Meds and you

07 February 2012

Medicine addiction

Many people are addicted to medicines - and it's often the over-the-counter medicines that can be bought without prescription.


Many people are addicted to medicines - and it's often the over-the-counter medicines that can be bought without prescription.

Medicines that can be bought in this way 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 and Health24, November 2011)

Read more

Visit our Meds&You section


< Back to Street drugs and alcohol centre




Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.