The Pandemic-Push: Why are so Many People Suddenly Buying Prescription Drugs Online?
Prescription-med sales skyrocket due to the pandemic, but when does use become abuse? Paracelsus Recovery’s experts weigh in.
More and more people are illegally purchasing prescription medication such as anxiety or sleeping pills online as the pandemic takes its toll on our wellbeing.
The pandemic has left a mental health crisis in its wake. Rates of anxiety and depression continue to skyrocket as millions search for stress-relievers. From gardening to mindfulness-apps or vitamin D supplements, there are few whose psychological health hasn’t led them to try out new coping mechanisms due to the uncertainty of our times. Unsurprisingly, there has also been a surge in demand for prescription medications. The illegal sale of benzodiazepines alone has increased by 25% in the UK.
When used appropriately, prescription medication can be a vital way for people to look after their wellbeing. However, they can also be highly addictive. Prescription drugs remain the most widely abused substances worldwide. But, as we don’t usually associate drug abuse with medicine, it can be much harder to recognise when use becomes abuse. At Paracelsus Recovery, we adopt a harm-reduction approach to addiction. A core component of harm-reduction is the provision of educational resources to help users make an informed decision. To that end, our experts explain why prescription medication is addictive and what steps you can take to prevent dependency, or how to overcome it.
What is Prescription Drug Addiction?
Prescription drug abuse occurs when an individual consumes more prescription medication than is recommended by their doctor. Regardless of the drug, people can become dependent on a substance when they are in a great deal of pain. Both ibuprofen and heroin can function as pain-killers. However, only the latter carries a stigma of addiction. Therefore, a person may steer clear of illegal substances, as they recognise the risks involved, yet they might unknowingly abuse prescription medication. To understand this, imagine that for each gram of sugar you consumed, you also drank a glass of wine. Immediately, you might assume that you have a drinking problem. But, because sugar isn’t as associated with addiction as alcohol, we can fail to notice the harm it is doing to our bodies. A similar situation often occurs with prescription medication.
The three most abused classes of prescription medications include;
Opioids: work by blocking pain signals from entering our brain. Examples include Fentanyl, Vicodin and Morphine.
Central nervous system depressants: slow down our brain function. Examples include Valium, Xanax and Ambien.
Stimulants: ‘speed up’ a person’s heart-rate, focus and produce a euphoric state. Examples include Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall.
Each of these drugs releases feel-good chemicals in our brain, which is part of their addictive quality. If abused over a prolonged period of time, they can make the brain and body believe the drug is as necessary for its survival as water or air. When this happens, the person has developed a physical dependency that needs to be carefully monitored.
Prescription Drug Abuse: An Epidemic within a Pandemic.
Prescription-drugs became widely accessible in the late ’90s, which has led to more and more abuse over the last few decades. For example, between 1991 and 2010, prescription stimulant use increased from 5 million to 45 million. In 2017, it was estimated that over 18 million people in the US abused prescription opioids, CNS depressants or stimulants. One of the biggest risks with prescription drug abuse is that if a person abuses these drugs to the point of dependency, they also cultivate a tolerance. When this happens, the individual needs to ingest more and more of the drug to obtain the sought-after ‘high.’ As a result, they can consume more than their body can manage, heightening their chances of overdosing.
If you or a loved one abuses opioid-prescription medication, it is vital to keep naloxone (also known as Narcan) on hand at all times.
In 2018, the New York Times noted that fatal drug overdoses in the US, at 70 237, surpassed deaths due to car accidents, HIV/AIDS, and gun violence. Unfortunately, the stress, loneliness, grief and financial loss that came with the coronavirus pandemic have exacerbated these numbers. By the end of 2020, over 81,000 people died from an overdose. This is a 20% increase on 2019 and the highest number of fatal overdoses ever recorded in the US.
Prescription Drugs are Becoming Gen-Z’s ‘Drug of Choice.’
What’s more, children growing up in ultra-high-net-worth households are extra- vulnerable to prescription drug dependency. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax are becoming more pervasive, with many calling them the ‘Gen-Z’s drug of choice.’ Research also shows that affluent children are predisposed to addiction due to ‘affluent neglect,’ a phenomenon which leaves them feeling physically and emotionally isolated. Since the pandemic began, we have seen a surge in referrals for young people struggling with loneliness-induced mental health issues, including prescription drug addiction.
Prescription opioids are becoming a pervasive problem for millennials and Gen-Z due to their easy access. From Billie Eilish’s song ‘Xanny’ to the artist ‘Lil- Xan (short for Xanax),’ prescription meds may be becoming the ‘heroin-chic of the modern age.
Signs & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription-drug addiction symptoms include isolating yourself from loved ones, engaging in risky behaviour to obtain the drug, excessive mood swings and withdrawal symptoms. If you are worried about your prescription-medication use, try to ask yourself:
Have you failed to meet deadlines or expectations due to your prescription medication use?
Do you feel an intense urge to consume the substance when faced with difficult emotions or to ‘turn off’ negative thoughts?
Do you find it hard to identify what you are feeling before or after consuming the medication?
Are you mixing the medication with alcohol or other illegal substances?
Do you need to take an ever-increasing dosage to obtain relief from pain?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be developing a dependency. If you continue to abuse these substances, it could damage your health, career and relationships. However, research shows that prescription drug addiction can be effectively overcome via detoxification, therapy and short-term medication to manage the withdrawal symptoms.
If you have developed a dependency, professional help is often needed to manage the physical withdrawal symptoms.
How Can I Avoid Becoming Dependent on Prescription Meds?
If you are taking a commonly abused drug for health reasons, you can minimise the risk of addiction by:
1.Making Sure You’re Taking the Right Medication.
Try to make sure your doctor clearly and completely understands your condition. Inform them of any other prescriptions you are taking, as well as over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, alcohol or drug use.
2.Following all Directions and Doses.
Make sure to only use the medication as prescribed. If you think it isn’t giving you the intended effect, do not alter the dosage without first talking with your doctor. Speak with your pharmacist about all possible side-effects, and check if you need to avoid alcohol or other drugs.
3.Being Mindful About the Drug’s Effect on You.
If you are just beginning to take a powerful opioid or CNS depressant, be extra-observant of the impact the substance has on you. In particular, try to be mindful of how negative emotions, such as anger, sadness or boredom, influence your relationship with the medication. If those feelings make you want to take more than the recommended dosage, try to actively do something else instead. For instance, practice meditation, go for a walk or call a friend.
Using prescription medication in any way that your doctor did not intend can lead to abuse.