The hassles of daily living sometimes require that people have the needed energy for optimal functioning. More often than not, people use drugs for the purposes of altering their mood or behaving in expected ways. For a case in point, stimulants such as Ritalin are used to induce wakefulness in order to complete a task etc. The use of these drugs as prescribed by experts usually has no or little consequences. However, the use of these prescription drugs for non-medical purposes can have devastating effects on the health and behaviour of an individual.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines substance abuse (prescription drug abuse) as a pattern of recurrent use that leads to devastating consequences such as impairment of daily functioning, psychological and physical distress, potential danger to oneself and others and social alienation.

Codeine is a prescription   medication used to treat mild to moderate pain, cough and diarrhoea. In the last two decades, codeine use has increased globally and this is primarily due to the use of the drug for non-medical purposes.  In Ghana, the menace of drug abuse cuts across all age brackets. Few decades back, drugs were used by only adults.

On the contrary, research shows that teenage boys and girls are increasingly indulging in drug abuse as a result of peer pressure and adventure. In recent times, Ghana has seen an unprecedented and alarming shift in the abuse of mainstream drugs such as alcohol, marijuana etc. to the abuse of opioid analgesics and tramadol.

A report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed that an estimated 52 million people globally had used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes at least once in their lifetimes by the year 2011. The report further revealed that “unintentional overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers have quadrupled since 1999, and by 2007, outnumbered those involving heroin and cocaine”.

More often than not, prescription drug abuse has psychological roots hence, the clinical psychologist plays an imperative role in treating the condition. To a lay person,  prescription drug abuse may simply considered as bad behavioural choice.                                                                                                                                                                        On the contrary, the behaviour is usually complex and may stem from unresolved psychological problems or even forces beyond the control of the abuser. Conventionally, prescription drug abuse is considered as a disorder which can be treated by a combination of behavioural and medical interventions.

The psychologist is responsible for the behavioural intervention in prescription drug abuse management. The role of the psychologist is determining the root cause of the behaviour which is done through psychological testing. Psychotherapy is the generic name for all forms of psychological therapies. Psychotherapy is very crucial in treating prescription drug abuse because it unearths the root cause of the maladaptive or bad behaviour and provides evidence-based mental health treatment options.

The psychotherapeutic process conventionally, involves a professional and an ethical relationship between a therapist and client (patient). The aforementioned relationship thrives on empathy, unconditional positive regard, confidentiality and genuineness on the part of the therapist. The client also fosters the relationship via full cooperation.

The root of prescription drug abuse could be biological, psychological, social or learnt behaviour. The root of the behaviour determines the treatment avenues that would be explored. Generally, prescription drug abusers are often blamed for not being able to deter from the behaviour in spite of the detriment to their lives.

This victim-blaming occurs because the craving factor is often ruled out. Cravings for prescription drug reflect the body’s response to low blood levels of the addictive drug. This leads to the stimulation of certain brain parts which is interpreted as a dire need for the abuser to ingest the prescription drug. Once the psychologist is able to determine that the root cause of the addictive behaviour is biological, interventions are given to help the patient overcome the harmful cravings.

Prescription drug abuse may be psychological. Generally, psychological disorders can be caused by unresolved conflicts in childhood (parent-child problems) and may surface in the form of maladaptive behaviours such as prescription drug abuse during adulthood.

According to Sigmund Freud, a renowned psychologist, from 0-18 months in the life of every individual, the mouth is used predominantly hence, when proper training is not given, the child may develop an oral-dependent personality which is characterized by obsession to gain oral gratification or enjoyment. In this vein, prescription drug abuse could be an indication of oral-dependent personality.

Once the psychologist is able to trace the cause of the maladaptive behaviour to the childhood of the patient, intervention is given to amend the problem. Also, the therapist may resort to prescription drug replacement therapy.

The therapist may prescribe healthy vitamin tablets that are similar to the prescription drug being abused so that the client would ingest it rather than the prescription drug. With this treatment option, the client is able to attain oral gratification as well as improve their health by ingesting the healthy vitamins.

Invoking fear in the abuser by highlighting the possible consequences of the behaviour is one of the approaches used in psychotherapy. Abusers of prescription drugs are usually well-schooled on the effects of their behaviour however, they become all the more cautious when it emanates from an expert and would want to put in measures to desist form the behaviour.

The psychologist presents clinical evidence of the consequences of the behaviour explicitly. Consequently, abusers become more active in the treatment process. The cause of every prescription drug abuse is as important as its treatment and psychotherapy provides both.

To conclude, by conventional wisdom, prescription drug abuse meets the criteria for abnormal behaviour that is; it can cause psychological or physical distress, dysfunction and has the potential of making the abuser harm themselves or others. As a result, treatment of this maladaptive behaviour is imperative and the psychologist has the expertise to do so.