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Side Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

There is a severe risk of addiction or misuse associated with prescription drugs. It must be said that most individuals who are prescribed a medication follow the directions of the physician, use the medication as directed, and stop the medication at the appropriate time.

However, some people, discover that the prescription medication they were prescribed causes them to experience ‘really pleasant’ feelings that they do not want to give up. These individuals may find that they crave the effects of the prescription drug and begin to use it in a manner in which it was not prescribed. This is called prescription drug abuse. The most common prescription drugs of abuse include opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety agents, sedatives, as well as stimulants.

Whatever it is, taking prescription drugs can be habit forming and therefore must not be shared with anyone to whom it has not been prescribed. Up to this point, researchers have been unable to determine an exact reason for the development of prescription addiction.

According to Kristen Howard, Pharm D, side effects of prescription drugs can happen at any time. They can occur when the prescription drug is first taken, with changes in dosage, or if the medicine is stopped suddenly or too soon. In addition, if prescription drugs are ‘mixed’ with over-the-counter drugs, interactions among the medicines may cause side effects as well.

Here are the factors that contribute to side effects arising from prescription drug abuse:

Genetic: Individuals with a close (or immediate) relative struggles with addiction to prescription drugs or other substances are at a higher risk for developing an addiction later in their lives.

Biological: Individuals who become addicted to prescription drugs are often prescribed medication for pain disorders and become addicted to the ‘pleasant’ side effects.

Environmental: Children who grow up in dysfunctional households where they are surrounded by family members dealing with addiction may be at greater risk for developing an addiction later in life. Additionally, individuals abused drugs when they were young run the risk of developing addiction later in life.

Psychological: Many individuals who struggle with untreated mental illnesses attempt to manage the addiction by “self-medication” with drugs or alcohol. This can lead to addiction.

Side Effects of Prescription Drugs

If prescription medicine are taken for a prolonged period of time, prescription drug addiction can lead to devastating consequences in every aspect of an individual’s life. Each prescription drug has different side effects; some have many of the same side effects while others affect abusers differently. Individuals who abuse prescription drugs have a tendency to ‘mix and match’ their medication with other prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol. This leads to more side effects and the risk of overdose is very high. It must be noted that some individuals may exhibit just one or two of these signs though it does not mean that they are not abusing.

Some of the side effects of prescription drug abuse include the following:

  • Mood Swings - Drastic mood swings are one of the most obvious side effects of prescription drug abuse. One moment, the user could be very calm and relaxed and quite soon after, they appear very irritable. Over the longer term, their mood swings may occur closer and closer apart. This can be because they are developing a tolerance to the prescription and need a higher dose in order to get the same feeling.
  • Erratic Behavior - An individual abusing prescription drugs may develop erratic behavior as the drug dependency develops.
  • Feeling ‘Stoned’ - The person abusing prescription drugs may appear to be slow at performing work -related tasks or even household chores. The person may appear to be ‘stoned’ and numb to what is going on around him or her.
  • Confusion - Confusion is a side effect because prescription drugs affect the brain. This can happen even with short term use of prescription drugs. As the user becomes more frequent, the confusion may seem to get worse.
  • Too Much or Too Little Sleep - How a person’s sleep is affected will depend on which prescription drug is being taken. Some may cause the user to sleep for a longer amount of time, while others may cause bouts of insomnia. The individual may find this side effect irritating and may resort to other drugs to counteract the insomnia.
  • Anxiety - Anxiety is a very common side effect of prescription drug abuse. Anxiety will cause the user to seem uneasy, nervous, and worried. People who suffer from severe anxiety will seem to be anxious almost all of the time.
  • Hyperactive - Prescription drugs, especially stimulants, may cause the user to be extremely hyperactive. An individual may seem unable to sit still even for short periods of time.
  • Hygiene and Appearance - When a person begins to abuse prescription drugs, they may begin to be indifferent about their physical appearance and hygiene. In some users their clothing style may dramatically change: they may go from being well-dressed to very sloppy.
  • Suicidal Tendencies - Even with monitored use, an unfortunate side effect of prescription drug abuse is that the individual feels alone and vulnerable especially if they stop taking certain prescriptions abruptly.
  • Overdose - Overdose is perhaps, one of the most common side effects of prescription drug abuse. Abusers sometimes ‘mix and match’ prescriptions together. Furthermore, a person may have built up a tolerance to the drug, so to get the same desired effect, they take more or a higher dose of it. This can sometimes prove to be disastrous, even fatal.
  • Addiction - Addiction is most likely the most common side effect of prescription drug abuse. Most prescriptions, especially the ones that make up the three classes -- opioids, anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives as well as central nervous system (CNS) depressants -- are very addictive. Once on this path, it is very difficult to stop using. Users who try to do it on their own may experience painful prescription drug withdrawal and will most likely need to go to a detox center and then to rehab to break free from the addiction.
  • Prescription painkillers such as OxyContin – which contain oxycodone, and those containing hydrocodone (Norco) are used to manage chronic pain and may be abused in order to obtain the high caused by these drugs.

    Opioids increase the risk of serious adverse reactions. These include respiratory depression, apnoea (the cessation of breathing), respiratory arrest, circulatory depression, hypotension (high blood pressure) or shock.

    For example, the most common side effects reported in >5% of patients in clinical trials that compared Oxycontin with a placebo included: Nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry mouth, headache and sweating (among others).

    In addition, the following adverse reactions were reported in patients treated with Oxycontin with an incidence between 1% and 5% included gastrointestinal disorders that consisted of pain, ulcers, loose stools and gastritis. Further symptoms observed included chills, fever and metabolism and nutritional disorders including the disease anorexia nervosa. Twitching and connective tissue disorders as well as psychic disorders like anxiety, abnormal dreams, and insomnia and general nervousness were also reported.

    Other patients reported having excessive hiccups, rashes and postural hypotension – low blood pressure. Other side effects occurred in less than 1% of participants of the clinical trials – these included blood and lymphatic problems and tinnitus (persisted noise in the inner ear). Abnormal or blurred vision was also flagged as a problem as was dysphagia – a difficulty in swallowing, brought on by abnormal or problematic muscle and nerve control. This condition can comprise a patient’s ability to eat and drink and can, if untreated lead to aspiration pneumonia – flatulence was also reported as was the increase in some patient’s appetites.

    Anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives such as benzodiazepines and hypnotics such as Ambien are used to manage anxiety and promote sleep. These medications can also induce feelings of pleasure in the user, leading to abuse and addiction.

    More generally, disorders included withdrawal syndrome – some of which included seizures, oedema, thirst, tiredness and a general feeling of being unwell, along with chest pain and facial swelling brought on by water retention. Several central nervous system (CNS) disorders include tremors, speech disorders, vertigo and migraines as well as changes to senses including taste.

    Psychiatric Side Effects

    A variety of psychiatric side effects have been reported, including depression, agitation, using drugs just to ‘get through the day’ and hallucinations. Further, renal and urinary disorders such as retention, polyuria and dysuria have been observed.

    Increasing the Dosage

    Some patients may experience breakthrough pain episodes, which will likely result in an increase in dosage of an opioid or indeed they may require a fast-acting rescue medication to get their symptoms back under control. Doctors are advised to get to the source of the pain quickly – especially once the dose has been stabilized - before resorting to increasing the opioid dosage.

    With an opioid such as Oxycontin, because steady-state plasma concentrations are approximated in one day, the dosage can be adjusted every one to two days. If any related side effects are noted, then any further doses of Oxycontin should be reduced. It is important for the medical practitioner to reduce the dose and adjust it to balance the management of pain and keep side effects in check.

    However, if an individual is on CNS depressants and the decision has been made to prescribe Oxycontin, the patient should be given a third or a half of the recommended daily starting dose. The practitioner needs to monitor the patient for signs of respiratory depression, sedation and high blood pressure. Similarly, for older – geriatric patients – who are in poor health and are not opioid tolerant, the recommended starting dose is also a third to a half of the usual dose. This can and must be monitored and adjusted accordingly.

    Indeed, patients that have a pre-existing blood disorder must also be treated cautiously. Here again, practitioners are advised to start dosing patients at a third to a half of the recommended daily starting dose – the healthcare team then needs to communicate any observations and adjust the dose as appropriate.

    Once treatment of any patient on Oxycontin is deemed no longer necessary, their daily dose needs to be slowly adjusted downwards to ease them off the drug and prevent the unpleasant side effects that quick withdrawal can spark. Further, patients need to be closely monitored to ensure they are not addicted to the drug. Sudden discontinuation of a prescription opioid such as Oxycontin is not advised.

    Negative side effects of prescription drug abuse include:

    • Incarceration
    • Divorce
    • Hyper or hypotension
    • Respiratory depression
    • Consequences of risky behavior
    • Dangerously high fever
    • Deteriorating interpersonal relationships
    • Liver damage
    • Brain damage
    • Kidney damage
    • Circulatory system irregularities
    • Overdose
    • Coma
    • Death

    Other negative effects include problems with personal relationships, employment difficulties or job loss, financial difficulties, legal issues, and psychological problems.

    Signs to Look For

    Along with the side effects of prescription drug abuse, anyone suspecting an individual of abuse should look for.

    • Looking for different doctor so as to procure prescriptions
    • Going to multiple pharmacies
    • Forged prescriptions
    • Illegal online pharmaceutical purchases
    • Theft and burglary (from hospitals, residences, pharmacies)
    • Obtaining prescriptions from family and friends
    • Trying to get a physician to keep prescribing the drug

    Actions to Manage Side Effects

    Individuals who are on prescription drugs should know what to do to manage a side effect from the start: which side effects are safe to ‘self treat’ and when to contact a physician.

    • Take all medicines as prescribed
    • Take any medicine with food or milk. Check with the doctor first to be sure that the medication can be taken this way. Drink lots of water and avoid spicy and heavy meals.
    • Make a record of the side effects and talk about them with the doctor on your next visit.
    • Check with your doctor about using over-the-counter medications. Do not mix and match medications.
    • Diarrhea – Avoid caffeine, highly acidic foods and beverages, foods high in fiber, and spicy foods. Check with your physician about using over-the-counter medications.
    • Drink lots of fluids, especially water. Eat foods high in fiber such as fruits and vegetables. Exercise.
    • Dry mouth – drink water. Suck on ice chips or sour candy to promote more saliva. If you lack energy or are fatigued, do your best to eat a balanced diet, get plenty of exercise, and sleep at least 7 hours a night.
    • Medications that cause dizziness, for example, can increase risk of death or serious injury from falling. Talk to the physician about alternative medications.

    Professional help for prescription drug abuse can help prevent an overdose, as well as help individuals to start on the road to clean and sober living.

    Treatment Options Available

    Help is at hand. There are options to managing side effects from prescription drug abuse. Addiction can be treated but requires the patient to undergo a supervised medical detox in a rehabilitation center supported by trained professionals and possibly medical alternatives to the opioids they are trying to come out of. This then, pushes the patient into the recovery process – something that confirmed addicts are always believed to be in, even if they are clean and no longer using. Addiction treatment would also need to include professional counselling, to understand why someone began using drugs in the first place and learn healthier coping mechanisms to avoid future drug use.

    Call Peaks Recovery today to find the right treatment for you.