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Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction

People become addicted to many different kinds of prescription drugs, and for many different reasons. A prescription drug addiction, like other forms of drug addiction, is characterized by the user’s inability to stop taking the drug (usually evidenced by repeated failed attempts) even though this behavior is clearly having negative effects on their life, by the need to take more and more of the drug to get the same desired result, and by the presence of withdrawal symptoms when the body is denied the drug.

Painkiller Addiction

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, prescription painkillers are the second-most commonly abused drugs in the U.S. (after marijuana). Drug abuse is not necessarily indicative of addiction as described above, but this statistic does point to the prevalence of painkiller problems.

Did You Know?

Physical dependence on a drug also produces withdrawal symptoms when the drug is limited or eliminated, but it is not the same as an addiction. Physical dependence is the body’s natural reaction to some substances over time, and although it can be a precipitating factor in the development of an addiction, not everyone who becomes physically dependent on a drug is also addicted to it.

Although painkillers like tramadol can also lead to addiction (i.e., Ultram addiction), opioid medications, such as hydrocodone (i.e., Vicodin addiction) or oxycodone (i.e., Oxycontin addiction, Percocet addiction) are a particularly significant problem. In addition to reducing pain sensations, opioids produce a sort of euphoric high in the user, an effect that makes them especially addictive, even if the need to use them to treat pain is gone — or, in some cases, was never even present.

Other Kinds of Prescription Drug Addiction

Besides short-term or chronic pain, other conditions are commonly treated with medications that can become addictive; for example, an Ambien addiction can arise from the desire to fight insomnia, or a Xanax addiction can develop from the treatment of anxiety. Feeling, or fearing, that sleep, tranquility or other intended effect is impossible without taking the drug is often part of these types of prescription drug addictions.

Diet pill addiction is another problem with a strong psychological as well as physical component, since the abuse of diet pills or other weight-loss medication can be an indicator of low self-esteem, distorted body image and/or an eating disorder.

Treatment Options for Prescription Drug Addiction

The road to recovery from any drug addiction can be long and difficult, but if you have a prescription medication problem and are ready to embrace the journey, there are both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs available — your doctor can help you choose which is right for you.

Inpatient Therapy. 

Because prescription drug addicts, especially those with an addiction to a substantial amount of painkillers, often experience severe withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification period, and because the occurrence of relapse is high, it is often recommended that treatment begin in a specialized addiction center or, though less commonly, in a detox area of a hospital. Going through detoxification from prescription drugs can include, but is not limited to, such unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as irritability and anxiety; nausea, stomach pain, vomiting and other digestive upset; cold sweats and chills; and, unsurprisingly, an intense desire for the denied substance.

Inpatient rehabilitation enables the medical team overseeing your recovery to closely monitor your symptoms during detox and provides a controlled environment during the subsequent treatment period.

Outpatient Therapy. 

If your withdrawal symptoms are mild and the doctor supervising your addiction treatment deems it appropriate, your recovery may be undertaken on an outpatient basis. Like inpatient care, during detoxification you will still likely have daily appointments at the hospital or addiction center, and regular appointments with your doctor, therapist and other healthcare professionals for an extended period of time afterward — but you will continue to live at home and even largely maintain your regular schedule, such as going to work.

Addiction Counseling

With either an inpatient or outpatient rehab program, after your detox (and sometimes during it, as well), your treatment will include counseling with a psychotherapist or other licensed counselor who specializes in addiction therapy. Recovery from prescription drug addiction is an ongoing process, and in order to maximize your chance of successful long-term recovery, it is vital that you continue to attend your therapy sessions.

Your therapist will work with you to identify internal triggers and external stressors that put you at risk for relapse, and help you to build ways of successfully dealing with those triggers and stressors.

If an underlying mental condition, such as depression, is playing a role in your addiction, they will address that, too.

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