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rebbel's avatar

Can taking medication for an illness be considered an addiction?

Asked by rebbel (23543 points ) March 13th, 2011

When someone uses medication for, let us say, ADHD, for several years, can you say that that person is addicted to it?
And in case one wants to stop taking his meds is he/she going to face the same difficulties as an addict to cocaine or meth?

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14 Answers

marinelife's avatar

No, but he/she will return to the symptomatic state that they were in before they started medication.

Moat drugs are not addictive in nature.

augustlan's avatar

It depends on the drug, really. If the medication is an addictive one, likely yes. For instance, if one takes narcotic pain killers for an extended period of time (to deal with chronic pain), they’re likely addicted, and will experience withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing the medication (in addition to a return of the pain). However, if you’re taking medication for say, high cholesterol, there is no addiction involved.

Sometimes, the relief one receives from an addictive medication is well worth the risk of addiction.

Also, nice to see you!

john65pennington's avatar

Augustian, good answer.

nikipedia's avatar

It depends on what you want to use the word “addiction” for. If you mean a substance that we experience withdrawal symptoms without, water and food and oxygen become addictions. But if we make the definition that broad it stops being a useful word.

I think when most of us talk about addictions, we are talking about something that we voluntarily used because it brought us pleasure, and eventually find ourselves using whether it brings us pleasure or not. And this makes us feel like our use isn’t voluntary anymore.

In that case I don’t think medications count, since the intent was to cure an illness rather than just to seek pleasure.

seazen_'s avatar

Good to see you back.

I agree with @augustlan

mamalis's avatar

I think the two answers above are great, and I’m going to build on them both. Having professionally written about this before, one <can> become addicted to prescription medication, but the two different terms to look at are: “Dependence” and “Addiction.” When your body has been used to a medication for awhile – it becomes dependent upon it. This often happens with.. ADHD meds, SSRIs, Pain Meds, etc etc. That means, when you go OFF the med, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms and def become symptomatic again. The difference between Dependence and Addiction tends to be what Niki mentioned – Addiction brings more of the .. psychological into it. Adverse behaviors. Continuing when it’s not good or beneficial. Psychological cravings. One can be ‘dependent’ but not ‘addicted.’ Hope that makes sense.

Nullo's avatar

Re-emergence of the symptoms that the drugs were suppressing is not the same thing as withdrawal.

keobooks's avatar

I had to quit taking my ADHD medication when I got pregnant and I’ve had to stay off it while nursing. I never had any withdrawal symptoms, but my ADHD came back. It’s odd because I don’t think it’s as bad as it was, because I learned some organizational skills while I was on the medication. At the same time, I sometimes FEEL like it’s worse because now I know what it’s like not to be so disorganized and spacey.

I miss feeling “smart”—which is how I felt on the medication. Things that just made sense and came easily to me on the medication now are extremely confusing and I can’t figure out basic things anymore. I also tend to repeat myself and talk in circles.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

I disagree with @augustlan regarding the nature of addiction. Experiencing withdrawal upon discontinuing a medication (such as narcotic) is not addiction. Rather, it is physiologic tolerance. The body becomes resistant to a drug, so a higher dose is needed to achieve the same effects. Often chemical receptors are up- or down-regulated to cause this. Once the receptor sensitivity is altered, stopping the medication will cause the person symptoms, known as withdrawal.

Addiction involves someone spending inordinate amount of effort to get their drug of choice. Addiction involves maladaptive behaviors. In other words, just physiologically needing a drug isn’t necessarily addiction; spending all of one’s time and money to get a drug probably is.

JLeslie's avatar

Depends on the drug and the individual. Also being dependent might be different than addiction? Doctors will say antidepressants aren’t addictive, drugs like Prozac, but in my book they are. However, that does not mean don’t take it. Sometimes the therapeutic properties of certain drugs are worth the downside of being addicted. People in chronic pain, or unable to function due to intense anxiety tend to take very addictive drugs, and I think it is fine.

Buttonstc's avatar

As mentioned by others, there is a critical difference between physical dependence of the body and addiction.

An insulin dependent diabetic is not addicted to the insulin but his body would suffer were it to be abruptly discontinued.

Another example would be severe asthmatics who are taking Prednisone or a similar anti-inflammatory steroid (NOT to be confused with anabolic steroids taken by sports figures)

But these asthmatics (who are termed steroid-dependent) cannot just suddenly stop taking them without risk of severe illness or death. Their body is dependent upon these steroids and dosages MUST BE lowered gradually, if at all.

In both the examples above there is physical dependence but clearly not addiction.

The critical difference with painkillers is that the narcotic ones (as opposed to Aspirin or Ibuprofen) have additional euphoric type of mind altering properties.

Not everyone taking narcotic pain meds becomes addicted even tho their bodies develop a tolerance over time. If they have successful surgery or some other type of medical procedure to eliminate the source of the pain, they can successfully eliminate their need for these meds gradually down to zero.

So what’s the crucial difference between folks like this and those who become addicts?

It’s not even necessarily the amounts being taken. It’s WHY they are taking them. The path down the road to addiction begins the first time that they increase the dosage or frequency for emotional or psychological reasons in addition to the physical pain.

That sets up a pattern of using the euphoric effects of the drug to compensate for whatever other parts of their life they don’t want to or can’t cope with (apart from the physical pain).

This increasingly becomes their way to escape from life rather than dealing with it.

That’s the beginning of destruction. Even if the physical pain lessens or is eliminated, the pattern persists. They are continuing to take it for their emotional or psychological pain. It becomes a substitute for living life in reality with all of it’s attendant sorrows as well as joys.

Whatever pleasure or joy they experience comes from the side effects of the painkillers rather than their relationships with their family and friends and/or the pleasure of accomplishment over life’s adversities.

THAT is addiction. Not only is their body dependent upon the drug, their mind and emotions are dependent as well.

That’s the primary difference between physical dependence and addiction.

Dr_Dredd's avatar

@Buttonstc said it much better than I did. That’s what I was going for. :-)

rebbel's avatar

Thank you guys and gals for all your replies, it is very enlightning!

lonelydragon's avatar

Only if said drugs have such bad side effects that they interfere with the person’s daily functioning. but most prescribed medicines for illness do the opposite, enabling a person to function.

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