The pandemic has been a global disaster of catastrophic proportions, and no disaster is without its stressors. Worse yet, the looming threat of illness, the instability of unemployment, and the isolation of quarantine and social distancing have only exacerbated the effects of stress and mental illness.
It’s behind closed doors, separated from the rest of the world and support structures, that many have started abusing substances. Alcoholism is on the rise in the UK, even for those that never drank before lockdown. And addicts are taking to using old and new substances to relieve the stress of lockdown or break the monotony with a high; perhaps ironically, the leading substances on the rise right now are prescription medications.
The Risks Involved with Over-The-Counter and Prescription Drugs
A common misconception is that any medication you can legally acquire is safe to abuse. On the contrary, medication and combinations thereof can not only be addictive, but deadly. Especially opioids and benzodiazepines (painkillers and tranquilizers), and while they’re heavily regulated, they can still be acquired and abused more easily than illicit drugs. These drugs have a high risk of overdose and otherwise dangerous and reckless behavior.
Addicts also often believe that prescription drug addictions are less stigmatized and more socially acceptable than illegal substances. Beyond the perception that they’re less dangerous, OTCs and prescription drugs are harder to detect than illegal drugs. Someone abusing pain killers is a lot harder to recognize, and because it’s a prescription medication they can claim they aren’t abusing their medication.
Prescription Medication Abuse
Teens and young adults have been seen to be more prone to abusing prescription medication to achieve highs, relieve stress, and relax. These meds are often prescribed to them by their GP, or they’re bought from friends and classmates.
Prescription medication can range anywhere from painkillers to antidepressants, and can often be combined with other drugs to achieve an effect. These drugs are often used as supplements during withdrawals from other illicit drugs, which often cost more or maybe harder to attain, especially if the user is trying to keep up appearances of being clean.
Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the UK include;
- Barbiturates (anxiety and sleep disorder mediation)
- Opioids (Painkillers)
- Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers and sedatives)
- Sleeping pills
- Amphetamines / Methylphenidate (A stimulant like Ritalin, Concerta and Adderall)
- Pseudoephedrine (decongestants)
Compared to OTC medications, prescription medication can be highly addictive if abused and can be just as deadly as illicit substances if overdosed on. That’s not to say over the counter medication isn’t dangerous, however.
Over the Counter Medication abuse
While not all over the counter medication can be addictive, this doesn’t make them any less dangerous. In high enough doses, or when used in conjunction with other medication, these drugs can produce hallucinations, dangerously slow down your heartbeat, and even cause permanent brain damage and respiratory depression. Some of the most frequently abused over the counter medication include:
- Cough Medicine
- Sedative antihistamines
It’s estimated that over 900 000 people in the UK abuse codeine, as it’s easy to get a hold of and pair with other painkillers like Nurofen for a harder hit. Worryingly, teens most often abuse medication like cough syrup to achieve a high, and will frequently combine them with other medication like antihistamines to achieve a drowsy high that can be potentially life-threatening, causing convulsions and seizures.
Not all abusers are looking to achieve a high. With sedative antihistamines, users are often simply looking for help sleeping. Unfortunately, when used frequently, users can develop a dependence on these substances to sleep. They find they need to take more of these drugs to be able to sleep, as their bodies build up a tolerance to them. The sedative effects of these drugs also allow for stress relief, which is addictive in itself during the pandemic.
Laxatives can produce a high when consumed in large amounts, but even in small doses, people can become dependent on laxatives to help them lose weight. This desperation can also hint at an underlying mental health issue.
Lockdown and the Pandemic – The Outlook for Abusers
The scale and the duration of the global pandemic is an unprecedented disaster and one that’s taking a toll on lives well beyond being a deadly threat to many. If we’re not worrying about our safety and the safety of others, being cooped up inside can have severe consequences for our mental health. It’s under these strenuous circumstances that people find themselves turning to drug abuse to cope with. If you’re struggling with the strain of lockdown and the possibility of your mental health deteriorating, we encourage you not to turn to substance abuse. If you already find yourself suffering from an addiction to prescription medication, get in touch with a Rehab in the UK.