Long term effects of prescription drug abuse can lead to many issues including altered brain structure, respiratory effects, and more. Read on to learn more.
Six percent of Americans twelve years old and older abuse prescriptions each year. That’s 16 million people. Out of those, 2 million have a drug use disorder. Statistics like these are alarming. Considering four out of five prescriptions filled at pharmacies are opioids, it’s safe to say there is a prescription drug use epidemic right now.
It doesn’t take long to develop a tolerance, dependence, and addiction to prescription drugs. Within weeks or months, you may start to see changes in your mind and body. Chronic prescription drug use alters the structure of your brain and negatively impacts your health.
Below are the long-term effects of prescription drug abuse.
Altered Brain Structure
Prescription drugs enter the brain and change its structure using neurotransmitters like dopamine. When released, they flood the reward center in amounts much higher than the brain can produce naturally. The brain becomes dependent on the drugs. Over time, the brain’s dependency leads to impairment. Functions like memory, attention, decision making, impulse control, and problem-solving diminish.
Recovery becomes more complicated when these functions are not working correctly. Brain health plays a role in psychological well-being, and long-term use of prescription drugs increases depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Prescription opioids, stimulants, and sedatives can cause long-term respiratory problems—opioids and sedatives slow breathing, with potentially fatal results. When taken in high doses, breathing could stop.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were the cause of nearly 50,000 overdose deaths in 2019. Also reported is that stimulant overdose deaths are on the rise. Stimulants increase breath rate and alter the chemical balance in the lungs. Damage to tissues in the lungs occurs and, in some, does not heal after they quit using the drug.
Sleep-disordered breathing like apnea, hypoxemia, and ataxic breathing can occur after long-term use.
Central Nervous System Effects
Suppressing the central nervous system is needed at times, like during a panic attack, stressful events, and when struggling to sleep. Doctors prescribe sedatives to ease these symptoms. There are other times when suppressing the central nervous system can lead to negative consequences.
Prescription drug abuse of either opioids or sedatives can lead to increased slower movements and reaction times, clumsiness, dangerously low blood pressure, confusion, and not enough oxygen getting to the brain. You may also feel light-headed, dizzy, and pass out, putting you at risk of harming yourself physically.
Long Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse on Bones and Muscles
The musculoskeletal system consists of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and more. Misusing prescription drugs can cause long-term muscle weakness and stop bone growth and strength, which means it is easier for you to fracture and break bones.
You will notice increased aches in pains, even if you started taking opioids to alleviate them. Depending on how you ingest prescription drugs, you may contract infections in your tendons.
Opioid-induced bowel dysfunction is a real problem experienced by those who misuse prescription drugs. Symptoms include constipation, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and acid reflux. Opioids slow the digestive process, allowing stool to harden, becoming challenging to eliminate.
Digestive problems can make you feel worse due to excessive bloating, gas, and discomfort. Even when you quit using prescription drugs, the effects can continue or worsen. Bowel fecal impaction, incontinence followed by overflow diarrhea, obstructions, urine retention, incontinence, and absorption issues are possible.
Taking prescription drugs orally means they pass through the digestive system before entering the bloodstream. The digestive system breaks down drugs, and overuse of medication can irritate the stomach lining.
Hormone balances are crucial to the proper functioning of the body. Long-term problems from prescription drug use include sexual dysfunction, infertility, and in men, lowered testosterone, which can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndromes.
Lowered estrogen levels in women can lead to osteoporosis and can produce changes in menstrual cycles and menopause.
More Adverse Long Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription drug abuse can impair the immune system, making it difficult to fight off infections like COVID. Long-term effects can also include heart-related events. Opioids, sedatives, and stimulants damage the heart and cause events like myocardial infarctions and heart failure.
The longer you use prescription drugs, the more dependent your body becomes, making it harder to quit. Withdrawal symptoms are often the reason many people continue to use prescription drugs.
The liver can’t process toxic levels of opioids or other drugs long-term, and eventually, the injured liver will fail.
Those who choose to inject prescription drugs risk infections in the blood that can travel to other parts of the body. Common infections are Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and HIV, which can lead to chronic liver diseases. Also, abscesses can leave scars forever.
No matter how long you have been using prescription drugs, you can stop with help from substance abuse treatment specialists.
Treatment Saves Lives
There are multiple layers of treatment to help anyone with a prescription drug use problem overcome it and get back to good health. The first step is to enter a treatment facility that provides medically supervised detox so you don’t have to be uncomfortable during the withdrawal process. Instead, you can focus on learning the skills needed for recovery.
After detox, you can transition to inpatient or residential programs to continue medication for withdrawal and participate in individual and group therapies to learn early recovery and relapse prevention skills.
The best treatment facilities for overcoming prescription drug abuse create an individualized treatment plan that includes traditional and alternative therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and 12 Step facilitation groups are considered conventional treatments.
Art and music therapy, fitness, and nutrition are alternative methods that treat the whole body. Improved results happen when you heal the mind, body, and spirit. Until now, you have done everything while intoxicated, and you must now relearn how to live sober.
We can help you avoid the long-term effects of prescription drug abuse. We can help you reach your recovery goals. Give us a call today so we can start the healing process together.