The word “rehabilitation” is commonly associated with drug and alcohol addiction, but the term actually has a broader meaning for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals. In essence, rehabilitation is used anytime a person endures a serious injury or illness and needs to do some sort of work in order to be restored to a state of wellness. Rehabilitation is a time of learning about the damage that has been done, and it’s a time of healing. People who live with addiction issues often fear rehabilitation, as they think it will be a time of punishment or suffering. In reality, rehabilitation for a drug or alcohol problem is rarely negative. For those needing help with a prescription drug addiction, rehabilitation could be a transformative and positive experience.
People who abuse prescription drugs and develop addictions to them often start the addiction process with a real medical concern, and a prescription for a medication that can help. In order to heal, they’ll need to go through the rehab process for the addiction, and they’ll need to go through the rehab process for the original illness that caused the addiction to develop. By obtaining help on many fronts, these people can leave their prescription drug addictions behind for good.
Cause for Alarm
Prescription drug abuse is not new. In fact, people have been abusing prescription drugs for decades, and developing addictions to those drugs is also an old problem with a long history. However, there is some evidence that suggests that prescription drug addictions are on the rise in this country. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 2.7 percent of the US population uses psychotherapeutic drugs for non-medical reasons. These drugs include:
It’s hard to know how many teens abused prescription drugs in the past, as these drugs weren’t always included in drug abuse surveys, but it is clear that modern teens seem to think that prescription drugs are somehow benign and that using the drugs for recreation shouldn’t be met with concern.
The NIDA reports that nearly one in 12 high school seniors admit to using the painkiller Vicodin for a nonmedical use. Some experts believe that rates of experimentation among teens and addiction among both teens and adults can be laid at the feet of the pharmaceutical companies and the advertising agencies they employ. These experts believe that a constant bombardment of advertisements about the effectiveness of drugs has led some consumers to believe that all medical appointments should end with a prescription. As a result, there are more drugs in modern medicine cabinets, and more temptation to abuse those drugs.
Other experts believe that the rise in prescription drug abuse is an indirect consequence of the war on drugs. As illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine become more difficult to buy, and the sentences for possession of those drugs continues to lengthen, more people turn to prescription drugs that are both abundant and accepted by society. Perhaps both of these issues blend and flow together, and cause the rise in use and abuse.
In order to heal from a prescription drug addiction, the person must be led to understand the societal messages that lie beneath an addiction. Some people find that participating in group meetings is an effective way to pick up this lesson. As they listen to person after person discuss how prescription drug abuse began, and how it spiraled out of control, they may begin to understand how powerful these drugs really are, and this lesson may help them to understand and fight back against consumer marketing and the urge to medicate with drugs.
The addict must also learn more about the thought processes that may have started an addiction, or may serve to hold an addiction in place. The link between mental illness and prescription drug addiction is quite high. According to an article published on MedlinePlus, about 13 percent of college students reported using prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons, and students with symptoms of depression were more likely to abuse prescription drugs than students who had no such symptoms. Depression can deepen and strengthen, especially in concert with addiction, and this could lead some addicts to consider, or even attempt, suicide. This link has also been demonstrated in studies. A study in the journal Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention found that between 8 and 17 percent of opioid addicts attempt suicide.
In a treatment program for prescription drug addiction, therapists attempt to determine the mental state of their addicts, and they provide them with therapeutic tools that can help. Depression, for example, might have its roots deep in a trauma the person endured years ago. Anxiety may be due to a prior injury, or a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. There are a variety of helpful therapeutic tools that can help people to overcome the issues they faced in the past, and prevent major issues from occurring in the future.
Addiction therapy also helps addicts to learn how to spot a drug craving, and what to do when that craving hits. Prior to entering a therapy program, an addict may have no idea why he or she takes drugs. The person might simply say, “It hit me out of the blue, and I had to have the drug now.” In therapy, addicts learn that drug use often begins with tiny, telltale changes and symptoms. A flutter of anxiety, a flicker of sadness or a creeping sense of dread could all lead, moments later, to a craving for drugs. In therapy, people learn how to spot those cravings and deal with them without taking drugs.
Making an Adjustment
Some prescription drugs change the way the brain works on a semi-permanent basis. People who attempt to stop using the drugs abruptly may endure uncomfortable side effects as their brains attempt to function without access to drugs. Other people may feel deep and strong cravings for the drugs that could lead them back into a relapse to drug use.
Medications that were developed to treat addictions to heroin may be helpful for these addicts. These drugs latch on to the same pleasure receptors used by some prescription medications, and they can significantly reduce feelings of discomfort and cravings for drugs. According to a study published in JAMA, people who are given these medications are likely to stay in treatment, when compared to people who are not given medications for their addictions. The replacement therapies seem to make it possible for people to participate in treatment without feeling overwhelmed with a need to abuse drugs.
Some people use these medications for only a short period of time, until they feel strong enough to handle cravings on their own. Other people use medications like this for weeks, months or even years as they feel the cravings to use drugs reappear whenever they attempt to stop using this replacement therapy. While it’s perfectly acceptable for people to stay on the replacement therapy for a lengthy period of time, doctors do monitor their patients closely for abuse. Some medications, including buprenorphine, have safeguards that can make abuse less likely, but doctors do their part to ensure that their patients are using replacement therapy as required, so a new addiction isn’t allowed to form.
People who came to addiction after receiving medications for pain may need more help from their doctors to overcome their addictions. Removing pain control may be difficult, as it places these patients in serious discomfort, and this could lead them back to addiction. There are several options doctors can take to help control pain in their addicted patients, including:
- Using alternate painkillers that do not include euphoria-causing ingredients
- Attempting Eastern therapies to control pain, such as acupuncture
- Encouraging patients to learn to meditate and breathe through pain symptoms
- Encouraging patients to use ice, heat, stretching and exercise to control pain
Some patients find that these alternate methods are so effective that they do not have pain control issues after their addiction rehab program is over, and therefore, they aren’t tempted to return to abusing their painkillers.
People with psychiatric conditions may need to continue with their prescription therapies, but when their addiction program is over, they may understand how to take their drugs properly, and they may continue to work with a therapist in order to build up their skills to handle the disease without drugs. Patients like this tend to form a tight partnership with their doctors and counselors, and they check back in frequently to ensure they don’t slide back into abusing the drugs they need to keep their diseases under control.
A Customized Approach
Each addiction is different, and the best programs tailor their approach to the specific needs of the people enrolled. This is the method we use at Michael’s House. We offer an integrated program to help people with both addictions and mental health issues, and we realize that all of our patients have different needs. Some need help learning how to use their prescription medications properly, while others need to learn how to stop using any substance at all. We provide the right kind of treatment to help these types of complex problems, and we would love to explain our approach to you in detail. Please call us today to find out more.