Prescription Drug Abuse
How Do CNS Depressants Work on the Brain and Body?
Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and
clonazepam (Klonopin) depress the central nervous system (CNS). They are used by millions in the U.S. to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, including insomnia. These CNS depressants affect the brain neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA works by decreasing brain activity, which results in a drowsy or calming effect.
Barbiturates, including phenobarbital (Nembutal) and mephobarbital (Mebaral), are also CNS depressants. They are commonly used for anesthesia and are prescribed to treat seizures and, occasionally, insomnia or anxiety on a short-term basis.
Taking CNS depressants for a few days to a few weeks may help you feel calm and sleepy. After a while, however, you may need larger doses to get the same calm and sleepy feeling. In addition, using CNS depressants with alcohol can slow down your heart and respiration and lead to death.
After taking CNS depressants for a long period of time, stopping suddenly can have life-threatening consequences such as withdrawal seizures.
How Do Stimulants Work on the Brain and Body?
Stimulants give your body a fast jumpstart, causing a great increase in alertness, energy, and attention. Stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure, constrict blood vessels, increase blood sugar, and open the pathways of the respiratory system.
Initially, stimulants were used to treat asthma and obesity. Today, stimulants are prescribed to treat problems such as ADHD, ADD, depression, narcolepsy, and other problems. Examples of stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall).
Taken appropriately and under a doctor's supervision, Ritalin and other stimulants are safe. When they are abused -- for instance, by taking the medicines in higher doses or crushing the pills to get a high -- they have the potential for addiction and ongoing abuse. Using stimulants with decongestants may cause irregular heart rhythms, and high doses of stimulants can cause high body temperatures.
Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise?
Most experts are unsure why prescription drug abuse is on the rise. It's thought, though, that because there are more drugs available to more people, the opportunity for abuse is greatly increased. Doctors report writing more prescriptions for patients than ever before. That includes prescriptions for commonly abused drugs such as opioids, CNS depressors, and stimulants. In addition, you only have to go on the Internet to find vast numbers of online pharmacies selling these highly addictive drugs. Online pharmacies make it easy to get these drugs -- even for children or teens.
It's not uncommon for teens to talk about stealing medication from their parents' medicine cabinets. Instead of taking illegal substances commonly sold in back alleys, many teens today tell of having prescription parties where they gather at someone's home, mix their parents' prescription pills in a bowl, and then help themselves to whichever pill looks most appealing. The problem is most teens have no idea what medications they are taking and which medications may cause serious problems, even death, if taken with other drugs or alcohol.