For many Soldiers, the first step toward drug addiction begins with a trip to the pharmacy.
With one in four Soldiers admitting to abusing prescription drugs in 2008, pharmaceutical addiction is one of the biggest health problems facing the military. A look at the stats from 2009 reveals why: service members received five million prescriptions for drugs such as pain medications and sedatives in one year alone, providing plenty of opportunities for risky behavior.
When used according to a doctor’s orders, these drugs can be life savers. But when that use turns to abuse, a whole host of dangers—from paranoia to heart attacks—can threaten your health.
Common names: Vicodin, OxyCotin, Morphine, and Codeine.
Pain relievers are the most commonly abused prescription drug. They work by flooding the brain’s pleasure centers with dopamine—a feel-good hormone that induces a feeling of euphoria. However, along with the euphoria come blackouts, nausea, forgetfulness, and insomnia. Pain relievers can slow the user’s breathing to the point of stopping, and are especially dangerous when combined with alcohol.
These mind-altering drugs are highly addictive. Repeated use can make the brain dependent on the artificial rush of pleasure; experts believe that this false high can permanently change the neural pathways in the brain. Treatment programs are available to service members who are dependent on pain killers, but the best way to prevent addiction is to avoid the drugs altogether. If you are prescribed pain killers, be sure to follow the doctor’s instructions closely.
Tranquilizers and Sedatives
Common names: Quaaludes, Xanax, and Valium.
Prescription tranquilizers and sedatives are used to treat extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders. These highly addictive drugs work by slowing the brain’s activity, which can lead to slurred speech, shallow breathing, and disorientation. High doses can cause memory loss, impaired judgment, paranoia, slow breathing, and even cardiac arrest.
If the brain adjusts to regular prescription tranquilizer or sedative use, it builds up a physical dependence. Quitting the drug cold turkey can result in serious rebound effects including severe sleep disturbance, irritability, panic attacks, and even hallucinations and seizures. So follow your doctor’s orders for reducing use.
Common names: Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta.
Stimulants are prescribed to increase attention, energy, and alertness to help people cope with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, and depression. Stimulants work by increasing the level of dopamine. The increase of dopamine raises blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing and constricts blood vessels.
When taken in large doses, stimulants produce a sense of euphoria, increase risk of addiction, and disrupt normal brain communication. Repeated high doses can lead to paranoia, psychosis, and increase the risk of heart attack.
The best way to avoid prescription drug addiction is to use pharmaceuticals only under your doctor’s supervision. If your doctor writes you a prescription, be sure you have a clear understanding of the right dosage as well as any interactions or side effects.
- Think you might be pushing the boundaries? Take this prescription drug abuse self-test and find out.
- Are you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse? Find a treatment facility near you using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s online locator.
- Get help by contacting your unit’s Chaplain or your state’s Psychological Health Coordinator.