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How to Stop Using Medication Safely

Drug dependence and drug addiction are two very different medical conditions. You may develop a dependence on a drug without being addicted to it. While having a physical dependence means you rely on a substance to get through the day, it is not a criterion for substance use disorder. 

Some drugs often associated with causing dependence in its users are antidepressants, prescription opioids, and benzodiazepines. However, the risk of developing dependence does not mean that these drugs should be avoided. These are still essential medications that treat medical conditions. Prescription opioids are necessary for managing chronic pain. Someone struggling with anxiety may need medications like antidepressants and benzodiazepine to help them cope with intense emotions.

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It is safe to take prescription medications, for as long as you follow your physician’s recommended dosage. Once your condition improves, your doctor may taper off your current prescription. But if you start lying to your doctor or start to see other healthcare providers just to get a prescription for certain pills, it may be a sign of a more serious issue. When this happens, seek immediate medical help. Your physician may refer you to undergo treatment for physical dependence in a nearby facility, or for a consult with a Fort Myers drug rehab center. Before making a decision, it’s best to discuss your options with your medical team.

Because of their addictive nature, these prescription drugs are not meant for long-term use and you will need to discontinue taking them. However, you shouldn’t abruptly stop as you may experience withdrawal symptoms. To avoid this, it is important to learn about some of the common prescription drugs related to physical dependence and how to safely ease off them.

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Why Does Physical Dependence Happen?

You may develop physical dependence when you continuously consume a certain substance over some time. This is because the drug affects your brain and central nervous system, and the repeated exposure causes the brain to become accustomed to the effects of the medication. When you stop taking the medication, the brain is suddenly forced to re-adapt to the absence of the drug. This may cause your body to exhibit symptoms of withdrawal.  

Withdrawal Symptoms

Depending on the medication you were prescribed and the length of time you used it for, you may experience withdrawal symptoms as your body adjusts to the lack of the drug in your system. Although each person’s body may have a different reaction, the most common symptoms include:

·       Nausea and vomiting

·       Muscle aches and spasms

·       Increase in heart rate

·       Diarrhea

·       Anxiety

·       Depression

·       Hallucinating

·       Difficulty focusing

Tapering Antidepressants Usage

Antidepressants help reduce anxiety, improve mood, and dispel suicidal thoughts by changing how your brain’s neurotransmitters work and modulating your emotions. These drugs are designed to address the chemical imbalance in your brain, which may be the cause of the depression you experience. 

Over time, you may want to stop taking antidepressants. This is not an easy task so it’s best to talk to your physician about safely tapering off the medication to avoid any symptoms of withdrawal. To do this, your doctor will design a tapering schedule by considering the type of antidepressant you are taking, how long you have been taking it, and your current dosage. The schedule may also be based on the recommendation of the American Psychiatric Association to ease off antidepressants over several weeks.

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In addition, your doctor will need to think about your pill’s half-life or the time when half of the medication is metabolized and eliminated from the bloodstream. If the antidepressant you are taking has a short half-life, you will need a longer tapering period than when consuming those with a long half-life.

Weaning Off Prescription Opioids

Opioids are powerful painkillers and have a high risk of causing physical dependence when used for longer than prescribed. Some common prescription opioids include oxycodone, codeine, and fentanyl. Since anyone can be at risk of developing an opioid dependence, your physician will eventually wean you off the drug. They may ask you to reduce your daily dose each week by 10 to 25 percent. On the other hand, if you have been under long-term opioid treatment, your doctor may ask you to reduce your current opioid dose by 10 to 25 percent every month. This means it may take around three to nine months before you can completely stop taking opioids.

The plan to taper off your medication depends on your medical condition. Ultimately, the goal is to slowly and safely reduce your opioid use and let your body adjust to the lower levels of opioid until you reach a point that your body is already comfortable without the drug.

Discontinuing Use of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are also known as benzos and are used to treat moderate to severe types of anxiety. It acts by binding the neurons called GABA receptors and slowing down hyperactivity in the brain, allowing you to relax. Benzos are recommended to be used for a short time to reduce the risk of developing a dependency on the drug’s sedative effect.

Since anticipatory anxiety may be part of withdrawal symptoms, your doctor will help you wean off the medication. Depending on the anxiety disorder you have and your current benzodiazepine dose, tapering off the drug may take a couple of months or longer. Some may even last for one to two years. Initially, the reduction range is between five and 25 percent of the starting dose. This may be further reduced to another five or 25 percent every one to four weeks. The rate of decreasing the dosage will depend on how you can tolerate the withdrawal symptoms.

Medications are meant to heal illnesses. However, some drugs pose a risk of causing drug dependence, including those prescribed by your physician. Unlike other medications that you can just stop taking,  it’s important to learn how to safely wean off these types of medicine. Whether it may be benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or prescription opioids, you need to consult your doctor on the best tapering schedule for your medical condition. 

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