An addiction is a complex disorder that includes compulsive behavior, increase in tolerance for the drug, and continued use despite negative consequences. However, when people are taking prescription drugs, it can begin to look a lot like addiction, especially if they grow to become dependent upon them. But there are large differences between addiction and being dependent upon a drug.

For instance, when someone experiences chronic pain, he or she might have to rely upon painkillers in order to function in daily life. Painkillers are opiates which are incredibly addictive, making it easy to develop a dependence upon them. Depending up on the drug, someone with chemical dependency might experience tolerance and withdrawal (which are also traits of addiction). It’s clear that the body has adapted to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect, which is the definition of tolerance. At the same time, the body might experience physical or mental symptoms if drug use comes to an end, known as withdrawal symptoms. Chemical dependency can happen with the chronic use of drugs. This can happen with many prescription drugs as well, even if they are taken as instructed.

Although someone might have a chemical dependency on a drug doesn’t mean that they are addicted to it. Addictions are patterns of compulsive behavior that can get out of hand. A compulsion is an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against your own conscious wishes. Sure, you might have a compulsion to go the movies one night but it’s not an ongoing pattern that leads to not having money for food because you’re buying too many movie tickets. Your compulsion for going to the movies is held in check.

However, when a compulsion grows and expands it can turn into an addiction, which is often harmful to you and those around you. An alcohol or drug addiction, for example, could be defined by a loss of control where you find yourself spending large amounts of time engaging in alcohol-related activity to the point where you are neglecting social, academic, or familial responsibilities. You’re not only drinking but you’re thinking about drinking. You’re planning your day so that you can drink. You’re planning your financial life so that you can be sure to have enough money to buy alcohol throughout the month.

In summary, although dependency might include tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, as do addictions, dependency is not compulsive. When one’s relationship to a drug becomes compulsive, then he or she may be developing an addiction. This is why it’s essential to be monitored by a doctor while taking prescribed medication, particularly medication that is highly addictive.

It remains unclear why some people develop addictions and others don’t. However, the following can contribute to the development of an addiction in a particular individual:

  • -family history of addiction
  • -abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experience in childhood
  • -having a mental illness such as depression or anxiety
  • -early use of drugs
  • -method of taking the drug – smoking or injecting a drug can increase its addictive potential


If you are taking painkillers, be sure to stay in close communication with your doctor. For those who do develop an addiction to painkillers, many of them have resorted to heroin. Since both are opiates, heroin frequently becomes a drug of choice when prescription medication gets too expensive or the prescription runs out. Close communication with a doctor can prevent the danger of prescription drugs leading to addiction.

For instance, research has revealed that when Vicodin (an opiate painkiller) is taken according to the precise way it has been prescribed, it is a safe drug. When a patient takes it according to a doctor’s direction, Vicodin will relieve pain and rarely cause an addiction. However, when Vicodin is not taken according to direction, when this drug is abused in any way, that is when they become addictive.

If you’re taking prescription medication that has a high addictive quality, be sure to follow its instructions and stay in close communication with your doctor.

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