Prescription drugs are widely used to treat all kinds of medical conditions. For those in severe pain, opioids can be a godsend, and for people suffering from panic attacks or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, benzodiazepines tend to help dramatically. Unfortunately, however, both of these drug classes are highly addictive and often abused. Even those with no prior history of substance abuse are at risk of developing an addiction to their legally-prescribed medications. Understanding the dangers of prescription medications and following some simple strategies will substantially reduce the risk of prescription drug addiction.
#1. Heed all instructions
People often make the mistake of assuming that prescription drugs are perfectly safe because they are legally prescribed by physicians. This is a dangerous and incorrect assumption; taking more of a drug than directed, or more often than directed, substantially increases the risk of addiction and could even be fatal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, following all instructions accompanied with prescription drugs greatly reduces the risk of both addiction and accidental overdose.
#2. Assess need
Simply because people can take a given prescription does not mean that they should. When prescribed a medication that is administered on an as-needed basis, people should ask themselves whether their symptoms are severe enough to warrant taking the drug. If experiencing only mild symptoms, it is not a good idea to treat them with prescription drugs whose purpose is the treatment of severe symptoms. For example, people who suffer from chronic back pain should abstain from prescription pain medicine until the pain is severe; taking opioids for minor aches and pains is ill-advised and will result in a more rapid onset of tolerance, which will make the drug less effective and increase the likelihood of addiction.
#3. Get rid of leftover medications
Often, people will have unneeded prescription drugs left over after they have fully recovered from a surgery or injury. These drugs should be immediately discarded for two reasons: It will eliminate any temptation for the patients to take them recreationally, and it will also keep them out of the hands of children and anyone else who may be tempted to try them. Although there are sometimes designated centers for the disposal of old medications, such places are not actually necessary. According to the Food and Drug Administration, old medications can be safely discarded by “mixing them with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter or used coffee grounds,” placing them in a plastic bag or similar container and throwing them in the trash.
#4. Never take drugs prescribed for other people
Many are tempted to share their medications with friends or family members who are experiencing symptoms similar to those for which their medicines were prescribed. This both increases the likelihood of drug addiction in a friend or a loved one and can be extremely dangerous. Individuals tolerate and react to prescription drugs in different ways, and only a licensed physician is qualified to determine an appropriate course of treatment.
#5. Find out if there are safer alternatives
Many medical conditions have more than one treatment, and if it is possible to control the symptoms without the risk of drug addiction, then that is undoubtedly the best option. In the case of the chronic back pain sufferer, for instance, it is possible that an acupuncturist, a chiropractor or some other alternative could alleviate the pain enough to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of prescription drugs needed. People should explore every option when deciding how they wish to treat a medical condition.
#6. Look for environmental factors
It is important also to consider whether some environmental factor might be causing or exacerbating a medical problem. For example, people suffering from panic attacks often claim that exercise greatly reduces the frequency or severity of the attacks, and people suffering from chronic joint pain, especially in the knees, often experience a reduction in pain after shedding a few extra pounds. Eliminating environmental factors that worsen a medical condition will reduce symptoms and, subsequently, the need for prescription drugs, which will reduce the risk of addiction.
Although prescription drug addiction can be treated and cured, the process is often long, arduous and extremely unpleasant. Obviously, it is preferable to avoid it altogether. By adhering to medical advice; only using medication when it is really needed; disposing of old medication; staying away from medication intended for others; exploring safer alternatives; and eliminating contributing environmental factors, people can greatly reduce the risk of developing an addiction to prescription drugs.