YOU’VE probably heard a lot in the press recently about prescription drug addiction.

It’s a major problem, so much so that it is estimated that treatments for it will soon outnumber those for alcohol and illegal drug misuse.

The most common addictions are to strong painkillers like codeine, as well as to sleeping pills, weight-loss pills, and anti-depressants. Whilst these medications can really help when taken appropriately, using them too much for too long can cause you to become more tolerant to them, meaning that you’d need to take more to get the same effect.

To compound matters, if you use a drug a lot, you may find that trying to give it up can cause withdrawal symptoms that make you feel really ill. To avoid this, people keep taking the drugs, but over-using them can cause permanent damage to your liver and kidneys, or cause you to develop sleep problems, dizziness and sedation. I also worry about patients driving safely or operating machinery on some of the drugs that are commonly prescribed.

Prescription drug addiction has become such a problem that some patients even try to mislead their doctor to get more drugs, or buy them online from unknown sources. Websites that sell ‘prescription’ drugs should be avoided. Some of them look very professional, but you really have no idea what you are taking or where it came from. Tragically, a few people have even died as a result of taking ‘prescription’ drugs bought online.

If you are prescribed a drug by your doctor it’s important that you take it exactly as instructed. If you don’t get on with that medication go back to your doctor straight away, especially if you are getting side effects, are worried that it isn’t working as well as it did, or that you’re getting dependent on it.

Addiction is a complicated subject and there can be many reasons why someone might misuse substances. Often it starts out as something straightforward, like seeking to reduce the pain from an injury or a long-term condition, then it becomes habit, and from there it’s a slippery slope to addiction and dependence.

Sometimes addiction can be a really difficult issue to approach with patients and there may be lots of other reasons why a person has developed dependence. If you are worried that you or someone you know might be addicted to prescription medication, call FRANK on 0300 123 6600 or visit, for 24/7 confidential advice about where to go and what to do.

Dr Jeff Stoker is a local GP at the Bermuda and Marlowe Practice in Basingstoke, with over 20 years’ experience in the NHS.