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The dangers of pill abuse

Many people believe prescription drugs are harmless and not as bad as illegal street drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. However, the misuse of prescription drugs can lead to a dangerous addiction.

Do you automatically reach for painkillers when you have a headache? While that might not be a problem, if you find yourself taking prescription medication when it isn’t necessary – or using pills in a way that differs from your doctor’s instructions, you might be in danger of abusing prescription drugs.

This can be dangerous – and even fatal– if you take medication in high doses, combine it with other pills, or mix it with alcohol or illegal or recreational drugs.

Prescription drugs that are most commonly abused include painkillers, sedatives and stimulants.

Painkillers

Also known as opioids, these drugs are generally safe when you take them for a short time and in the correct dosage as prescribed by your doctor. However, while opioids help you manage pain, they can also give you a feeling of well-being or euphoria because they affect the reward centres of your brain. When abused, opioids can lead to low blood pressure, sedation, dizziness, weakness, sweating, and more.

Sedatives

Your doctor might prescribe sedatives or tranquillisers if you suffer from anxiety, panic disorder or sleep difficulties. Sedatives work by modifying certain nerve communications, relaxing your body by slowing down brain activity. If you find yourself using someone else’s medication, taking larger doses than directed, or mixing them with other drugs to enhance or counteract their effects, you might have developed a dependency.

Stimulants

These drugs are often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and sometimes obesity. These medications increase attention, alertness, energy, and concentration. If used inappropriately, they can cause dangerously high body temperature, heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures or tremors, hallucinations, aggressiveness, and paranoia.

Prescription drug abuse and addiction are serious medical conditions that require treatment by chemical dependency specialists. Overdosing or sudden withdrawal can mean serious medical complications and an emergency trip to the hospital.

Warning signs that you might be getting addicted to prescription medication include asking for frequent refills from your doctor, ‘losing’ prescriptions and requesting replacements, visiting multiple doctors for similar conditions, forging prescriptions or stealing medication for family, friends or co-workers.

If you suspect you – or someone close to you – might be abusing prescription medication, reach out for professional help from your doctor, clinic or community groups.