Why is prescription pill abuse so common in the United States?

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Answered by: Kyle, An Expert in the About Substance Dependence Category
The problem with prescription pill abuse is that it could be inherent to the self-indulgent, live-with-excess American lifestyle. The idea of magic pills which manifest happiness, strength or make you feel better provides a catalyst for American self-indulgence.

In short, Americans want things that make them feel good-- and they want a lot of it.



Prescription pill abuse starts with a visit to your local physician. The doctor will assess the situation based on whatever symptoms are present, and then write prescriptions for medication to eliminate or anesthetize those symptoms. Pain is the most common symptom that leads to prescription pill abuse because, like an obnoxious in-law, it sometimes takes a lot to make it go away.

Often the body builds up a tolerance to the prescription drug dosage that originally suppressed the symptoms; which leaves the individual needing a higher dosage to attain the desired effect. This increase in dosage is a direct cause of addiction to prescription pills because the body becomes dependant on the drugs it is administered frequently. Prescription pill abuse is widespread as people abuse them for their side-effects and dose themselves without having the symptoms that the prescriptions were intended to address.



Rick Smith, founder of Rock Bottom Outreach, said that:

“After becoming familiar with the effects of prescription medication, it becomes much easier to find ways to abuse them. Doctors have become unintentionally the new ‘pushers’ of narcotics and we take advantage of that. I knew taking Xanax made me feel good, and I knew exactly where to go to get more. It is a sad thing, but for awhile I really enjoyed my addiction to prescription pills; that is, until it impaired my driving and caused me to side-swipe an 18-wheeler with my boys in the backseat. “

Smith lost his family due to prescription pill abuse of Benzodiazepine, more commonly known as “Xanax”. In a video interview from his website Rockbottomoutreach.org, Smith said after taking a Xanax he would later forget that he had already dosed, and take another pill as a remedy. Memory loss, a common side-effect of Xanax, resulted in Smith taking 30 to 40 pills a week.

Another common misconception leading to prescription pill abuse is the idea that prescription pills are safer than illegal street drugs, like marijuana or cocaine. Britney Lenard, a senior in high school, took her little brother’s prescription of Adderall to help her lose weight. Adderall is an amphetamine salts-based medication used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. At first, she used it just to stay awake during late nights of studying for big exams. But, after she noticed significant weight loss from taking the drug, along with increased energy and self-esteem, she started consuming larger quantities.

Britney’s prescription pill abuse caused her to become completely dependent on the drug to the point where she seized her brother’s medication entirely. This alerted her parents to her prescription pill abuse, and they immediately had Britney hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation and force-feeding. She had lost 44 lbs in a three month period while taking the medication, putting her at approximately 92 lbs total. After searching Britney’s bedroom, her parents found a stockpile of over 100 Adderall pills-- far more than what she had available from her brother’s prescription bottle.

After hospitalization, Britney was taken to Rock Bottom Outreach for help with her prescription pill abuse. In her first meeting with Rick, Britney concluded that her problem was she enjoyed the effects Adderall had on her, and that she wanted as many of the pills as much as possible.

The problem with prescription pill abuse is that there is no practical way to stop it because it’s internalized within the American lifestyle. Prescription pill abuse can be treated through outreach programs, counseling, or for extreme cases, hospitalization. Anyone who takes prescription medication can potentially become an abuser or, unknowingly, enable another abuser around them.

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