The Vicious Cycle Of Physical Dependence on Prescription Drug Use
Prescription drug addiction is at an all-time high in the United States. Driving this epidemic are two powerful dynamics caused by addictive drug use. These are psychological dependence and physiological, or physical dependence. In both dependencies, one ‘needs’ the drug to feel ‘normal’ although neither type of dependency supports health or normal functioning.
Psychological dependence involves one’s thoughts and feelings about the drug which cause one to rely upon them emotionally and to obsess about them mentally. Essentially, one becomes convinced that it is impossible to live without the effects and ‘support’ of the drug. Physical dependence, on the other hand, is biological adaptation to an addictive drug. Bodily systems, including the brain, also feel a need for the drug once addiction is activated.
Drug Tolerance—Evidence of Physical Dependence
Even though we biologically and neurologically adapt to the present of an addictive drug in our bodies, ever-increasing toxic effects continue to occur. Another term for this toxic adaptation is drug tolerance. Tolerance is the need for markedly increased amounts over a period of time to achieve the desired effects of that drug’s use. Another way of saying this is that over time the desired effects of use diminish with the usual dose. Inevitably then, an addiction to prescription drugs means that we need ever increasing amounts, or additional drugs in order to get the effects we want. Tolerance is a cornerstone of the vicious cycle of taking addictive prescription drugs.
Withdrawal–Evidence of Physical Dependence
The possibility of withdrawal is a natural consequence of drug tolerance. Withdrawal starts when we stop use, or reduce the usual dose of an addictive drug we’ve gained physical tolerance for. It is the body’s way of saying that more is needed in order to maintain the status quo of physical dependency or active addiction.
Withdrawal is more formally known as a withdrawal syndrome or a discontinuation syndrome–a cluster of symptoms caused by stopping or decreasing use. Specific signs and symptoms of withdrawal depend upon the particular addictive substance that is used, in what amounts, and for how long. Prescription drugs that cause a withdrawal syndrome include opioids, sedatives, barbiturates, hypnotics, stimulants, benzodiazepines, and muscle relaxants. Some addictive medications are a combination of addictive drugs, or are compounded with non-addictive substances. Even non-addictive ingredients are toxic with heavy and/or prolonged use, however, and the body must detoxify from them when the drug is stopped.
All withdrawal from addictive prescription medications will cause physical discomfort of some sort. For example, common symptoms include some combination of sweating, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, muscle tension, achiness, restlessness, agitation, fatigue, tremors, appetite disturbance and GI distress. A therapeutic and supportive environment during withdrawal helps ensure successful completion of withdrawal. People who experience withdrawal symptoms on their own tend to be sabotaged by strong desires to use again in order to stop withdrawal distress. With skilled support, withdrawal is manageable.
Compulsive Use—Evidence of Physical Dependence
Physical dependency upon prescription drugs is also evidenced by compulsive behavior. Such behaviors often have very strong psychological components as well, but they are typically triggered by a physical need for the drug. For example:
🔸Taking the drug in larger amounts and for longer periods of time than intended
🔸Wanting to cut down or stop, but not being able to
🔸Continuing to use despite persistent or recurring negative consequences
Recovering from Physical Dependence Upon Prescription Drugs
The body’s extreme reaction when first abstaining from these drugs is evidence of their powerful and pervasive effects. Withdrawal is the essential first step in recovery from an addiction to them. While the body is well equipped with systems for detoxification, they must work overtime to tackle the burden of prescription drug withdrawal, and may be compromised after prolonged drug use. Consequently, a holistic addiction recovery plan best strengthens the body’s ability to successfully withdraw and detox. Simultaneous and intensive psychological support is also important to mobilize the hope and momentum needed to complete the process.
The withdrawal and detox process is best facilitated by such clinical interventions as non-addictive medication to reduce distress when needed, nutritional support through specific foods and food supplements, adequate hydration, exercise and rest. At the Sanctuary at Sedona we have an intensive program of therapeutic support throughout the day every day to help the body recuperate while psychological needs are met at the same time.