Most adults don’t think about prescription drugs when the phrases abuse and addiction come up in conversation. Many believe it’s a more common issue in places like America where stronger drugs are more readily prescribed; we’re better in the UK, surely?

Prescription Drug Abuse: It’s a UK Problem Too

The truth, sadly, is that adults in the UK become addicted to prescribed drugs every year. Recent studies polling as many as twelve million adults found a quarter to take addictive prescribed substances – and that half of those people had been prescribed those substances for over a year. Even for a ‘normal’ adult, the path to addiction can be found and fallen into through something passed to them over a counter.

Similar symptoms.

Because many individuals who fall into prescription drug addiction are not recreational drug users, the feeling of shame is exceptionally strong among those who become dependent. Many of them are mothers and fathers with their own careers and responsibilities. They would never believe it possible for them to fall into addiction – they’ve only ever drunk alcohol, after all.

This is part of how prescription drug abuse insidiously creeps into an adult’s life. For any strong prescription substance, particularly opioid painkillers, a GP will provide a prescription that weans the individual off the substance as they reach the end of their course of it. They’ll also discuss the potentially addictive nature of the drugs they prescribe. All these are designed to inform the individual of what they’re getting into.

Where the NHS often falls short, sadly, is in describing further the reality of falling into a physical or mental addiction – or both. Facts about prescription drugs are given, but with limited scope. Dependency is a subject that is tied intimately to a person’s ability to manage stress and their mental wellbeing; a busy adult who is pressured at work and has a compulsive personality may find themselves taking more of their painkillers than their prescription requires them to, knowing that it gives them temporary relief from life’s challenges.

In this way, even well-meaning adults can fall into dependence and addiction. Coping mechanisms come in all shapes and forms, and the simple truth is that prescription drugs often act as just that.

Social deprivation and addiction.

As has long been known in addiction treatment, social connections are incredibly important in the recovery process – and in the avoidance of addiction entirely. Instead of being purely about chemical hooks, addiction is closely related to a person’s social connections and relationships. An individual who is surrounded by supporting and nurturing individuals will be far less likely to turn to addictive substances as a way to cope with their stressors in life.

The opposite, of course, is true – and has been observed in NHS studies. Addictive substances are prescribed and abused most in areas where there is greatest social deprivation. Isolation, a lack of community facilities, and poverty are all tied to increases in addiction and substance abuse – be it legal or illegal.

Commonly abused prescription drugs.

Whether through buying more illegally online or turning to similar illegal substances, prescription drug addiction flourishes quickly. Common examples of prescription drugs that are abused include benzodiazepines, antidepressants, opioid pain medicines, and gabapentinoids, which are used to treat epilepsy, nerve pain, and migraines.

The demographic of adults who become addicted to prescription drugs is varied, although there is always a strong correlation between those with a history of trauma, depression, and compulsive behaviors. For these people, knowledge of their history and tendencies is an incredibly important tool in life; without knowing how the brain works, falling into patterns of abuse can quickly lead to addiction and substance abuse, be it legal or illegal in nature.