Around the world, humans have a long history of non-medical use of prescription drugs, evident across many sectors of society. Today we understand that addiction is far more widespread than just poor communities, and even our upper echelon individuals suffer quietly.

No one is immune to addiction’s wide grip, and we have seen that by the epidemic of drug abuse in the 21st century. The most common prescription drugs that are abused are opioids and benzodiazepines, but that does not mean others cannot be misused.

The last 20 years have shown a trend of non-medical use of an increasing spectrum of medications, including newer hypnotics, methylphenidate, and antidepressants. Those who partake in non-medical use of prescription drugs possess a background in poly-drug abuse, and it means these medications are being used without a valid prescription from a medical practitioner.

Antipsychotics are among the medications most commonly prescribed by psychiatrists, but evidence has emerged showing non-medical use of these drugs like olanzapine. One such study shows psychiatric patients appear to have become dependent on their antipsychotic medications.

A study out of Ireland backs up this report and focuses on how antipsychotic drugs are outpacing that of stimulant medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These reveal that if medicines give off euphoric effects, despite what they are designed for, they have the potential to cause addiction. The drugs boast anxiolytic properties and are frequently used to counteract the “come” down from cocaine.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine conducted a study on 92 individuals that took olanzapine, and the respondents were primarily male at 65 percent, and they had all been taking methadone for five years with an average age of 31. Thirty percent of them reported a lifetime history of non-medical use of olanzapine, and these statistics did not differ from those without a history of application based on gender, age, or duration of methadone treatment.

Of those who reported a lifetime history of non-medical use of olanzapine, two reported being prescribed the medication and using it as the doctor intended. Nine people said doses of 30 milligrams or higher on a typical day of use, and three more stated they were using 100 milligrams. The three heaviest users consumed 900 milligrams, 1200 milligrams, and 1800 milligrams in the month before the interview.

It shows that some medications may not always be the answer. Those who abuse drugs typically have a co-occuring disorder that fuels their drug habit, and if the medicine is not treating their underlying condition, it makes sense why they would abuse something that “feels good.” The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality.

Psychosis most often occurs when a person is in their late teens to mid-twenties, and it is a symptom of mental illness or a physical condition. Three out of 100 people will experience psychosis at some point in their lives, and it can affect all walks of life. Due to the severity of the problem, it does requires medications to be treated, but some drugs hold a higher potential of being abused, as we’ve demonstrated above.

What is Olanzapine (Zyprexa)?

Olanzapine is a medication that works in the brain to treat schizophrenia, and it is also known as a second generation antipsychotic (SGA) or atypical antipsychotic. Olanzapine is designed to rebalance dopamine and serotonin to improve the user’s thinking, mood, and behavior.

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder that affects less than one percent of the U.S. population, and when the disorder is active, it can bring along severe symptoms that alter the quality of one’s life. There is no cure for schizophrenia; research has led to new, safer treatments. Experts in the medical community have also begun to unravel the causes of the disease by studying genetics, conducting behavioral research, and use imaging to look at the brain’s structure and function. It has led to more effective medications and therapies.

Some of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • POSITIVE PSYCHOTIC SYMPTOMS. Hallucinations, such as hearing voices, paranoid delusions, and exaggerated or distorted perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors
  • NEGATIVE SYMPTOMS. A loss or decrease in the ability to initiate plans, speak, express emotion or find pleasure.
  • IMPAIRED COGNITION. Problems with attention, concentration, memory and declining educational or work performance

Olanzapine is designed to treat some or all of these symptoms. Olanzapine is U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for the following:

  • Acute treatment of manic or mixed episodes of bipolar disorder
  • Maintenance (long-term treatment of bipolar disorder)
  • Acute treatment of agitation in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Schizophrenia requires long-term treatment, and despite feeling better, someone who is using olanzapine should not stop use without medical supervision. Only your physician can determine the length of olanzapine treatment, and missing doses when the drug is used as prescribed can pose a risk for relapse of symptoms.

Is Olanzapine Addictive?

Olanzapine has some features in common with other prescriptions that are known to lead to misuse and abuse, but how likely is it to cause addiction. According to the Food and Drug Administration, olanzapine has been shown to cause effects that are similar to central nervous system depressants. Depressants are a wide drug category that includes barbiturates, benzodiazepines, sleep aids, and alcohol. Many drugs in this category are abused for recreational purposes. They may be used to achieve a relaxing high that’s similar to alcohol intoxication, or they may be mixed with other substances to achieve a unique high. 

However, animal studies have not shown any evidence for significant abuse potential. In these animal studies, rats were given doses 15 times the maximum recommended dose, and rhesus monkeys were given eight times the maximum dose. Despite these large doses, the studies didn’t find a significant abuse or dependence potential. Clinical trials in humans also didn’t reveal abuse or dependence liability, but the FDA points out that there hasn’t been a systematic study of abuse, tolerance, or physical dependence in humans. 

One of the reasons olanzapine may not have a high abuse potential is that it has a long half-life. But how long does olanzapine stay in your system?

The drug can take 33 hours for it to be reduced to half of its original concentration in your blood. Depending on the brand or means of administration, you may not take the drug more than once per day. Common drugs of abuse tend to have shorter durations of action. Recreational drug users gravitate toward substances that give them a euphoric high quickly and then wears off when the high is over. 

Still, because olanzapine has some of the qualities of a depressant, it’s possible for it to be misused as a recreational substance. The FDA warns that doctors should be cautious when prescribing the drug to patients with a history of substance use problems.

Can Olanzapine Cause Addiction?

Even though studies on the abuse and dependence liability of olanzapine are limited, it may still be possible to develop a substance use problem, especially if you misuse or abuse the drug. Misuse is using the drug for its therapeutic purposes without a prescription or without consulting a medical professional. Abuse is using the drug for recreational purposes or to achieve a euphoric high.

In short, yes, when olanzapine is abused, it can be addictive. Drug users often abuse the drug for their sedative and anxiolytic effects, and the user seeks out the calming and hallucinogenic effects that they create. Olanzapine is commonly used in conjunction with opiates or benzodiazepines for an enhanced sedative and calming effect. The standard dose of olanzapine, when used as prescribed, is 10-15 milligrams, but those who abuse it consume 40-50 milligrams, or four to five tablets a day.

Side Effects Associated with Olanzapine Consist Of:

  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Akathisia (an inability to sit still)
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Weight gain
  • Increased appetite
  • Memory problems
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Stomach pain
  • Back pain
  • Numbness or tingly feeling
  • Missed menstrual periods

Is Coming off Olanzapine Dangerous?

Many prescription drugs can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that appear when you cut back or stop using the drug. The severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on several factors, including whether or not you taper off the drug or quit cold turkey. It’s important to reach out to your doctor or pharmacist before adjusting your dose or quitting the medication. One of the most common withdrawal symptoms you may encounter with an antipsychotic like olanzapine is a rebound. Rebound symptoms are the return of symptoms that the drug was originally used to treat. 

Rebound symptoms in antipsychotic drugs can be serious, causing the return of psychosis, suicidal thoughts, sleeplessness, excessive sweating, and loss of appetite. Managing a psychotic disorder can be difficult, and using medication properly is a major part of effective treatment. If you need to stop using the drug for any reason, speak to your doctor about coming off olanzapine safely. 

Signs of Olanzapine Withdrawal

Since olanzapine can be addictive, it should not be stopped without medical supervision. The term antipsychotic discontinuation syndrome is a name for the collection of symptoms that can occur when someone suddenly stops an antipsychotic or drastically lowers their dose. A person may abstain from olanzapine for several reasons that range from the perception of the medication effectively treating their symptoms, adverse side effects, or those abusing the drug and runs out. Whichever the case may be, severe symptoms can occur.

Olanzapine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Vomiting, nausea, diarrhea
  • Inability to sleep
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Dizziness
  • Issues with muscle movement including involuntary muscle contractions

Antipsychotic discontinuation syndrome symptoms generally appear within the first few days after cessation of olanzapine and tend to be the most severe around the one-week mark. Since each person is different, the symptoms can be much more severe than others. For that reason, medical detoxification is recommended for someone to safely get through the withdrawal process. Withdrawal can be unpredictable, and if you are ready to stop using olanzapine, Arete Recovery can help.

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