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What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Close-up of 3 prescription pill bottles as a man holds one up to look at it. His face is out of focus in the background.

In recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs has surged, making it a pressing public health concern. The societal impact is immense, with issues ranging from increased healthcare costs to strained relationships. 

Prescription drug abuse occurs when someone uses medication in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor. This could mean taking larger doses, using someone else’s prescription, or consuming the drug for the euphoric effects it can produce. 

The stigma surrounding addiction often prevents people from seeking the help they need, further exacerbating the problem. In exploring the roots and repercussions of prescription drug abuse, it is crucial to consider both the medical and societal aspects to formulate effective measures for prevention and treatment.

Types of Prescription Drugs Abused

Several classes of prescription drugs are commonly abused, each with unique effects and risks. 

Opioids are often misused for their pain-relieving properties and euphoric effects. Central nervous system depressants may be abused for their calming influence. Lastly, stimulants are often used to enhance focus and energy levels. 

The reasons behind the abuse of these drugs vary, including managing stress, seeking pleasure, or enhancing performance. Understanding the types of drugs abused can help in recognizing and addressing this issue effectively.

3 Examples of Prescription Drug Misuse

  1. Opioids for Pain Relief: One of the most common examples of prescription drug misuse involves opioids, which are typically prescribed to manage pain. 

Misuse occurs when people take higher doses than prescribed or use the medication for longer periods than advised. This can lead to a dangerous dependency and increase the risk of overdose.

  1. Stimulants for Cognitive Enhancement: Stimulants like those prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be misused by those seeking to enhance cognitive performance. 

Stimulant misuse might involve taking medication without a prescription, using higher doses, or consuming it to stay awake and alert for extended periods. Stimulant abuse can carry significant health risks, such as heart problems and psychological dependence.

  1. Benzodiazepines for Anxiety Relief: Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Misuse of these medications includes taking them without medical guidance to experience a calming effect or to cope with stress. 

Misuse can lead to tolerance, dependency, and severe withdrawal symptoms if the medication is abruptly discontinued.

Signs & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Recognizing the signs of prescription drug abuse can be the first step toward getting someone the help they need. 

Symptoms may include: 

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Increased secrecy
  • Mood swings
  • Social withdrawal

Physical signs might involve: 

  • Frequent drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unexplained weight loss

Additionally, watch for patterns of doctor shopping or frequent requests for refills. Healthcare professionals, friends, and family members should be vigilant in spotting these signs to intervene early and provide the necessary support.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse

Several factors contribute to the development of prescription drug abuse. These can include genetic predisposition, environmental influences, and psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression. 

Medical Factors

One cause of prescription drug abuse is the over-prescription of medications, where doctors prescribe more drugs than necessary or offer medications that have a high potential for misuse. 

Patients who develop a tolerance to their prescribed medication may start taking higher doses to achieve the same effects, leading to a cycle of dependency and addiction. Additionally, conditions that require long-term pain management, such as chronic pain or severe injuries, often involve the prolonged use of drugs like opioids, increasing the risk of misuse over time. 

Close-up of a doctor's hand holding a pill bottle over a clipboard as a patient's hands rest across from them on a desk.

Societal Factors

Easy access to prescription medications, whether through illegal online pharmacies or through friends and relatives, makes it easier for people to misuse these drugs. 

The societal stigma surrounding mental health and addiction issues often prevents folks from seeking help, leading them to self-medicate and misuse prescription drugs. Economic stressors, such as unemployment and financial instability, can further contribute to the misuse of prescription drugs as individuals turn to these substances to cope with stress and anxiety.

Consequences of Drug Abuse

The consequences of prescription drug abuse are far-reaching, impacting physical health through organ damage or overdose and mental health with increased anxiety, depression, or cognitive decline. 

Relationships often suffer as trust erodes and conflicts arise. Legal issues can also ensue, including arrests for illegal possession or driving under the influence. Understanding these risk factors and consequences underscores the need for proactive measures.

How Can Prescription Drug Abuse Be Prevented?

Preventing prescription drug abuse requires a multifaceted approach. Education is paramount, with awareness programs in schools and communities highlighting the dangers of misuse. Proper medication management by healthcare providers, including careful prescribing and monitoring, is also crucial.

Treatment Options

For those already struggling with addiction, various treatment options are available. These include behavioural therapies, counselling, and medication-assisted treatment to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 

Support networks, such as Calgary Dream Centre, play a vital role in providing a non-judgmental environment for recovery. We offer resources and programs tailored to individual needs, fostering a sense of hope and community.

Find Support at Calgary Dream Centre

Prescription drug abuse is a complex and pervasive issue, but understanding its nuances can lead to effective prevention and treatment. Recognizing the signs, understanding the risk factors, and knowing where to seek help are crucial to combating this crisis. 

If you or someone you know is affected by prescription drug abuse, don’t hesitate to seek help from our team at Calgary Dream Centre. We are here to provide the guidance and support needed to overcome addiction and build a healthier future.

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  • Written by Craig Hill

    Craig Hill has been involved with the Calgary Dream Centre (CDC) since its inception. Starting with trips to the LA Dream Centre where seeds were planted in him that were never forgotten. After years of working in business, real estate, and church ministry, Craig returned to the CDC to step in as the CEO. Craig has a deep appreciation for the life change that happens here, the incredible team, and seeing the redemptive work that God is doing. Outside of work, Craig is a family man who loves nothing more than being with his wife and kids at the lake.

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    The Calgary Dream Centre acknowledges with humble gratitude that our organization is located on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Iyarhe Nakoda Nations, the Otipemisiwak Métis Government of the Métis Nation within Alberta District 6, and all people who make their homes in the Treaty 7 region of Southern Alberta.