The the effects of prescription drug addiction vary according to the drug used, but the very nature of addiction means that it interferes with daily life and, therefore, has an impact on the home, family and workplace. The problem has to do both with the development of addiction itself and an array of medical consequences that are different for of the substances themselves. One of the most common problems is that patients often do not understand that certain medications are to be used on a short term basis, not a long-term basis. Addiction can arise as a consequence. Especially in the case of strong analgesics for managing chronic pain or sedatives for sleeping, some decide they can make money by selling their medication on the street or using it in other ways than prescribed. Abusers also try to dupe pharmacists by 'doctor shopping' for multiple prescribers for medications they want for nonmedical use.
Barbiturates, derivatives of barbituric acid, are now the most important of the group of depressants, hypnotics, sedatives and tranquillizers. Drugs of this kind "damp down" the activity of the brain so that the effect of naturally calming substances is increased and naturally arousing substances is stopped. Although they may be considered 'safe' if used as sleeping pills or sedatives in small doses or in large doses under medical supervision, as in anaesthesia, after regular and prolonged use there is great danger of dependence. In the long run the brain's own mechanisms for controlling anxiety and tension can no longer function. They are addictive to the extent that after using them for three months, there is a 50% probability of becoming dependent on them. It is claimed that withdrawal is then even more difficult as from hard drugs such as heroin. Distinct from the morphine-type withdrawal syndrome, these symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal reach maximum intensity a few days after the onset and subside slowly.
Barbiturates are commonly used in conjunction with other substances, the most widespread and dangerous use being with heroin, alcohol and stimulants. 'Street drugs' (for example, marijuana, mescaline) are sometimes doctored with animal tranquillizers (for example, PCP). Since large quantities are used for therapy it is much more difficult to evaluate the extent of abuse of barbiturates and other hypnotics and sedatives than that of narcotic drugs or other psychotropic substances. In a number of countries they account for about 10% of prescriptions. The general picture is complicated by the fact that the majority of people who are addicted to barbiturates are also dependent on other substances. 'Chasing the dragon' with a mixture of heroin barbiturate is fairly widespread in Asia. Barbiturates are the most commonly used group of addictive drugs.
Although the behavioural effects of tranquillizer intoxication closely resemble alcoholic intoxication, abuse is far more dangerous with a high possibility of unintentional overdose. With chronic abuse a rapid tolerance develops and both physical and psychic dependence occur. Abrupt withdrawal is dangerous and the convulsions which follow can be fatal. A period of mental confusion, delirium, hallucination and temporary psychotic, often paranoid reactions, may follow. Pharmacological dangers are increased by the character of those who use the drug. Social, emotional and personality deterioration are associated with chronic abuse. If the drugs are injected large ulcers develop at the site.
While men and women tend to abuse prescription drugs in equal numbers, women may be more likely to abuse narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs--in part because they are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
It was estimated in 1994 that some five million Americans and half a million Britons (11 million worldwide) have used the "new-style" anti-depressant drug Prozac. It is thoughthat one million people are addicted to tranquillisers in the UK.
2. It is important for doctors to properly address and treat what is bothering their patients so they don't have to resort to self-treatment or abuse of prescription medications.