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Prescription Drug Abuse: Who Gets Addicted and Why?

Addiction Calls for Compassion, Not Condemnation

Whether or not someone is susceptible to opioid addiction depends on genes and early experiences. Studies have shown that when opiates are taken exactly as directed, they are safe, can manage pain effectively, and rarely cause addiction. When a person begins to experience signs of prescription pain medication abuse, he or she can avoid drug addiction -- defined as the compulsive and uncontrolled use of drugs despite adverse consequences -- by stopping use completely. But once true opioid addiction takes hold, the condition can be as firmly rooted as other chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure, experts believe.

Even after breaking free from physical dependence through a detox program, most people with opioid addiction relapse. They may need long-term maintenance therapy with methadone or Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) -- weaker opioids that prevent craving and withdrawal -- along with counseling to break the cycle of detox and relapse.

Because of the biological basis for opioid addiction, condemnation and criticism are counterproductive, experts say. Although people often act hurtfully in the grip of opioid addiction, support from family, friends, and doctors is essential to their recovery. "People recovering from opioid addiction are in the fight of their lives," says Jamison. "They need all the help they can get."

Reviewed on October 30, 2008

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