“I had never had an issue before with alcohol or other forms of addiction. It all started with the prescriptions, and there was no turning back.” —Sandi F., at Heroes in Recovery
Most of us rarely ask questions when a trusted doctor prescribes a medication. Our lives are often busy, and we rely on our doctors and pharmacists to give us medications that meet our needs. A family physician is often a very reliable source, but it is also a good idea to learn more about each medication that enters your home and to lock up any prescriptions for safety’s sake.
Some medications may be more potent or more strong than other medications. Even medications that perform the same task may be dosed in very different measurements. If you or someone you care about is at risk for addiction or substance overuse, you should take the time to learn about the potency and the potential addictiveness of every substance in your house.
Coffee is a good example of how potency works. Those who enjoy drinking coffee know that you are able to brew a very strong cup of coffee by using more ground coffee beans and less water, or by purchasing strongly caffeinated coffee beans. Both of these methods result in more potent coffee; that is, a coffee that packs more caffeine per cup. People who choose to have less caffeine (less potent) coffee may add more water or milk to their coffee, or they may choose coffee beans that have had some caffeine removed.
Similarly, some medications contain more active ingredients than others. This is why drugs like Fentanyl are extremely dangerous: the potency of a Fentanyl patch may be stronger than even illegal heroin, and therefore, much more deadly.
Common Prescription Medication Classes
Any medicine, prescription or over-the-counter, can be misused. However, in discussions of medication abuse, most experts focus on certain classes of prescription drugs. Different classes of drugs serve different purposes, and it is a good idea to be aware of the most commonly abused prescription drug classes. A few to consider include:
Opioid painkillers, also known as narcotics. These drugs are a hot topic in recent news and legislature. Opioids change the way our brain perceives physical pain. These medications vary widely in potency, and may be mixed with other medications, such as acetaminophen, which can also be dangerous in larger doses. Opioids are notoriously addictive, and each one of these drugs can be measured differently. For instance, one person may ingest a 10-milligram dose of oxycodone, and another person may take a much smaller 50 microgram dose of Fentanyl, and the effects of the Fentanyl will still be much more potent than the oxycodone dose. Similarly, these medications may affect each person differently, which makes using opioids without medical supervision very dangerous.1
Benzodiazepines. These medications create sedative effects and are generally prescribed to treat anxiety and seizure disorders. This class of drugs includes Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan. Each benzodiazepine is measured differently, and doses vary among drugs and for their intended purpose. Benzodiazepine drugs are habit-forming, and use may lead to dependence in just a matter of days or weeks.2
Amphetamine Drugs and Stimulants. This class of drugs includes medications used for weight loss, to treat attention deficit disorder (ADHD), and narcolepsy. Popular amphetamine drugs includeAdderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine. Most of these drugs increase dopamine and norepinephrine and may temporarily boost mood but also increase heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause cardiovascular distress and can lead to accidental overdose.
Do Stronger Drugs Lead to Stronger Addictions?
The potency of a medication isn’t always directly associated with addiction. People who plan to misuse a substance often find ever-creative ways to increase the potency of their medications. They may do this by taking bigger doses, mixing the drugs with alcohol or other substances, or snorting the medications.
Potency can play a big role in making a substance more dangerous. After all, people who are taking very strong pills on a regular basis are much more likely to overdose or impair their long-term health. Once a person becomes accustomed to misusing a substance, it can be tempting to simply use more, forget previous doses, or accidentally mix the drug with something dangerous.
It’s easy to understand why taking a powerful pill might be considered just a little bit more dangerous than a less powerful pill. There are more active ingredients involved in a very potent medication, and more damage to the brain might result, and that might make very strong addictions or deaths due to addiction all the more likely.
It doesn’t matter how potent your medications are if you are not using them correctly. Black Bear Lodge offers an evidence-based treatment program for both substance use and emotional wellness. We can help you break your reliance on prescription drugs, and we can work to give you your life back. Please call us at 706-914-2327 and our admissions coordinators can tell you more.
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioids. 2018.
2 Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Benzodiazepines. N.d. Web. Retrieved 15 Apr 2018.
3 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription Stimulants. Feb 2018.