Being gay, lesbian, transgender or any of the other “titles” given to those of us who do not fit into the sexual conventions of society is not easy. Many of us are forced to hide in the proverbial “closet” for years for fear of being ostracized and ridiculed by friends, family and colleagues should we dare to be our true selves. Living this double life, wearing a mask for years, hiding our sexual identity creates tremendous emotional pressure, not to mention unwarranted feelings of shame and guilt. Many of us, in a last ditch attempt to cope, turn to drink, drugs or prescription medication to escape the loneliness and shame. Prescription drugs are prescribed by your doctor to help with a certain illness or physical issue. Mostly these drugs provide relief, but only when used as instructed. Overuse or regular use outside of the prescribed dose can lead to problems and your body may develop a tolerance, you will then need to keep increasing the dose to reach the same desired results. This can then result in addiction, overdose and even death. There is hope though. It is not uncommon for people like us to to stumble into addiction. Fortunately South Africa has some of the most well staffed drug rehabilitation centres in the world, attracting clients from around the globe. The popular drug rehabs in Cape Town are often more than 70% occupied with visitors from overseas, many of whom are gay, lesbian or transgender.
The general prescription drugs that have addictive qualities are:
- Opiates: These help to relieve pain and are one of the most common addictive drugs
- Anti-depressants: These treat anxiety, depression and panic disorders. These include barbiturates and benzodiazepines.
- Stimulants: Drugs that can treat things like ADHD and obesity (weight loss). These drugs help to increase alertness and energy.
- Codeine: It is mainly used for pain relief and can be found in many over the counter medication as well as in prescription drugs. It is often combined with aspirin and ibuprofen and produces a sedative or even a euphoric effect. It is very easy to become dependent on this drug and care should be taken when consuming too many.
- Oxycodone: This drug can create a euphoric and sedative effect. Prescribed to reduce moderate or severe pain. This drug can cause some people to become tolerant and dependant, ending in addiction.
Somebody who is addicted to opiates such as, Oxycodone is at a 40% higher risk of developing a heroin addiction.
- Pethidine (Demerol): A synthetic opiate that helps to reduce pain. The drug was designed to be less addictive, but still has a high risk of dependency. The main reason for abusing this drug is its euphoric effects. Misuse of this drug can also cause seizures and confusion.
- Xanax: The prescription medication alprazolam, Xanax being the trade name, can be found in the group of drugs known as benzodiazepines. This is often prescribed for anxiety and panic disorders. Anybody using this drug should be very cautious as patients who follow the exact prescription can become addicted before they realize it.
- Valium: Diazepam sold as Valium can also be found in the group of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Commonly prescribed for conditions like, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia. This highly addictive drug has a variety of uses but can cause drowsiness, confusion and in serious cases even coma.
- Pentobarbital: This drug acts on the nervous system and slows brain activity down. Mainly used as sedation before surgery it can also be used for insomnia and treatment for seizures in an emergency. This drug is part of the barbiturate family and thus has addictive qualities. A person on this drug may have to have professional help and treatment to stop using it.
- Amphetamines: A nervous system stimulant that is prescribed for ADHD, narcolepsy and in cases of obesity. The drug is abused because of its stimulant effects and is very similar in effect as cocaine. Many people take the drug for other purposes to help them stay awake. For example shift workers or truck drivers take the drug to keep awake.
- Ritalin: A central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin and is used in cases where people have ADHD. Ritalin can be habit forming and can lead to other serious side effects, especially on the heart if used incorrectly.
Rehabs and treatment centres are not the only option. There has been an increasing number of sober living houses or sober homes sprouting up. One such establishment is Liberty Home, a place of safety for sober living Cape Town. Do you suspect a loved one who is abusing any of these medications? Be aware of the signs and symptoms of prescription drugs and take the next important step of getting professional help. This can be in the form of counselling and rehabilitation. The most important thing to remember is not to wait to get help, but to get treatment immediately.