an interest in their personal appearance
- Weight loss
- Changes to exercise routines
- Loss of relationships or making less of an effort with friends and family
- Seeing a GP more often or ‘doctor shopping’
Breaking down the myths
- Addiction can affect anyone
- There does not need to be a personal trauma or recent stressful or negative events to trigger addiction
- People think their intake is acceptable so long as isn’t in extremely high doses
- It is not a conscious choice. Addiction has everything to do with the brain and how it reacts with the medication.
What is the next step? Getting help
Make the brave decision to talk to your GP or whomever you feel comfortable with. Admitting you may have a problem, or you may be struggling without medication is the first step to getting better.
Do not, under any circumstances, wean or cease medication on your own. This is particularly important in the case of benzodiazepines. Quitting abruptly is dangerous and could lead to seizures and even death.
The Hollywood Clinic is a supportive and non-judgemental place to seek assistance from prescription medication dependency. It cannot be stressed enough that addiction is not reflection on who you are, and this is a problem that can be overcome. A referral from your GP is needed to enrol in The Hollywood Clinic’s drug and alcohol program.
For more information, visit the Hollywood Clinic or contact us on 08 9346 6801.
You can also find out more about our Alcohol and Substance Use Program or download our brochure.