Safe Prescription Drug Use | Avoiding Addiction


Doctor explaining medication to military patient

Understanding the Risks

Not everybody who fills a prescription for an opioid will turn into addicted. But a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine means that roughly eight % of these given prescription painkillers will find yourself with a identified “opioid use disorder” and as much as 1 / 4 will have interaction in behaviors that recommend a substance abuse drawback.

Physical dependence on opioids can happen in as little as eight weeks. And dependence on benzodiazepines and hypnotic sleep medicines like Ambien can happen inside three to 4 weeks of standard use, in response to research.

That’s why many physicians will prescribe the bottom dose wanted for as quick a time as attainable.

But Dr. Chris Johnson, an emergency room doctor who has labored on the entrance strains of the opioid epidemic, instructed Drugwatch that “there is no ‘risk-free’ dose of opioids,” and the danger of dependence and habit escalates the longer you’re taking them.

Did You Know?

One-third of sufferers taking prescription opioids for eight weeks developed an habit or bodily dependence on the medicine.

Source: 2016 survey carried out by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation

Dependence and Withdrawal

Tolerance is a physiological change that happens while you repeatedly use a drug. Tolerance is normally characterised by needing to take increased ranges of a drug to get the identical impact. Drug dependence usually follows.

When you’re depending on a drug, your physique wants it to be able to operate usually, and you could really feel sick and undergo withdrawal signs if you happen to don’t take it. Dependence develops as a result of the drug causes modifications to your mind’s neurochemistry.

Dependence could also be arduous to determine at first, and the indicators of bother could seem counterintuitive.

With opioids, as an example, withdrawal might first manifest as a rise in ache, and a affected person with power ache might interpret this as a “flare up” of their situation, in response to Johnson.

But in case your ache degree has elevated, that’s usually the primary warning signal that you simply’re depending on the medicine. Withdrawal signs usually observe, however sufferers shouldn’t await extreme signs to manifest to suspect they’re turning into depending on a drug.


Common drug withdrawal symptom infographics

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You ought to speak to your physician as quickly as you observed you’re exhibiting indicators of dependence or experiencing withdrawal signs. He or she might be able to create a tapering schedule so that you can steadily scale back your dose and reduce withdrawal.

Depending on the drug you’re taking and the way lengthy you’ve been taking it, frequent drug withdrawal signs will differ:

Prescription painkillers (akin to Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin)
While opioid withdrawal feels depressing, it’s not normally life-threatening. Common withdrawal signs might embrace: nervousness, muscle groups aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, goosebumps, sweating, agitation, abdomen cramps, dilated pupils, runny nostril and watery eyes.

Benzodiazepine sedatives (akin to Xanax, Valium, Ativan)
Common signs of benzodiazepine withdrawal might embrace: a return of hysteria, sleep problem, panic assaults, tremors, sweating, bother concentrating, nausea, dry heaves, weight reduction, palpitations, complications, muscle pressure and spasms, seizures and different issues. Some folks develop a protracted withdrawal syndrome that may drag on for months or years.

Hypnotic sleeping tablets (akin to Ambien)
Patients struggling Ambien withdrawal might expertise a return of insomnia, uneasiness, belly and muscle cramps, vomiting, sweating, tremors and convulsions.

Physical dependence can happen with the power use of many medication, even if you happen to take your medicine precisely as directed. Dependence shouldn’t be the identical as habit, though habit might accompany or observe dependence.

Safety Tip

Physical dependence on opioids, benzodiazepines and different medicines can occur in a matter of weeks. For this motive, medical doctors normally advocate utilizing such medication for as temporary a time as is critical.

A Closer Look at Benzodiazepine Dependence

Benzodiazepine dependence doesn’t get almost the eye that opioid dependence does, however the issue is critical.

A 2017 article in The New England Journal of Medicine discovered that benzodiazepine dependence occurred in roughly one half of sufferers who took the sedatives for greater than a month. Those who’ve skilled it say it may possibly occur much more rapidly.

Dr. Christy Huff, a heart specialist and co-director of the Benzodiazepine Information Coalition, instructed Drugwatch that her physician gave her a prescription for a low dose of Xanax (zero.25 mg) in 2015 when she was affected by insomnia and nervousness associated to an excruciating bout of dry eye syndrome.

“I was warned about addiction. I don’t have a history of abuse or an addictive personality, so I thought as long as I was following my doctor’s instructions, I was safe,” Huff mentioned in a cellphone interview. “What I didn’t realize is dependence is different and can develop quickly — in the matter of a week.”

After about three weeks of taking the drug to sleep at night time, Huff developed a tremor and worsening nervousness. The signs had been so insufferable that she quickly started taking a second dose of Xanax in the course of the day for reduction.

When she instructed her physician what was occurring, her physician put her by way of a battery of medical exams that turned up nothing.

“Nobody ever said the medication could be causing your problem,” she recalled.

“I don’t have a history of abuse or an addictive personality, so I thought as long as I was following my doctor’s instructions, I was safe. What I didn’t realize is dependence is different and can develop quickly — in the matter of a week.”

In reality, Huff had developed a bodily dependence on alprazolam and was affected by what’s often known as “interdose withdrawal.” The phenomenon, which causes withdrawal signs in between doses, is frequent with short-acting benzodiazepines akin to Xanax.

Like many who find yourself depending on benzodiazepines, Huff developed an array of excruciating withdrawal signs. Hers included profound fatigue, cognitive issues, mind fog, muscle spasms, muscle weak point, abdomen upset, and sensitivity to gentle and sound.

To ease her agony, her physician switched her to Valium, a longer-acting benzodiazepine, and commenced an extended, sluggish taper. In the tip, it took her three years and three months to taper off of benzos fully and now, she mentioned, she is engaged on rebuilding her well being.

She additionally works with the Benzodiazepine Information Coalition to teach others in regards to the risks of benzodiazepine use and supply assets for many who are dependent.

Addiction and Overdose

Addiction is one other danger related to opioids, benzodiazepines, sleeping tablets and different varieties of mind-altering medication.

Addiction is completely different than bodily dependence and fewer frequent, Johnson mentioned, as a result of it includes not simply having withdrawal signs, however an incapability to cease utilizing the drug regardless of its adversarial results in your well being and life.

An individual who’s hooked on a drug will normally expertise intense cravings and compulsively use the drug. The person might spend quite a lot of time excited about the substance and determining methods to acquire it.

With prescription drug habit, folks might try to get hold of extra tablets than they want or refill their prescriptions early. They might also attempt to get hold of the identical prescription from a number of practitioners, a phenomenon often known as “doctor shopping.”

Misusing Prescriptions

An estimated 18 million folks — 6 % of the inhabitants over the age of 12 — misused a prescription medicine in 2017.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse

And as soon as habit happens, “things get ugly, even with treatment,” Johnson mentioned. He pointed to a 2017 research within the Journal of Addiction Medicine that confirmed that even when getting therapy at a medical clinic, the fatality price for folks with an opiate use dysfunction is extraordinarily excessive.

One in 5 who sought medical therapy for habit died inside 10 years. The danger of dying from a drug overdose is particularly excessive proper after therapy. That’s as a result of an individual’s tolerance drops rapidly after any type of extended interval of drug abstinence, and in the event that they return to their prior degree of drug use, their physique gained’t have the ability to deal with it.

Knowing the indicators of an overdose is essential.

The indicators and signs of an opioid overdose might embrace:

  • Excessive drowsiness or sedation
  • Confusion or altered psychological standing
  • Cool or clammy pores and skin
  • Slow or stopped respiration
  • Low blood stress
  • Sluggish reflexes
  • A weak or fast pulse
  • Pale face
  • Bluish lips or fingers (darker-skinned folks might seem grey or ashen)
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

The indicators and signs of benzodiazepine overdose might embrace:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Confusion or altered psychological standing
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Trouble respiration
  • Low blood stress
  • Muscle weak point
  • Slurred speech
  • Hallucinations

The indicators and signs of an Ambien (zolpidem) overdose might embrace:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Trouble respiration
  • Coma

Mixing medicines can enhance the danger of an overdose. More than a 3rd of deadly opioid overdoses happen when folks use opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines collectively. Both varieties of medication suppress respiration, and people results are drastically multiplied when utilized in mixture, making a deadly drug cocktail.

If somebody is grappling with an habit to opioids, it’s sensible to have an antidote available. Naloxone, often known as Narcan, can reverse an opioid overdose if it’s given in time. It is available in a number of varieties, together with a nasal spray and an injection. Emergency responders normally carry naloxone with them, so if you happen to or a cherished one is overdosing, name 911 instantly.

Safety Tip

If you or a cherished one take prescription painkillers, print out the Opioid Overdose Resuscitation Card. Follow the directions on the cardboard within the occasion of an overdose and ask your physician whether or not you need to hold naloxone available.



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