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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Prescription Drug Abuse: Who Gets Addicted?

Who Could Be at Risk? continued...

Some things raise your risk of prescription drug addiction. If, like Jason, you’ve already abused another substance, like alcohol or cocaine, you’re at higher risk.

If you have family members with addiction problems, your chances are higher, says Howard Forman, MD, a medical director at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. This may be because you've inherited genes that make you more likely to become addicted. 

People who’ve gone through childhood trauma, like physical or sexual abuse, losing a parent, or violence, can also have a higher risk. So might people who live in a place where prescription drug abuse is common.

Mental illness increases the odds, too. "If you give [oxycodone] to an anxious person they will be less anxious," Forman says. "After the pain has gone away... they [may have] become accustomed to a medication that is powerfully helping their distress. Now you have the makings of someone who could be 'hooked.'" People with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are more likely to use painkillers on a long-term basis.

The availability of these drugs has given rise to addiction to them, and that can result in death. Today, more people now die from overdoses of prescription drugs than they do of illegal drugs like heroin or cocaine, says Jim Davis, of the New Mexico Department of Health.

"A lot of this is driven by availability, and basically there's a lot of effort right now going into trying to push that back down," he says. The number of prescriptions being written nationwide has jumped dramatically -- by as much as 400% in the last decade or so. By one estimate, 259 million prescriptions for painkillers were written in the U.S. in 2012.

"You don't want to interfere with legitimate treatment of legitimate pain," Davis adds. The question, he says, is how do doctors or loved ones know whether someone truly needs the pain meds or is misusing them?

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Reviewed on April 02, 2015

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