Many people associate the term “drug addiction” with illicit drugs, when in fact, some of the most abused drugs of the last few years happen to be prescription medications.
A misconception often associated with prescription drugs is that they pose no major risks, even when taken long-term because they’re considered ‘legal’. However, the last ten years has seen a significant rise in dependence on drugs such as Xanax, Pregabalin and Codeine in the UK.
A 2019 review published by Public Health England assessing drug addiction and dependency, found that prescriptions for addictive medications have increased by 3% over the last five years.
However, this isn’t just a problem for those receiving prescriptions. These types of drugs have become more easily accessible through street dealers and the dark web. The same review by PHE found that over 7% of adults had taken a prescription-only painkiller that wasn’t prescribed to them.
Some of the most regularly abused prescription drugs include:
- Benzodiazepines (prescribed for anxiety)
- Opioids (used to treat chronic pain)
- Gabapentin (used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain) and pregabalin (prescribed for anxiety)
Drugs such as benzos and opioids are meant for short-term use and are known to be ineffective when taken on a long-term basis (over three months). Similarly, benzos are not recommended for use past 28 days. However, the rate at which these drugs are being abused is increasing, with more and more people seeking help after developing an addiction.
The problem with prescribing addictive medication for certain health problems is that many people struggle to function once their prescription has finished or they no longer have access to these pills. As a result, rehab clinics are reporting more patients being admitted for drugs like Xanax, Valium, Codeine and Pregabalin.
What is Xanax?
Xanax (Alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine typically prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It works by depressing the Central Nervous System, producing feelings of calm and relaxation, although many people abuse it for its fast-acting sedating effects. It’s not uncommon for people to use benzos like Xanax and Valium with other drugs such as stimulants or depressants.
Physical and psychological symptoms of benzodiazepine addiction include:
- Slurred speech
- Poor decision making
- Physical weakness
- Impaired judgment
- Breathing difficulties
- Blurred vision
- Lack of coordination
What is Codeine?
The prescribing of strong opioid drugs, such as Codeine, OxyContin and Fentanyl, as long-term solutions for chronic pain, is becoming a major problem in the UK. The use of these drugs for a prolonged period can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Eventually, the drug stops producing the same effects as the body builds up a tolerance to it.
Symptoms of Codeine addiction include:
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Blurred vision
- Dry mouth
- Abdominal cramps
- Low blood pressure
What is Pregabalin?
Pregabalin is part of a group of drugs known as anticonvulsants, which work by slowing down the brain’s impulses to reduce the occurrence of seizures. While anticonvulsants aren’t typically considered when talking about addiction, people are abusing Pregabalin because of the calming feelings it produces, as well as its ability to enhance the effects of other drugs.
Some of the physical and behavioural signs of Pregabalin addiction include:
- Heart palpitations
- Memory loss
- Difficulty speaking
- Loss of coordination
- Financial difficulty
Although prescription medications are technically legal, they are controlled substances, and obtaining them without a prescription is considered illegal. Someone whose prescription has finished or is no longer to get hold of a particular drug, will find other ways of doing so, often putting themselves at risk of violence or prosecution.
Getting help for prescription drug addiction
Addiction is a debilitating illness that can progress rapidly if left untreated. Due to the social stigma attached to addiction, and the misconception that prescription drugs are completely safe, many people attempt to detox unaided. However, a large majority of these medications can produce agonising withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be fatal if not managed by a medical professional. The most effective form of treatment for any drug misuse disorder is a medically supervised detox followed by psychological therapy. If you need help for addiction, or someone you love is suffering, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a rehab clinic Step by Step Recovery. and speak to their recovery workers.
Acting early can significantly reduce the risk of overdose.