Narcotic Abuse
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Narcotic Abuse

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

Narcotic abuse is a serious, but treatable disorder. When the problem is not treated, people who abuse narcotics usually suffer significant mental and physical problems. The sooner treatment begins, the more favorable the outcome. If you suspect you have a problem with narcotic abuse, contact your doctor immediately.

Major Organ Systems

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All of the organ systems above can be significantly damaged with narcotic abuse.

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes

Narcotic abuse may begin with recreational (illegal) drug use, or it may begin when a patient takes a prescription painkiller too often or for too long a period. As the body builds up a tolerance for the drug, the user feels he or she needs more of the drug, and becomes dependent on it, both physically and psychologically.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

The following factors increase your risk of abusing narcotic drugs.

If you have:

  • Experimented with illegal street drugs, particularly any form of heroin or cocaine
  • Had an addiction to alcohol or another substance
  • Taken someone else’s prescription narcotic for pain or to see how it made you feel
  • Taken a prescription narcotic for a condition that has since improved, but you still feel you “need” the drug

Talk to your doctor if you have any of these risk factors. Additionally, some personality traits and lifestyles can increase your tendency to abuse narcotics. These may include depression and low self-esteem, associating with other drug users, and experiencing high amounts of stress or chronic pain over an extended period.

Symptoms

  • Craving for the drug
  • Panic when drug supplies run out
  • “Doctor shopping” to increase drug supplies
  • Need to take the drug to feel normal
  • Use of the drug as a means to deal with stress, irritability, or unhappiness

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. In some cases, your doctor may give you an injection of the drug naloxone hydrochloride. By judging your body’s reaction, your doctor can determine if you have over-used or become dependent on narcotics.

Treatment

Because narcotic overdoses can cause trouble breathing and other life-threatening medical conditions, severe narcotic abuse often requires emergency treatment. Most non-emergency treatments also require some hospitalization to manage and monitor narcotic withdrawal symptoms.

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Hospitalization to Overcome Initial Dependency

There are many ways of withdrawing from narcotics. Doctors may prescribe medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, a substitute narcotic such as methadone may be used.

Anti-addiction and Withdrawal Medications

Depending on the severity and length of your narcotic abuse, after the initial hospital treatment, your doctor might prescribe medicines to lessen the body’s feeling that it “needs” narcotics. In some cases, maintenance treatment with long-acting narcotics such as methadone may be used. Anti-addiction support groups

Many support groups exist for people who abuse narcotics. These groups operate much like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and similar organizations. Support groups typically hold small, informal meetings of people who have narcotic abuse problems and people who have successfully overcome narcotic abuse. Support groups provide behavioral counseling and recommend lifestyle changes to help you overcome narcotic abuse and avoid becoming dependent on narcotics again.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy for individuals, couples, and families has been used to treat narcotic abuse for more than 30 years. In individual behavioral therapy, a therapist, usually a psychologist, talks directly with the narcotic abuser to help the person change the habits and thought processes that led to the use of narcotics. In family and couples therapy, a counselor or therapist speaks with the narcotic abuser and those close to him or her to overcome the problem of narcotic abuse as it affects all of their relationships.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of having a problem with narcotic abuse, take the following steps:

  • When taking prescription medications, follow your doctor’s directions exactly.
  • Do not take medications prescribed for anyone else.
  • Avoid all illegal drugs and people who use them.
  • Be alert to changes in your behavior or personality, such as depression , that may trigger you to begin using drugs.

RESOURCES:

Narcotics Anonymous
http://www.na.org

National Institute on Drug Abuse
http://www.drugabuse.gov

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
United States Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.samhsa.gov/index.aspx

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Bellwood Health Services
http://www.bellwood.ca

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
http://www.ccsa.ca/ccsa

Drug Rehab Centers Canada
http://www.drug-rehab.ca

References:

Alexander B, Pharm.D, BCPP. Management of Opiate Withdrawal, Clinical Psychopharmacology Seminar. Virtual Hospital website of The University of Iowa, 1996-2005. Available at: http://www.vh.org/adult/provider/psychiatry/CPS/34.html. Accessed . September 29, 2005.

Bykov SA. Narcotic abuse among young people as an indicator of dysadaptation. Russian Education and Society . 2001; 43(11): 46-57.

Drug addiction treatment medications. NIDA InfoFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/treatmed.html . Accessed January 17, 2008.

Fals-Steward W, O’Farrell T, Birchler G. Behavioral couples therapy for substance abuse: rationale, methods, and findings. Science & Practice Perspectives . August 2004. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/PDF/Perspectives/vol2no2/04Perspectives-Behavioral.pdf . Accessed January 17, 2008.

Hannesdottir H, Tyrfingsson T, Piha J. Psychosocial functioning and psychiatric comorbidity among substance-abusing Icelandic adolescents. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry . 2001; 55(1).



Last reviewed January 2008 by Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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