Is there an image that pops into your head when you hear the term “drug addict”? Do you picture a junkie shooting heroin on the street? A scruffy, unshaven and unkempt man with rotted teeth and sores on his face and skin? The truth is, there’s not a face of drug addiction. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Addiction can affect anyone and everyone. And there’s one addiction that is growing faster than any other addiction in America: Prescription drugs. The widespread use of prescription drugs including opioids such as Oxycontin and Hydrocodone, and Benzos such as Xanax – all which are easily accessible through your doctor and often presumed “safe” – has meant that addiction is plaguing some of the most unexpected populations. From middle-aged business men, to stressed out moms, even seniors – prescription drug use in the U.S. is rising rapidly. In fact, roughly 48 million Americans – roughly 1 in 5 – report they’ve used a prescription drug at least once in their life time. And according to the Center for Disease Control, every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose. So how does it start? No one actually decides to get addicted to prescription pain pills. Alienating family and friends, falling behind at work, endangering children and launching a small-time criminal career aren’t what any person plans on when they swallow their first Vicodin. Sometimes it starts with a car wreck, other times it’s migraines, trouble sleeping – maybe a sports injury. But prescription drugs are there to help the pains, the troubles and the worries. And they’re usually not hard to get. Your local physician will assess the situation based on whatever symptoms are present and then write prescriptions for the medication to eliminate the “feel bad”. But we like things that make us feel good. And if a little “feel good” – a little feel better – can come from a small pill and a swig of water, it doesn’t sound all that bad. Especially if it’s something that doctors recommend, professionals produce and the government approves. How bad can it be if it’s legal? Actually, very bad.
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One of the most common contributors leading to prescription pill use is ignorance; The idea that prescription drugs like Xanax, Adderall and Oxycodone are safer than illegal street drugs, like meth or cocaine. People assume that the medicines aren’t harmful. They see drugs such as heroin as “bad” and drugs like Percocet as “okay”. After all – they are FDA approved, and most of us have seen friends or family members take these very same medications under their doctor’s care to treat a variety of illnesses. In reality, the active ingredients in heroin and opioid painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin are essentially the same. The drugs work very quickly on the brain, releasing the pleasure-boosting chemical dopamine. And it doesn’t take long to get hooked. So who’s at risk? As we mentioned, there’s no “face” to addiction – anyone can become addicted to prescription drugs because they are so powerful. But certain risk factors do increase vulnerability including depression or bipolar disorder, prior drug or alcohol use, a family history of use or addiction or past traumas. One of the most unlikely groups to be hit hard by the prescription drug epidemic include stressed out moms. From the moment their child is born – all the way through adolescence and beyond, many moms find that stress and worry plague nearly every moment of everyday. Help that one time may have come from support from family, friends, the church, or community now comes from a convenient little pill. With more than 18 million women ages 26 and older reporting use of prescription medications for unintended uses, women are also more likely to hide their addictions than men. Although there is generally less stigma attached to prescription drug use than illicit drug use, moms who use any type of drugs have always be subjected to a particularly heavy stigma. Because moms tend to worry about the people who depend on them, they’re less likely to seek treatment than men. Another unsuspecting group particularly susceptible to prescription drug addiction is seniors. Free from the responsibilities of work and raising children, some seniors are using their extra time and money towards prescription medications. And those prescriptions aren’t hard to get: According to the Substance Use and Mental Health Services, nearly 30 percent of people between the ages of 57 and 85 use at least five different prescription medications. Seniors are more likely to take multiple medications prescribed by more than one doctor. And although they often experience more negative consequences, prescription drug addiction often goes unrecognized or ignored among seniors as it’s mistaken for other health problems. No group – socially, economically, ethnically, or racially – is immune to prescription drug addiction. There is no face of addiction. And as prescription pill addiction in the United States continues to skyrocket among people of all ages, gender and race, we have to recognize even the most “put together” people can be at risk. With the fastest growing addiction in America, the time to get help is now. If you or someone you care about has a problem, take action. Should a loved one refuse to acknowledge their prescription drug addiction, our treatment specialists can set you up with an interventionist to help encourage your loved one enter treatment.