Is it Possible to Become an Accidental Addict?
Not all addicts begin using drugs with the intention of abusing them. There are a growing number of people in the U.S. becoming “accidental addicts”- patients who are prescribed addictive pain or anxiety medication and end up becoming physically dependent. While the stereotypical image of an addict is someone who intentionally seeks out illegal substances, there are now groups of people who suffer from an addiction that occurred as a result of medical advice.
These are often middle class, well-educated and successful Americans with families that are coping with a secret drug addiction. They may be educated professionally but lack an education on addiction. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who are addicted to prescription medication that they never set out to abuse.
Pain Medication and Addiction
The common story that seems to be the thread with people who become “accidental addicts” is a trip to the doctor for problems with pain or anxiety. They may have recently had surgery and are dealing with pain or have stressful thoughts and feelings that interfere with their daily life. The doctor will prescribe them medication based on the patient’s self-reported level of pain or anxiety. A physician will often prescribe some kind of opiate for pain relief or management like Vicodin, Percocet or Oxycontin that can quickly become habit-forming.
Patients are also prescribed medications for anxiety like Xanax which can be effective for people with symptoms of panic disorder but is also known to be highly addictive. With the increase in the number of pain-pill prescriptions has also come an overwhelming increase in cases of prescription addiction. In 1990, there were 75 million opiate descriptions written in the U.S. and today there are more than 210 million. It is no surprise then that more people are dealing with issues of prescription drug abuse and accidental addiction.
Physicians Fail to Warn Patients
Patients are often prescribed dangerous medications like Vicodin or Xanax with little warning of the addictive nature of the substances. People can quickly develop a tolerance to the drugs and begin to need increasingly larger amounts to gain the same effect that they had initially. Eventually patients cease taking the medication for their prescribed purposes but because they have developed a serious addiction.
The issue that contributes most to this problem is the failure of physicians to adequately warn patients of the addictive nature of the medication they are prescribing. Doctors may only receive minimal training in addiction education and are not fully aware of the potential that so many patients have to develop a dependency on opiates and anxiety medication.
Risk Factors for Accidental Addiction
There are certain vulnerabilities in patients that doctors may fail to identify when prescribing them pain killers. “Accidental addicts” often have underlying issues such as mental health problems, childhood issues, trauma or certain sensitivities to addiction. Parents and especially mothers that are over-stressed and dealing with a lot of pressure may discover a feeling of relaxation and escape when they take these kinds of medications.
These kinds of addicts may show warning signs of their addiction by struggling to hide their habit from children and other family members. They might also meet with multiple doctors to get several prescriptions of their medications. It is important for these addicts to receive the same type of addiction treatment and professional help that any other addict would need to recover. In many cases, people addicted to prescription pills are physically dependent on their medication and can still struggle with a sense of denial about their problem.
Their underlying issues that may have influenced their addiction can also make it more difficult for them to quit. With recovery treatment for a prescription addiction, “accidental addicts” can get the assistance they need to become sober again
photo credit: Luis Rosado