Drugs and alcoholPeople commonly associate the word rehabilitation with drug and alcohol addiction, but the term has a broader meaning for medical professionals. In essence, rehabilitation helps a person manage a serious injury or illness.It’s a time to learn how to cope with a chronic illness and begin to heal.

People who live with addiction often fear rehabilitation, because they believe it brings punishment and suffering. In reality, drug rehab is rarely negative. For people who need help it’s a transformative and positive experience.

How Prescription Drug Addiction Begins

People who misuse prescription drugs and develop addictions sometimes start the addiction process with a real medical concern. They receive a prescription for a medication to treat pain or help with anxiety. In order to heal, they need addiction rehab with an integrated delivery plan to treat the co-occurring condition that led to drug use. By getting help for all conditions at the same time, patients have the ability to handle drug cravings without dealing with underlying pain or mental health problems.

Cause for Alarm

Prescription drug abuse is not new; some people have always misused any drug with addictive potential. However, evidence suggests prescription drug addictions are a serious problem. An estimated 6.4 million Americans (2.4 percent) reported misusing psychotherapeutic drugs in 2015.

These drugs include:

  • Painkillers
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers
  • Stimulants

Adolescents are the most vulnerable to developing an addiction because their developing brains make them more impulsive and impair good judgment. It’s hard to know how many teens misused prescription drugs in the past, because these drugs weren’t always included in surveys. Today some teens think prescription drugs are safer than illicit drugs. Education programs that target teens help to change this perception.

Teenager and prescription pillsStill, nearly 5 percent of high school seniors admit to using the painkiller Vicodin for a non-medical use, while 7 percent misuse Adderall and around 4 percent misuse tranquilizers and sedatives.[2] Some experts believe the high rates of experimentation among teens and addiction among the population is due to persuasive marketing from pharmaceutical companies. As a result, there are more drugs in modern medicine cabinets, and more temptation to abuse those drugs.[3]

Other experts believe 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.[4]

New Ways to Think About Addiction

In order to heal from a prescription drug addiction, someone must understand the societal messages that lead to addiction. Some people find participating in group therapy is an effective way to pick up this lesson. As they listen to person after person discuss how prescription drug abuse begins, and how it spirals out of control, they understand the addictive potential of these drugs. These messages give them more motivation to fight back the urge to self-medicate and information on how to fight cravings.[5]

It’s also common for addiction to co-occur with a mental health disorder. 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 leads some addicts to consider, or even attempt, suicide.[6] One study found between 8 and 17 percent of opioid addicts attempt suicide.[7]

Medical doctorIn a treatment program for prescription drug addiction, therapists determine the mental state of patients, and provide them with therapeutic tools that help. Depression, for example, might have its roots deep in a trauma a person endured years ago. Anxiety may be due to a prior injury, or a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. A variety of helpful therapeutic tools help people overcome mental health disorders. Treating addiction and mental health at the same time gives people better outcomes and more help avoiding relapse.[8]

Addiction therapy also helps addicts learn how to spot a drug craving, and what to do when craving hits. Prior to entering a therapy program, an addict may not know why he or she takes drugs. The person might simply think, “It hit me out of the blue, and now I have to have drugs.” In therapy, addicts learn drug use begins with negative self-talk; subconscious thoughts that promote drug use. 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.[9]

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 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 developed to treat addictions to opioids are helpful. These drugs latch on to the same pleasure receptors used by some prescription medications, and they significantly reduce feelings of discomfort and cravings for drugs. Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone treat opioid addiction and increase a person’s chance of staying in treatment when compared to people who are not given such medications. The replacement therapies make it possible for patients to participate in treatment without feeling overwhelmed with a need to use drugs.[10]

Some people use medication therapy for a short time, until they feel strong enough to handle cravings on their own. Other people use these medications for weeks, months or even years. While it’s perfectly acceptable for people to stay on the replacement therapy for a lengthy period of time, doctors do monitor patients closely for abuse. Some medications, including buprenorphine, have safeguards that make abuse less likely, but supervision is necessary to avoid relapse.

More Background

People who develop an addiction while controlling pain need more help from their physicians. Removing pain control may put patients in serious discomfort, and this often leads to relapse. Medical professionals have several options for helping patients control pain, including:

  • Using alternate painkillers that do not include euphoria-causing ingredients, such as Tylenol or Advil
  • 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[11]

Some patients find these alternate methods so effective they no longer have pain control issues.

People with psychiatric conditions need to continue their prescription therapies, but addiction treatment teaches them how to take their drugs properly. Moving forward, it’s important these patients continue to work with a therapist in order to build up their skills to handle the disease without drugs or with different medications. Patients who form a bond with their therapists are more likely to reduce their symptoms and avoid relapse.[12]

A Customized Approach

Each addiction is different, and the best programs meet the specific needs of each patient. This is the method used at Michael’s House. We offer an integrated program to help people with both addictions and mental health issues, and we realize 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 complex problems, and we would love to explain our approach to you in detail. Please call us today to find out more.


[1] Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2016). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015/NSDUH-FFR1-2015.pdf

[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2015). Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-over-counter-medications

[3] Zee, Art Van. (2009).  The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2007.131714

[4] Friedersdorf, Conor. (2016). How Drug Warriors Helped to Fuel the Opioid Epidemic. The Atlantic. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/04/how-drug-warriors-helped-to-fuel-the-heroin-epidemic/476679/.

[5] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. (2016). Treatments for Substance Use Disorders. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders.

[6] Preventing Prescription Abuse in the Workplace Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.). Prescription Drug Misuse Among College Students. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://publichealth.hsc.wvu.edu/media/4239/college_students_no-samhsa-logo.pdf.

[7] Ghaffari-Nejad, A., Mehdizadeh-Zareanari, A., Pouya, F., & Mashroteh, M. (2012). Suicide in Narcotic Drugs Dependents. Addiction & Health. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3905557/.

[8] SAMHSA. (2016). Co-occurring Disorders. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/co-occurring.

[9] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Session 2: Coping With Cravings and Urges to Drink. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/matchseries3/core.htm#2.

[10] NIDA. (2016). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction.

[11] Harvard Health Letter. (2016). New guidelines: Avoid opioids for chronic pain. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from http://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/new-guidelines-avoid-opioids-for-chronic-pain.

[12] SAMHSA. (2015). Mental Disorders. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/mental.

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