Certain prescription medications carry a strong potential for addiction, like stimulants, painkillers and sleeping aids. Abuse of these drugs is rising and receiving a significant amount of negative coverage.
For individuals suffering from significant chronic pain, sleep disorders or debilitating mental illness, these medications can essentially be lifesavers. Nevertheless, the notable upsides don’t mean they should be used carelessly.
Like other strong medications, potentially addictive drugs should be carefully prescribed and correctly used in order to minimize possible negative consequences. The cooperation of both doctor and patient is necessary in order to ensure the maximum benefit from these powerful drugs while neutralizing the risks as much as possible.
The doctor’s role
Doctors who write prescriptions have a variety of responsibilities when it comes to ensuring that their patients do not become dependent on potentially addictive medications. With a responsible and thorough prescribing physician, the chance of developing a drug dependency with a medication is relatively minimal.
A doctor’s first line of defense against addiction is responsible prescription. Doctors should prescribe addictive medications only when necessary, and then in the smallest effective dosage. When patients receive strong medications for pain or disorders that could be managed with milder treatment, the risk of addiction increases significantly.
Thorough patient histories are important in helping a physician to determine the appropriateness of an addictive medication. Current or previous addictions to other substances, or a strong genetic risk of addiction, are factors that make it more likely that a patient will become dependent on an addictive medication that has been prescribed legally.
As when prescribing any medication with potential side effects, doctors and pharmacists are expected to instruct patients as to the correct procedure and dosage of an addictive medication. By apprising their patients of the risks and the importance of taking the medication as instructed, doctors will help their patients to avoid forming a habit.
Once patients are taking a medication, doctors also have the responsibility to monitor their progress. For pain or sleep disorders associated with short-term injury or illness, doctors should be able to wean their patients off the medication as soon as it is no longer necessary. For chronic disorders, changes in medications may be necessary to avoid long-term use and increased dosages of a single medication. When prescribing addictive medications over the long-term, doctors also need to be alert to the signs of addiction, such as drug-seeking behavior.
The patient’s role
While much of the initial responsibility for forestalling medication addiction lies with physicians, it is largely up to the patients to manage their medication intake on a daily basis in a way that will make an addiction unlikely.
However, patients do have a tremendous responsibility at the outset to help their doctors assign the right prescription. Doctors are only able to prescribe appropriate medication and dosages if they are given an accurate accounts of the presence and severity of their patients’ symptoms.
The most important job of a patient on potentially addictive medication is to take their medication when and how they have been instructed. This is incredibly simple in principle, but it is often all too tempting for patients to increase their medication dosage on their own if they feel it is not having the full desired effect, or take their medication when it is not really necessary in order to obtain emotional rather than physical comfort.
It can also be challenging for some patients to admit when their symptoms have subsided to the extent that medication is no longer necessary. This may be particularly true for patients for whom the relief provided by their medications was acute. This powerful relief can lead to an emotional attachment to a medication long before a physical dependency is present.
Patients who are particularly concerned about the potential for becoming addicted to a prescription medication can be especially proactive. Ideally, patients should consult a doctor with whom they are familiar and comfortable, and whom they trust to prescribe responsibly. Patients can also do independent research to make sure they understand all the facets of their medication, or are able to ask informed questions about the elements that they do not understand.