What are the Different Types of Prescription Drug Addiction?

wiseGEEK Writer

Prescription drug addiction is classified in different ways, including addiction by medicine type and whether the addiction is legal dependence. Some people are able to obtain legal prescriptions in dishonest ways, and drug dependence is usually regular and medically approved use, where addiction is use in a manner not approved by doctors. In either case, most people who are withdrawing from addictive drugs require support, and should know abrupt cessation of some prescription medicines is potentially dangerous.

Narcotic painkillers are one of the most addictive classes of prescription drugs.
Narcotic painkillers are one of the most addictive classes of prescription drugs.

Many different classes of medication result in prescription drug addiction. The main groups of drugs that cause addiction are pain medicines or opioids, tranquilizers/benzodiazepines, a few barbiturates, and stimulants, which are most often used to treat disorders like attention deficit disorder (ADD). A partial list of some of these medicines follows:

Prescription drug addictions may lead to other addiction issues.
Prescription drug addictions may lead to other addiction issues.

Opioids and Pain Medicines: hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (Oxycontin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and meperidine (Demerol®).
Tranquilizers/Benzodiazepines: alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonipin®), diazepam (Valium®), oxazepam, and lorazepam (Ativan®)
Barbituates: phenobarbital
Stimulants: methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®) dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), and dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Adderall®).

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Patients can become addicted to pain medicine after prolonged usage.
Patients can become addicted to pain medicine after prolonged usage.

There are other medications in different classes that also create addiction. Most times, people develop prescription drug addiction with one of the drugs in the classes above. Sometimes people abuse two classes; for example, they use stimulants to counteract effects of pain medication, barbiturates, or tranquilizers.

Some prescription drug addicts may steal medications from friends and family.
Some prescription drug addicts may steal medications from friends and family.

Some of the features of prescription drug addiction are that people are using a medicine that they do not need. They’re often using it without permission of a physician, or obtaining it from doctors through deceptive means. Going without the addictive medicine leads to withdrawal symptoms, and typically it’s necessary to use increasing amounts of the drug as the body builds tolerance to it.

Using a medicine unnecessarily could be a sign of prescription drug addiction.
Using a medicine unnecessarily could be a sign of prescription drug addiction.

Need to use the drug may supersede safety considerations. Too much Vicodin® or many of the other pain relievers means taking constant overdoses of acetaminophen, which can quickly damage the liver. Using many of the other drugs in higher than normal amounts can be toxic, risking a fatal drug overdose. Moreover, danger can exist when using a cold turkey approaches to quitting some of these medicines. In particular, quitting benzodiazepines abruptly can result in seizures.

A drug addict's need might supercede safety and lead to overdose.
A drug addict's need might supercede safety and lead to overdose.

Prescription drug addiction is compared with drug dependence, a common feature of long-term use of many of these drugs. Many people use these medicines exactly as prescribed and over time their bodies become addicted to them. What is different is that with legal use, doctors can help patients who want to come off of any of these drugs by setting up a tapering program. If a person is not being legally prescribed a medicine, tapering may not be an option.

In order to curb prescription drug abuse, pain sufferers should never lend pills to other people.
In order to curb prescription drug abuse, pain sufferers should never lend pills to other people.

Both those dependent and addicted need medical support to stop use of a prescription drug. This support may be at home only if the person can taper off a medication. Those who are suffering from illegal prescription drug addiction may require hospitalization in order to quit taking a drug, and they are likely to need ongoing drug counseling to remain free of addiction.

Those considered dependent or addicted may need medical help to be taken off the prescription drug.
Those considered dependent or addicted may need medical help to be taken off the prescription drug.
Counseling may be needed for individuals with a prescription drug addiction.
Counseling may be needed for individuals with a prescription drug addiction.
Prescription drug abuse treatment typically involves detox and counseling.
Prescription drug abuse treatment typically involves detox and counseling.

Discussion Comments

bluedolphin

I think that antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications need to be in that list as well. Drug manufacturers claim that these drugs are not addictive but I know from personal experience that they are. I had unbearable addiction withdrawal symptoms for weeks when I quit my anxiety medication.

literally45

@fBoyle-- This is a tricky subject. I agree that doctors need to be careful but sometimes this doesn't work in the favor of patients. I suffer from chronic pain and my doctor refuses to prescribe me medication saying it's addictive. Where do we draw the line and how do we know who really needs these medications?

If you think about, almost every medication can cause an addiction. I've even heard of people addicted to nasal sprays. If the idea is to prevent drug abuse, then nasal spray and cough medicine shouldn't be sold either.

I think it's very difficult to prevent everyone from abusing prescription drugs. If they want to abuse it, they'll find a way to do it. Patients who truly are in need of a medication should not be ignored because some people abuse this right.

fBoyle

Some people do acquire prescription drugs like pain killers and stimulants illegally when they don't need them and become addicted. But it also happens that a patient is prescribed a medication and then becomes addicted to it.

I have a friend who had a serious surgery last year and suffered from chronic pain afterward. His doctor prescribed him strong pain killers to take for about a month. His pain was actually getting less and less, but he didn't want to quit the medication because he said he felt good on them. So he started lying to his doctor to get more medication. After two months, his doctor suspected that he has an opiate addiction and stopped prescribing them. So naturally, my friend had to overcome his addiction.

The weird part is that he has no history of drug addictions. I think this kind of dependency on drugs and abuse of drugs can happen to anyone who is given medications for legitimate reasons. It's important for doctors to be very careful about prescribing addictive drugs.

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