People take prescription drugs to relieve the effects that injury, disease, surgery, and other ailments can have on the body and mind. However, many of these pharmaceuticals often cause negative side effects that can be worse than the original condition they were meant to treat. Others are highly addictive, adding the risk of pharmaceutical dependency to the already long list of side effects. Can natural alternatives to prescription drugs be the answer?
Risks Of Prescription Drugs
The rise of the prescription drug crisis in the United States has many people questioning whether the advantages of prescription drugs outweigh the disadvantages. Prescription drugs, including opioids, were developed to provide us relief from pain – whether after surgery or associated with an illness or condition – and assist us in managing the effects of conditions on our bodies. However, the list of side effects seems to be ever-growing, and when you consider the addictive properties of certain drugs it can seem as if the negatives outweigh the positive aspects.
In fact, according to U.S. News and World Report, adverse drug reactions from taking properly prescribed prescription medications could be the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, if a recent study continues to prove accurate. That’s without factoring in accidental overdose, recreational misuse, and erroneous prescriptions, and is below only heart disease, cancer, and assorted accidents. Perhaps, ironically, the two leading causes of death almost always necessitate pharmaceutical prescriptions.
Prescription Drug Side Effects
Even non-fatal side effects lead to somewhere between 1.5 and 2.7 million hospitalizations each year, costing patients time and money. Federal law requires pharmaceutical companies to list all known side effects. Then, they must investigate the side effects with human studies before printing it in the pamphlet released with the drug upon prescription. Side effects can occur due to a number of reasons, including high dosage, adverse interactions with other drugs, or an individual’s reaction to an ingredient in the drug.
The most common drug side effects cited by patients in the United States include:
Constipation or diarrhea
Skin reactions, including dermatitis
This list is certainly not comprehensive. In fact, as new drugs come about, the potential for new side effects remains.
The Potential For Addiction
As previously mentioned, the addictive properties of many prescription pain medications present an entirely different side to the prescription drug problem in the United States. Currently, the country is experiencing an opioid crisis the likes of which we have never seen before. In fact, the crisis – which many are calling an epidemic due to its rapid spread and steep rise – caused over 400,000 overdose deaths since 1997 and continues to kill 130 Americans every day.
Due to their chemically addictive properties, anyone can become addicted to opioids, even first-time users attempting to recover from a surgery or stave off the pain of a chronic condition. Commonly abused opioids include:
Hydrocodone, such as Vicodin
Oxycodone like OxyContin and Percocet
Hydromorphone, such as Dilaudid
Though opioids are currently under fire from the government as well as private citizens, other classes of prescription drugs put you at risk for addiction as well, having caused over 700,000 deaths due to overdose between 1997 and 2017. Besides opioids, commonly abused prescriptions include:
Stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin
Depressants, including Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Luminal
The longer you take a highly addictive prescription drug, the higher your risk of addiction and the harder it will be to cease taking it.
Natural Alternatives to Prescription Drugs
In light of the numerous side effects and potentially addictive qualities of nearly every prescription drug on the market, many people are beginning to research natural prescription alternatives. Moreover, care providers and patients alike are coming to view the consideration of natural alternatives as part of taking an active part in one’s own informed health decisions. Can natural alternatives really provide relief from the chronic pain, surgery pain, and medical conditions as well as prescription drugs can?
In some cases, yes. Consider the fact that the number one target of natural alternatives to prescription drugs is the potentially unhealthy lifestyle of the patient. For example, patients suffering from high cholesterol are often prescribed statins to lower blood cholesterol levels. Statin prescriptions often come with a healthy dose of diet and lifestyle advice from the care provider – eat a healthy diet, get exercise when you can. Unfortunately, often the only advice followed is the eventual filling of the prescription.
Advocates of natural alternatives stress the inclusion of foods with omega-3 fatty acids to combat the cholesterol in the system. While omega-3s won’t lower your bad cholesterol, they will raise levels of the good cholesterol in your blood. In addition, foods rich in omega-3s can reduce the risk of heart-attack-producing blood clots, as well as reducing the oxidation that produces inflammation in the body.
Another area commonly addressed by natural drug alternatives is clinical depression and anxiety. The side effects listed for most antidepressants include suicidal thoughts and increased depression and anxiety – factors that serve to practically negate the purpose of taking the drug in the first place. As a result, even medical doctors are looking into natural alternatives to these drugs, such as supplementing with Vitamin D for individuals with low Vitamin D levels, dietary changes, endorphin-boosting activities, and more.
In the end, there are likely some conditions for which doctors will always prescribe pharmaceuticals. However, natural alternatives to medications are worth consideration, especially as an accompaniment to a conservative prescription schedule and under medical supervision. Natural alternatives may not completely replace prescription drugs, but can help us eliminate some of the risk factors they present.