Prescription drug abuse is no less dangerous than illicit drug abuse. If you or someone you love is addicted to these substances, now is the time to seek help. The best rehab program for you will take into account your history of substance abuse, your health, your prior treatment attempts, and your wants and needs as they relate to treatment.
Prescription Drug Abuse
The abuse of opioids, including prescription painkillers, has devastated the country. Over 40% of all overdose deaths in the United States in 2016 were related to prescription painkillers.1 In fact, in less than 20 years, more than 200,000 deaths results from overdose on prescription opioids alone.1 And painkillers account for only a portion of the prescription drugs that are abused in the country. Drugs like benzodiazepines, stimulants (e.g., Adderall), and sleeping pills (e.g., Ambien) are all drugs that, while legal and beneficial when used as directed, can cause serious harm when misused.
In less than 20 years, more than 200,000 deaths results from overdose on prescription opioids alone.
Young adults are particularly susceptible to abuse of prescription drugs, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.2 The reasons are multifold; they may take them to study, to feel better, to experiment, to lose weight, to relax, etc.2 They may also turn to these drugs out of a false belief that because these drugs are legal and come from a doctor, that they are safer than illegal drugs.
Prescription drug abuse has the potential to cause a long list of physical and mental health harms, which will vary based on the drugs used. Consequences of abusing these drugs could include:
- GI distress.
- Severe constipation.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Dangerously high body temperature.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Excessive fatigue.
- Slurred speech.
If you or someone you love is unable to stop abusing one or more prescription drugs, it's imperative to find help immediately.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient
As you explore your options for treatment, you'll discover that you have many choices. One of the first is whether you wish to choose inpatient rehab or outpatient treatment. Outpatient programs can be immensely valuable; however, you’ll remain living at home with this option, potentially in the midst of a substance-abusing environment. Many people with severe addictions who face numerous triggers at home will prefer to jump-start their recovery in an inpatient environment.
You may meet with a doctor or addiction treatment professional to discuss the right path to recovery for you. During an assessment, they may ask you about how long you've been abusing drugs, how it has affected your life, the status of your physical health, whether you have any concurrent mental health issues (or dual diagnosis disorders), and more. They may also use the following diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders to uncover just how significantly your substance use is harming you and how intensive your treatment needs to be. They may ask whether:4
- You have been using more of the substance or using it for longer than you intended.
- You use prescription drugs knowing they are causing problems with your medical or mental health.
- Your use is interfering with your work, relationships, and social obligations.
- You have given up engaging in activities that were once important to you due to your substance use.
- You have tried to give up drugs but have been unable to.
- You spend a great deal of your time getting prescription drugs (or visiting doctors for prescriptions), using them, and recovering from the effects.
- You have strong cravings for prescription drugs.
- You use prescription drugs when doing so can cause serious harm, such as prior to driving or operating machinery.
- You have to keep increasing your dose to get the effects you want.
- You experience withdrawal when you try to reduce your dose or stop.
Your honest answers will guide them in determining the most appropriate option for your addiction treatment.
It is possible to benefit from either inpatient or outpatient treatment options. Often people who complete an inpatient program will continue therapy on an outpatient basis to maintain their momentum.
How Long Does Treatment Last?
Residential Inpatient Rehab
Your individual treatment experience and the duration of such treatment will differ according to your needs. Many people choose to attend rehab for a period of time ranging from 4 weeks to 12 weeks, though stays may be shorter or longer. For example, some people stay in residential programs for a year or longer.
Treatment also does not have to end the day that you leave an inpatient rehab program. You will likely work with staff at the rehab to come up with a plan for aftercare once you leave. This might include regular outpatient counseling or other relapse prevention and recovery efforts. For many, sobriety is a lifelong endeavor that may require many types of ongoing care throughout the long-term recovery journey.
Many inpatient rehab programs include 90-day drug rehab options. These three-month rehab centers allow for long-term treatment |(which is correlated with better recovery outcomes7).
What Happens During Treatment?
Often, prescription drug abuse leads not only to addiction but to a physical reliance on the drug, known as dependence. Once significant physical dependence develops, a person may experience withdrawal when they try to get clean—depending on the class of prescription drug, this can be somewhat mild, excruciating, or even deadly. For many prescription drug addicts, the first step in their treatment is medical detox, where they can safely and comfortably adjust to the reduction or lack of drugs in their system under the care of medical professionals.
Once detox is complete, the newly sober individual should feel somewhat more physically well and emotionally stable and at a point where therapy can commence. Therapy is the foundation of all rehabilitation efforts and helps to get to the heart of the behavior or beliefs that fuel problematic drug use. It also helps the individual to identify circumstances and environments that may endanger their recovery and learn tools to best avoid or cope with them.
For many, sobriety is a lifelong endeavor that may require many types of ongoing care throughout the long-term recovery journey.
There are multiple therapy types, and a combination may be used. Motivational interviewing, for example, encourages a positive and empathetic relationship between therapist and client in which the therapist helps the client uncover and strengthen their own drive to get sober (and their belief in their ability to do so).5 Contingency management offers rewards for meeting certain healthy milestones—for example, 30 days in recovery or positive activities, such as completing certain recovery-related goals. Rewards often come in the form of vouchers which can be exchanged for certain gift cards or goods.6
Your care team will determine the best treatment approach for you, based on your personality type, the substance of abuse, prior treatments (failures and successes), and other factors. During your initial assessment, be open about your history of substance use and treatment, because the more honest you are, the more the staff will be able to tailor your treatment to you.
What if I Can't Afford to Go to Rehab?
There are many avenues to explore when it comes to paying for your prescription drug rehab program. These options include financing, loans, healthcare credit cards, and scholarships. Also, if you have insurance, your treatment may be partially or fully covered.
What Happens During Treatment?
The first step in almost any prescription drug treatment program is detoxification. This is where the prescription drug is cleansed from the system. Addiction therapy is then introduced to get to the heart of the behavior or circumstances in which addicts are most vulnerable to their need for prescription drugs. Identifying contributing factors is a critical part of the recovery and rehabilitation process as is learning how to manage these situations in a positive manner. Specialized care may be ordered depending on which prescription drugs you are addicted to and the condition of your physical and mental health. After the inpatient portion of your treatment program is complete, there will be ongoing aftercare to help you remain free from drugs.
Should I Choose a Luxury Rehab?
Many excellent substance abuse treatment centers provide the excellent amenities you would expect to find in the world's finest hotels, with your success and well-being being the biggest goals. From fine linens and gym facilities to private rooms and chef-prepared meals, you can get excellent care for while enjoying the comforts of a resort.
Similarly, if you feel that you can't afford to disrupt your professional life, there are executive rehab facilities that afford you the option to stay connected to work in a limited way while in treatment. By marrying excellent drug treatments with the freedom of occasional computer and phone access, these programs give you the chance maintain your executive presence while getting sober in privacy and comfort.
Is Rehab Private and Confidential?
Confidentiality is something that's guaranteed by all staff members of a prescription drug rehabilitation facility. The treatment you're receiving, the reason you're seeking treatment, and how your recovery is progressing are kept strictly confidential. Private rooms are available in some facilities for people who are particularly concerned about privacy and confidentiality.
Regardless of which type of facility or program you choose, the important thing is to recognize that you need help and seek it in some form or another. Prescription drug takes an enormous toll on your health, your finances, and your life, but it doesn't have to—you can get better with the right care.
- Centers for Disease Control. (2017). Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Prescription Drugs.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives (Alcohol, Stimulants, Opioids, Marijuana, Nicotine).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Motivational Interviewing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Is the duration of treatment sufficient?