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Tennessee Prescription Drug Addiction


In more recent years, medications have become more commonly prescribed, and as a result many people have the mistaken belief that prescription drugs are harmless. Unfortunately, this is untrue because many prescription drugs can be just as addictive as illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. In fact, some prescription drugs are closely related to these street drugs. A report done by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recently showed that Tennessee prescription drug addiction is widespread, and the state is equal with Alabama in having the highest number of painkiller prescriptions written in the nation, at 143 per 100 people.

The most recent Tennessee Drug Control Update released by the White House shows that those requesting admission for Tennessee prescription drug addiction were mostly seeking help for opiate painkiller addiction. Across the country, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing problem, but there are hopeful signs. In 2012 Tennessee began to require that medical professionals check the state prescription drug-monitoring program before prescribing opiate painkillers, and as a result of this, “doctor shopping” in the state dropped by 36% in 2013.

How Addiction Develops

Addiction to prescription medications and other drugs usually begins with habitual or regular use. These drugs affect the chemical neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the regions of the brain known as the pain and pleasure centers, where they block pain and produce a sense of euphoria, which can be addictive.

Over time the brain adapts to the presence of the drug and compensates by changing the brain chemistry. When this happens the person only feels “normal” when the drug is present in their system. If they stop taking the drug, the brain cannot immediately compensate and return to normal, and this will result in the appearance of withdrawal symptoms that can be so distressing that returning to drug use will seem to be the best option.

Short and Long Term Effects of Addiction

Short-term effects of prescription medication abuse and addiction depend on the specific drug, but often include nausea, constipation, confusion, difficulty concentrating, and lethargy. Opiates can produce low blood pressure and slow breathing, while stimulants can increase the body temperature to dangerously high levels and produce heart irregularities. They can also produce seizures, hostility, and paranoia.

All addictive prescription drugs can cause a tolerance to develop over time, requiring more of the drug to be taken in order to achieve the same effects as before. The need for ever-increasing dosages of the drug can lead to further abuse, such as obtaining prescriptions from multiple doctors, lying about losing prescriptions, forging prescriptions, or even stealing drugs. In some cases, illegal drugs can be cheaper than the prescription medicines, and therefore a progression to heroin, for example, often occurs among those addicted to opioid painkillers. The CDC report shows that around 75% of heroin users became addicted to prescription painkillers first.

Another effect of addiction is the appearance of withdrawal symptoms when attempts are made to cut down or stop taking the drug. These can include extreme cravings, tremors, and sleep disturbances. Opiate withdrawal can slow the breathing to a level dangerous enough to result in unconsciousness and brain damage. Sedative withdrawal can produce heart failure, seizures, and profuse sweating. Withdrawal from stimulants can also produce these similar symptoms.

Opiate Addiction

Opiate addiction often begins with the prescription of painkillers, since many of these drugs are opioids, which are narcotics related to heroin. Opioids include natural opiates like morphine and codeine, along with synthetic drugs that act like opiates or are derived from them. The most common opioid prescription painkillers are oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.

Addiction to Sedatives

Sedatives or tranquillizers are prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, and a variety of sleep disorders. The addictive sedative drugs are benzodiazepines and include alprazolam, diazepam, and chlordiazepoxide. They are often over-prescribed but are extremely addictive and can be especially dangerous if alcohol is consumed while taking them.

Stimulant Addiction

Stimulants are prescribed for conditions such as narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sometimes depression. Some of the most common prescription stimulants are methylphenidate (Ritalin) and Adderall (a mixture of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine). These drugs can also produce a sense of euphoria, which some people find addictive, but they are also sometimes abused because of a perception that they can improve academic achievements.

Treatment Options

The severity of the withdrawal symptoms means it can be extremely dangerous to attempt to stop taking prescription medications without medical supervision. Withdrawal and detoxification are therefore usually carried out in a dedicated detoxification detox facility or a rehab. During detox the drug is gradually withdrawn and the patient is treated for any distressing withdrawal symptoms that appear. Drugs are also given to reduce the cravings and to treat any associated or underlying mental health issues.

After detoxification, a long period of therapy is usually required, normally on an inpatient basis in rehab to ensure that a relapse does not occur. Therapies often include individual counseling, group and/or family counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, and alternative therapies such as restorative yoga and meditation. In many cases, addiction is associated with mental health issues such as depression, paranoia, post-traumatic stress, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. These disorders are also identified and treated during the therapy period.

Recovery and relapse prevention education programs and membership of support groups such as SMART Recovery or a 12-step program usually follows the intensive period of therapy. SMART Recovery meetings are applicable to all kinds of addictions including prescription drug addiction. Meetings are held in several locations in Tennessee including Johnson City, Memphis, Murfreesboro, and Nashville. Twelve step meetings for prescription drug addiction are held in Jackson, Nashville, and Memphis.

Prescription drug addiction is as serious as any other type of drug addiction and can have disastrous consequences to the life of an addict and the people around them. It is a treatable condition and help is available in many locations in Tennessee. Addictions are progressive and always tend to get worse if left untreated. Therefore, it is always best to seek treatment as soon as you realize you have a serious problem. Pick up the phone and speak to an addiction special when you are serious about your sobriety.