30 November 2011

Living with medicine addiction

Two people shared their experiences with medicine addiction on this week's episode of "'n Lewe met".


Suzette was not only addicted to medicine, but also developed a secondary dependence on alcohol. In January 2010, she finally went to a clinic for help, which saved her life. Eberhard was a successful lawyer in the early 80s with a fast-paced, frantic lifestyle. His GP prescribed a tranquiliser which developed into a full-blown medicine addiction. After a few narrow escapes, Eberhard was admitted to a rehabilitation centre and in April 2011, he celebrated 25 years of being clean and sober.

The two guests shared their experience of medicine addiction with Ruda and Dr Colin on this week's episode of kykNET's mental health series 'n Lewe met.

More about medicine addiction

Medicines that can be bought without a prescription over the counter and that may be addictive include the following:

  • Medicines and cough syrups containing codeine
  • Slimming remedies containing ephedrine and/or amphetamine

Although men and women can both become addicted to over-the-counter and prescription medicines, it is more common among women. There is a notable difference between the profile of the person who abuses prescription medicine and the one who abuses over-the-counter medicine. A person who is a member of a medical aid and who often falls in a higher income category is more likely to become addicted to prescription medicine.

The impression is often created that only “bored housewives” become addicted to medicine. Although there are such women too, the general profile of a medicine addict is usually a lot different than one would expect. Men and women who are under pressure at work or at home and who use medicine to help them cope, can also become addicted to medicine.

Medicine addiction is one of the most underrated addictions and is becoming more prevalent. The reasons for this are as follows:

  • The medicines are more readily available than drugs that must be bought on the streets.
  • There is a perception that it is not as dangerous as other narcotics.
  • It is more socially acceptable.

A person who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression or posttraumatic stress disorder, will often use medicine with addictive qualities as prescribed by their doctor or psychiatrist. They use certain substances to get relief of their anxiety, sleeplessness or depression, but use more and more over time in order to get the same effect. Their doctors are often unaware of this. In most cases, the person has developed a tolerance to the specific medicine, but it can also be that the person has become emotionally addicted to the medicine even before the physical addiction has set in. This happens when the underlying cause of the problem is not addressed and the person uses the medicine (with or without alcohol) in order to suppress the symptoms.

Ask the experts

If you think you may have a problem with addiction, post a question to our online Addiction Expert.

Learn more

Visit our Drug and Alcohol Centre.

Support groups

Elim Clinic

Tel: 011 975 2951



Medihelp’s DVD series

The ’n Lewe met series is based on Medihelp’s popular documentary DVD series Living With, which deals with 13 different mental health conditions. More information on alcohol abuse and the effect it has on people and their families who are living with this condition is available on the DVD “Living with Alcoholism”. Every DVD in the series also includes an information guide containing more information on the condition and details of support groups. DVDs cost R189 each and can be ordered via their website

(Medihelp and Health24, November 2011)

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