Side Effects Of Perscription Drugs
Among youth who are 12 to 17 years old, 7.7 percent reported past-year nonmedical use of prescription medications. According to the 2010 Monitoring the Future survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders, after alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Youth who abuse prescription medications are also more likely to report use of other drugs.
How Do Prescription Drugs Affect the Body, and What Are the Common Effects?
Abusing prescription drugs can have negative short- and long-term health consequences. Opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants each affect the brain and body in different ways.
Opioids attach to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs. When opioid drugs attach to these receptors, they can diminish the perception of pain. They also affect areas of the brain that deal with pleasure—which is why they are often abused and why they can be addictive. Opioids also cause drowsiness, constipation, and physical dependence with repeated use (or abuse). An overdose of opioids can cause breathing to slow down so much as to cause death. Overdose can occur when people take too high a dose; when they crush a time-release pill or capsule before swallowing, sniffing, or injecting the drug; or when they combine opioids with central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, Valium, or Xanax.
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants slow down activity in the brain. These drugs increase the activity of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that inhibits the activity of other brain cells. When GABA is increased, people can feel drowsy or calm, an effect that is helpful for those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders. Too much GABA, though, is not a good thing. It can cause confusion and slowed breathing. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are CNS depressant medications; and alcohol—although not a medication—is also a CNS depressant. Combining them can be very risky. Since CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity, stopping their use suddenly after long-term use can cause seizures, because the brain cells become overactive. This reaction can be prevented when these medications are taken and stopped under a doctor’s care.
Stimulants have chemical structures that are similar to certain key brain neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow nerve cells to send messages to each other. Stimulants increase the levels of these chemicals in the brain and body. This can increase blood pressure and heart rate and open up the pathways of the respiratory system, which can increase alertness, attention, and energy. Again, too much of a good thing is not good. An overdose of stimulants can cause anxiety, panic, tremors, irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, and even heart attack. People who stop taking stimulants after some time may suffer from fatigue and depression because the brain adapts and decreases its natural response to the brain chemicals that stimulants resemble.