Prescription Drug Use and Psychological Dependence

Prescription Drug Use and Psychological Dependence

The Deep Attachment of Psychological Dependence with Prescription Drug Use

Prescription Drug Use and Psychological Dependence. Prescription drug use is a public health epidemic in the U.S. with addiction and overdose rates at an all-time high. At the heart of these issues is a powerful and double-pronged compulsion to use them—a dependency that is both physical and psychological. Our very cells want the drugs in order to prevent withdrawal, and we develop deep psychological attachments to the drugs themselves. Often even more tenacious than physical dependency, psychological cravings can linger long after withdrawal and detox is completed.

Becoming psychologically dependent upon prescription drugs has its roots in those first few pleasant experiences we have when we take them. We feel somehow soothed, or strengthened and supported by the drug, but eventually, it works its way into the most intimate aspects of our lives to cause debilitating effects. Healthier coping strategies fall away or don’t develop as we lean on the drug more and more. Also, we think, feel, and believe the drug is indispensable, and that we can’t cope without it. Consequently, prescription drugs can become a significant hub in our psychology, and if we use them enough, all aspects of life can become attached to them.

High Risk for Psychological Dependence

There are many addictive and abusable prescription drugs that induce strong mental and emotional attachments to them. Some common ones, according to pharmaceutical classifications, are given here:

Opioids or Pain Relievers

  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic)Hydrocodone (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin)

  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)

  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadone)

  • Morphine (Astramorph, Avinza, Ms Contin)

  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)

  • Oxymorphone (Opana)

Depressants or Sedatives—Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, and Hypnotics

  • Amobarbital (Amytal)

  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)

  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)

  • Secobarbital (Seconal)

  • Amobarbital / Secobarbital (Tuinal)

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)

  • Valium (Diazepam)

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)

  • Zolpidem (Ambien)

  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)


  • Dextroamphetamine plus amphetamine (Adderall)

  • Methylphenidate (Concerta)

  • Methylphenidate hydrochloride (Ritalin)

  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse)

Psychiatric Medications

Many of the prescription drugs listed above are used in psychiatry. They all have a high risk of physical dependency or addiction as well as psychological dependency. However, other psychiatric medications, such as anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotics, are not typically classified as addictive, but also induce strong psychological dependencies, making it difficult to discontinue them even when medically advised to. Also, many psychiatric medications also have a withdrawal effect, causing both physical and psychological discomfort then they are reduced or stopped.

Discomfort and Psychological Dependencies

Psychological dependency causes extreme confusion as we habitually cope with the discomfort of any kind by leaning on the substance. Eventually, we can’t tell the difference between natural and manageable discomfort, and that requiring medical attention. Consequently, we lose tolerance for healthy forms of stress essential for change, learning, growth, creativity, productivity, and overall development. We’re triggered to self-medicate all such feelings, and in doing so lose touch with our innate mechanisms for safety, survival, growth, and development. For example, we may ‘drown our sorrows’ instead of express them, suppress our grief in times of loss, numb our victimization instead of seeking safety, or retreat into drugs instead of tackling commitments, or pursuing our healthy goals, ambitions, and dreams.

Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Dependency

There are many signs and symptoms of psychological dependency upon prescription drug use, and they overlap with those of physical addiction. Some of these are:

  • Over-medicating yourself—using more than is prescribed.

  • Misusing the prescription—taking medications for purposes other than prescribed, combining with other substances, or using more frequently than recommended.

  • Resisting your prescriber’s recommendation to lower the dose, or discontinue the medication.

  • Feeling anxious and afraid about lowering a dose, or stopping the medication altogether.

  • Using the medication to cope with stress, emotions, intimacy, social activities, performance.

  • Being preoccupied with having a constant supply.

  • Obtaining the drug without a prescription.

Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Withdrawal

Psychological withdrawal is common when prescription drug use is stopped or even reduced. Many of the signs and symptoms of psychological withdrawal are similar to those of physical withdrawal. Some of these are:

  • Sleep disturbance

  • Mood swings

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Agitation and restlessness

  • Poor concentration and distractibility

  • Low tolerance for frustration or discomfort

  • Increased sensitivity to stress

  • Low energy, motivation, and drive

  • Volatility of emotions and reactions

  • Feeling ‘flat’, empty or numb

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