Research conducted in 2014 showed that among people age 12 and older, approximately 15 million used prescription drugs for a non-medical reason. A number of prescription drugs produce effects that make them desirable to abuse, including stimulants, narcotics and depressants. Due to the swift increase in prescription drug addiction, it is important that all people know how to identify the signs.

How Does Drug Addiction Develop?

Health professionals have determined that addiction is a disease due to how it causes changes in the body. Addiction is described as a type of chronic brain disorder. Characteristics of addition include a dysfunction in the reward, motivation, pleasure and memory brain chemical pathways.

Substances that are considered addictive act on the brain. The brain chemical pathways are impacted in the following manner:

1. The substance interacts with brain cells and certain chemicals are released. The dopamine system is mostly responsible, but GABA and epinephrine play a role as well. This causes a reaction of pleasure that changes the chemical systems and how they behave.
2. To counteract using the substance, brain chemistry activity changes. This is what leads to tolerance, one of the steps that may eventually result in addiction.
3. To aid the brain in adapting to using the drug, some of the neurological pathways experience a physical alteration. Over time, behaviors can become reflexive.
4. With continued use and addiction, permanent or long-term brain changes can occur. Even after someone undergoes detox or drug rehab, these changes can remain present, possibly causing cravings even years later.

Behavioral Signs

The signs of addiction to perscription drugs run the gamut of physical, emotional and behavioral changes. Those suffering from addiction may display the following behaviors:

• Forging, stealing or selling prescriptions
• Excessive hostility or mood swings
• Poor decision-making
• Frequently “losing” prescription medication to try and get new ones written
• Taking more of the drug than prescribed
• Decreased or increased sleep
• Appearing to be high revved up, abnormally energetic or sedated
• Going to more than one doctor to try and get more medication

These behaviors can occur in any person who is experiencing addiction to any perscription drugs. In some cases, someone might just exhibit one or two of these signs, but in most cases, several of these are recognizable.

Opiate/Narcotic Addiction Signs

Opiate or narcotic drugs are mostly used to alleviate moderate to severe pain, such as the pain associated with post-surgical recovery or a broken bone.

These work on different areas of the nervous system and brain to reduce feelings of pain and cause relaxation. Commonly prescribed drugs that fall into this category include codeine, oxycodone, Dilaudid, fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone and morphine.

These types of prescription medications are among those that are the most commonly abused. When someone is abusing this type of medication, the symptoms may include:

• Lack of coordination
• Confusion
• Dry mouth
• Constricted pupils
• Vomiting or nausea
• Constipation
• “Nodding” out or having sleep deprivation
• Slow gait
• Constant flu-like symptoms
• Reduced blood pressure
• Sleepiness
• Dizziness or weakness
• Droopy or watery eyes
• Respiratory depression
• Slurred or slowed speech
• Skin infections
• Skin may become itchy or dry
• Track marks or bruising if the medications are transformed into an injectable form and administered into a vein

Stimulant Addiction Signs

Stimulant drugs can also be referred to as “uppers.” They work to increase energy, alertness and focus. Certain medications for conditions, such as narcolepsy and ADHD, fall into this category.

Examples include Ritalin, biphetamine, Concerta and Dexedrine. When someone is abusing this type of drug, the symptoms may include:

• Weight or appetite loss
• Swift emotional changes, such as quickly becoming violent or aggressive
• Delusions and anxiety
• Shaking or tremors
• Sweating
• Nervousness or paranoia
• Repetitive behaviors
• Issues thinking clearly and memory loss
• Skin flushing and an increased body temperature
• Dilated pupils
• Hyperactivity and restlessness
• Heightened heart rate
• Increased blood pressure
• Irregular heartbeat

Depressant Addiction Signs

Depressant medications act on the central nervous system and work to inhibit its function. Barbiturate and benzodiazepine drugs are common examples. Barbiturates might be prescribed to promote sleep and relaxation.

Benzodiazepines are commonly given to patients who experience anxiety or insomnia. Examples of depressant drugs include Xanax, Valium, Seroquel, Zyprexa and Haldol. When someone is abusing this type of drug, they might have the following symptoms:

• Reduced attention span
• Dizziness and trouble with coordination
• Memory problems
• Respiratory depression
• Impaired judgment
• Low blood pressure
• Slurred speech
• Slowed reflexes
• Decreased brain function
• Poor concentration
• Slowed breathing
• Lowered heart rate
• Confusion
• Fever
• Sluggishness and fatigue
• Pupil dilation
• Disorientation, paranoia or visual disturbances
• Inability or difficulty urinating
• Depression
• Aggression
• Suicidal thoughts

Those who notice the signs of addiction in themselves should speak to a doctor. If someone notices a loved one exhibiting the signs, encouraging them to seek treatment can be done. There are detox programs and drug rehab facilities that may help.

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