The myths surrounding prescription drug addiction

The latest figures reveal that nearly half of all adults in the UK are regularly taking prescription drugs. Although this may be necessary for a number of legitimate health conditions, there are now more than a million people in this country who have become addicted to prescription medicines.

Despite how common this issue is becoming, a lot of mystery still surrounds prescription drug addiction, highlighted below are some of the most common myths associated with prescription medication:

1. It’s safer to be addicted to prescription medication than illegal drugs
Studies consistently reveal that people view prescription drugs as being much safer than the likes of heroin and cocaine. This is hardly surprising as they’re legally approved, doctors are the people who hand write prescriptions to access them and people discuss and take them openly.

However, when misused, these drugs can be just as harmful as the illegal variety. This can be because some people take them with alcohol and drugs, but it’s also because the assumption that they’re ‘safe’ leads people to take them even when they don’t really need them.

For example, if a person was to have an accident and suffer with back pain as a result, they may instinctively take a pain-relief pill every morning when they wake up. Even if the pain is manageable, a habit begins to form. It is easy to develop the mindset that even though the pain isn’t too bad right now, it is best to take a pill to prevent pain from occurring later on in the day.

2. If a friend has prescription medication for the same problem I’m having, it’s fine to take one of their pills
A person should never, ever take a prescription drug unless their doctor has specifically prescribed it for them. Even if the symptoms are similar to someone else’s, it is a high risk thing to do, not just for painkillers but also for antibiotics. If a person takes the wrong antibiotic for an infection, they could actually make it worse.

Other reasons for not offering prescription drugs to a person they weren’t prescribed for include:

  • The possibility of an allergic reaction to the medication
  • The medication could interfere dangerously with other prescription drugs someone is taking

Without receiving the proper care and attention, and a prescription from a doctor it is impossible to know the full effect prescription drugs can have on a person, or whether they are appropriate for that person and their condition.

3. My doctor prescribed it to me so nothing bad can possibly happen
A doctor will only ever prescribe medication they believe is necessary and they will always do so with caution. However, they cannot control what a person does with the drugs once prescribed.

Providing a person follows the instructions they are given, it’s unlikely they will develop an addiction. However, if mixed with alcohol or illegal drugs, or if more than the recommended dose is taken, problems can start to develop. When a person stops following their doctor’s advice, prescription medication becomes unsafe.

4. People wouldn’t be allowed to sell unsafe drugs so it’s fine to buy them online
Whether someone wishes to avoid going to the doctor in the first place, or they have been and were refused prescription medication, the answer is not to turn to the Internet.

People can be dangerously trusting of online strangers, wrongly assuming that people would never sell something dangerous. When buying pills online, a person could be purchasing something as ineffective as sugar, medication that may have expired, or worse, it could contain harmful fillers. There is absolutely no control over quality or efficacy when buying online so, quite simply, it’s not worth the risk.

5. My doctor told me to take the medication so I have to
A good doctor will exhaust all other possibilities before getting their prescription book out. The symptoms of depression, for example, can often be eased through exercise, a healthy diet and psychological therapies.

If a doctor prescribes something a person is uncomfortable with, they do not necessarily have to take it. They can discuss other potential options with their doctor or get a second opinion. It is important for a person to listen to their instincts; they know their mind and body best.

6. I’ll know when I’m addicted to prescription medication because the signs are obvious
Whether it is alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs, people have a pre-conceived idea of what an addict looks and acts like. Addicts can often hide their vices well, and people often don’t recognise they have developed an addiction themselves.

Below are some of the signs exhibited in people with an addiction to prescription painkillers:

  • Constantly thinking about the medication - becoming preoccupied with when the next dose can be taken and if the supply is enough
  • Exceeding the stated dose - the more of something a person takes the more their body grows immune to it; a person finding they need to take higher doses of medication, or take it more frequently than prescribed
  • Wanting to change doctor - a doctor may decide not to prescribe more pills, with good reason. A person could change doctor in an attempt to get a new prescription
  • Using other sources - a person may be desperate and will buy online, use other people’s prescriptions or even steal
  • Remaining on the same pills for a long time - some conditions require long-term medication, others don’t. For example, a broken bone that healed six months ago should no longer require pain relief

If you think that you or someone you know could have an addiction to prescription drugs, please feel free to contact Life Works in the strictest confidence and to get the help and support required.

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