When we speak of prescription drug abuse, addiction and the complications (including deaths) that accompany their use, we usually talk about Percodan, Percocet, Oxycontin and similar opioid drugs. There is no question that these are the biggies in terms of unintended consequences — severe dependency, addiction, overdose and death. There are, however other drugs that are cause for concern amongst professionals and those they treat.
Probably chief among these are the benzodiazepines, which are used for treatment of anxiety, as tranquilizers, to suppress seizures, and for a variety of other purposes. There is the common perception (even among doctors) that these drugs are not addictive, and that long-term use is perfectly OK. This is an interesting misconception, since every manufacturer of benzodiazepines provides specific information regarding their use. This information is always adamant that the drugs should not be used for more than six weeks, except in unique circumstances to treat specific conditions. We’ve mentioned before on these pages the need to check out medications with your pharmacist, not just blindly take what the doctor orders, and benzos are a prime example of the reason for that advice. Benzodiazepines are especially dangerous when use in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs that depress the central nervous system (downers).
Detox from benzodiazepines, which include Ativan, Valium, Xanax, Clonazepam (Klonopin), and about 20 other brands and compounds that are currently available, can take up to three weeks. Sudden cessation of any of them can be traumatic, causing agitation, sleeplessness, jitters, nausea, and a number of other unpleasant side effects. Withdrawal from several of the more common benzos can also trigger convulsions. Chronic use can lead to tolerance, the need for more of the drug to avoid discomfort, and definite addiction. Some benzos can lead to addiction at low doses, and in far less time than one would imagine.
Ambien (zolpidem) is another common drug that creates dependency problems among both legitimate users and abusers. Properly prescribed, it is used for short-term adjustment of sleep cycles. When used for longer periods a dependency on the drug develops rapidly, so that the user becomes unable to fall asleep without it. Tolerance develops rapidly as well, causing users to need more and more of the drug to get to sleep. Ambien, at higher doses, often causes severe sleepwalking episodes. It is not unusual in these episodes for people to seem awake to others, even to drive, but to have no memory of it later. The safety considerations here should be obvious.
There are a number of other drugs that are easily abused — too many to mention here. Generally speaking, any substance that can be used for pleasure can cause psychological and/or physical addiction, and often both. Don’t depend on any one person to decide what medications you should be taking. Doctors have a great deal of information to absorb, and most of them are not trained in pharmacology. Your pharmacist is your best source.