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“Bridging”: A New Prescription Drug Abuse Trend

Bridging is a street term used to describe the abuse of prescription drugs, not to gain a high, but to minimize withdrawal symptoms between highs. The practice is most common among people suffering from opioid and benzodiazepine addiction. Both families of drugs cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Opioid and Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms If your loved one abuses opioid painkillers, heroin or benzodiazepines, his primary concern is finding enough drugs for his next high. His secondary concern, which can become almost as important as the next high, is the control of withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal onset occurs as early as six hours after the last high. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can kick in within 24 hours, although withdrawal from long-acting tranquilizers may be delayed up to three weeks after drug cessation. Withdrawal symptoms are extremely unpleasant and can leave the addict unable to function. Equally important, from the addict’s point of view, withdrawal symptoms attract attention and may alert family members, friends or employers to the addiction. Common withdrawal symptoms for opioid addiction, including heroin, are anxiety, abdominal and muscular cramping, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea and rapid heartbeat. Benzodiazepine withdrawal causes more severe symptoms, including high anxiety, paranoia, rapid heartbeat, muscle cramps, seizures, tremors and sweating. Bridging the Gap To minimize withdrawal symptoms until their next high, addicts may use prescription medication to “bridge” the gap. If your loved one suffers from an opioid addiction, for instance, he may try to acquire methadone. Often used to minimize opioid withdrawal in drug intervention programs, methadone is also prescribed for moderate pain management and can be obtained on the street. Other medication used in legitimate opioid addiction treatment includes the analgesic buprenorphine and a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Benzodiazepine addicts favor gabapentin as a bridging agent, an anticonvulsant that also treats anxiety. Identifying Bridging Behavior Identifying bridging behavior can be difficult, as your loved one will take pains to hide any evidence of his or her addiction. A preoccupation with medication may indicate bridging behavior. Opioid addicts often fake pain to gain the prescriptions they need, either for abuse or bridging. Watch for peaks and valleys in your loved one’s mood and physical health. Do the peaks correspond to any identifiable drug or medication use? Sudden changes in mood, behavior or physical symptoms should always be checked out, even if addiction isn’t suspected. Secrecy and anger about prescriptions may also indicate addictive behavior and the possible need for drug rehab. Image: phillmore photography

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