Prescription Drug Addiction – Getting Help

Can prescriptions be renewed over a long period of time?

Surprisingly, not that long ago, prescriptions that were initially administered by GPs were able to be repeated. A medication review was not necessarily carried out, sometimes for months at a time. This led to some people renewing their prescriptions for years.  This clearly led to a dependency on the medication as the body had been used to taking it over a long period of time and for many years.  This problematic and potentially dangerous area of practise has now been addressed and there is a code of conduct for GPs which ensures due diligence.

pharmacist dispensing prescription drugs

Which prescription medications are addictive?

One particular prescribed medication that has possibly caused most admissions to residential rehab for a detox is any form of Benzodiazepines.  This family of drugs includes Diazepam or Valium, Lorazepam and Nitrazepam.  These medications will be prescribed for anxiety or to help with sleeping, and they act by slowing down the central nervous system which reduces activity in the brain. They can be very beneficial with helping to make appropriate personal changes and have a positive effect when prescribed for short term use.

However, for the person that the medication has been prescribed for, they can start to become anxious when they realise that their prescription is not going to be renewed but it is going to be tapered off. This can lead to them feeling that without the medication they will quickly revert back to their prior mental state.

At The Haynes Clinic, people will often tell us that it is at this point that they will search for how to get the medication online from an illegal website or source. The biggest problem with buying medication from an unlicensed source is that the medication could be dangerous to our health as it may be out of date, different dosage or more likely just fake and have no medical use at all. Its easy availability online can lead to people taking more than the originally prescribed dosage – which in turn leads to greater tolerance and a need for yet more.

Can I just stop taking mood-altering medication with willpower?

To be taking a prescribed or non-prescribed drug on a daily basis will ultimately mean that our body is reliant on the drug, and it would be dangerous to just stop taking it.  The length of time that it takes for us to be addicted to that medication will be different for everyone. Also, as already mentioned, the drug will have stopped having any beneficial effect on ourselves as our body would have created a tolerance to it and in some cases, we will already have started to self-medicate with higher doses to try and get a similar effect to that we first experienced. 

Like anyone with an addiction our lives suddenly become focused on “do I have enough tablets?”, “where can I get some more?”, and “what am I going to take if I run out?”.  Our moods will change and spiral down and those close to us will notice the change. We will tend to become moody and intolerant with the people who are trying to help us

Benzodiazepine detox

Although it can take different people different lengths of time to get addicted to benzodiazepines, the time it takes an individual to be detoxed from a “Benzo,” should they decide the medication has started to ruin their lives and they want to stop taking it, is less variable but does depend on the amount taken and the duration of taking it. There has to be a slow regular reduction from the drug, due to the dangers of withdrawal, and this takes anything from 10 days up to 3 months. 

This is the longest and can be the most difficult detox compared with any other medication, alcohol or recreational drugs. The reality is that you could be in residential rehab treatment longer than someone who is in for an Alcohol or Heroin addiction due to the length of the detox.

Addiction to painkillers

Another prescribed medication that should only be taken for a short time is any medication that is opiate, or codeine based.  These strong painkillers include Fentanyl, Tramadol, Buprenorphine, Diamorphine, Oxycodone and Vicodin all of which are very addictive.  In fact, anyone with a codeine-based addiction who wants to stop taking the medication would have to undergo exactly the same 10 – 14 day detox as someone having a detox for heroin. 

Although not a prescribed medication, Solpadeine is available over the counter at any pharmacy. This is a drug that is now being widely bought throughout the UK without any current constraints apart from the pharmacist not selling it to you if you come in to buy it too often. Solpadeine is codeine based, easily available and again very addictive.  This is one of the few examples of the availability of a drug for when a prescription has been stopped and the individual does not have to search for a continuation of the medication from an illegal website.

Coming off anti-depressants

At The Haynes Clinic we have many people who come in for alcohol addiction treatment who have been prescribed anti-depressants.  These have been prescribed without the individual fully explaining to their GP that their depressive episodes are due to their spiralling addictive behaviour.

Alcohol itself is a chemical depressant so after the initial relaxation and feeling good that can accompany a drinking session, there is the comedown and a low.   Alcohol totally nullifies any medical effect of anti-depressants and those taking them will become even more depressed as they think this medication should be the answer. Again, though, it is like any medication that has been taken for a while:  even though it is not working the body has become used to it and there will need to be a gradual tapering off to stop any withdrawal symptoms.

The increase in prescription drug addiction and the role of covid

Undoubtedly, prescription drug addiction is on the increase and has escalated over the last few years.  Some of the blame can be centred on Covid as GP surgeries have been operating on reduced opening hours due to a fall in available staff. Even now GP practices are short of GPs and there is the more common use of nurse practitioners; patient reviews have fallen behind.  This leads to renewal of a prescription being unchecked, with the potential for inadvertently allowing an individual to remain on a medication longer than they should.  

Another issue attributed to Covid is increased mental health problems due to numerous restrictive lockdowns.  This has led to a surge in prescribed medications which people have remained on even though we are now through the time of lockdowns. There is almost a feeling of a necessity to be medicated and for the most part this is not the case. It will possibly result in more people with a prescription medication addiction problem in the future that was  unforeseen. This may in turn lead to a bigger health problem than the problem we started taking medication for in the first place.