Prescription Drugs Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

The abuse of prescription drugs is an issue that continues to grow in severity within society.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction

While prescription medications can be helpful in reducing ailments for countless individuals, there are some people that find themselves trapped within a dangerous pattern of abuse due to the mind-altering and mood-altering effects that they cause. Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Pain medications (e.g., Vicodin, morphine, OxyContin, etc.)
  • Sedatives (e.g., Ambien)
  • Antianxiety medications (e.g., Klonopin, Valium, Xanax, etc.)
  • Stimulants (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall, etc.)

When these medications are consumed in larger doses than prescribed, or when they are taken more often than recommended by a qualified healthcare provider, they can trigger the onset of pleasurable feelings that individuals come to desire. The specific effects that that occur will depend on the specific medication that is being used. For instance, stimulants can increase one’s focus and energy, while also helping individuals lose weight. Antianxiety medications, pain medications, and sedatives can trigger the onset of euphoria, contentment, relaxation, and a sense of detachment from one’s surroundings. The attraction to these effects can be appealing to many, causing the continual cycle of prescription drug abuse to keep going. Thankfully, by participating in appropriate treatment interventions, prescription drug addiction can be defeated.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

Continual research has shown that the number of individuals who abuse prescription medications keeps rising. Specific studies prove that nearly 52 million people within the country have abused one form of prescription medication or another for non-medical reasons. Additional research has shown that prescription drug overdoses are responsible for more deaths than gunshot wounds, automobile accidents, and suicides.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

The causes and risk factors included in the development of a prescription drug abuse problem includes various components, which can be explained in the following:

Genetic: Research has offered evidence that there is a strong genetic tie to the onset of addiction, including the development of an addiction to prescription drugs. Individuals with family members who grapple with abusing prescription medications are at an increased risk for taking part in similar behaviors than those who do not possess similar genetic backgrounds.

Environmental: The environment in which an individual is surrounded can impact his or her susceptibility to starting to abuse prescription drugs. For example, those who are surrounded by substance abuse are more likely to experiment with abusing substances themselves, including prescription drugs, than are those who do not have this exposure. In addition, those who are able to get their hands on prescription drugs easily are more likely to start abusing them as well. Those who suffer from conditions that require them to consume prescription drugs are more likely to partake in patterns of abuse as they have the availability to the drug.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to substance abuse at an early age
  • Ongoing exposure to stressful situations or other types of conflict
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Suffering from pain conditions for which prescription medications are taken
  • Ease of access with which one can obtain prescription drugs
  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of other substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

When individuals are abusing prescription drugs, the signs and symptoms that they might show will vary depending on the medication they are abusing. However, some common examples of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that might develop that could indicate that an individual is battling a prescription drug abuse problem can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absences from work
  • No longer participating in activities that one once found enjoyable
  • Going to multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Altered ability to perform occupationally
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Lying
  • Stealing or borrowing money

Physical symptoms:

  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Impaired coordination
  • Changes in sleeping patterns

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Loss of sound judgment
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Declined reasoning capabilities
  • Declined ability to use decision-making skills
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Concentration difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Decline in motivation
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Periods of emotional detachment or emotional numbness
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed


Effects of prescription drug addiction

When prescription drug abuse is a continual factor within an individual’s life, he or she is likely to experience a number of upsetting effects. Some examples of these effects can include, however are not limited to, the following:

  • Disturbed relationships
  • Familial discord
  • Onset of, or worsening of, symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Decline in overall physical health
  • Memory disturbances
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Declined ability to perform well occupationally, potentially resulting in job loss
  • Chronic unemployment

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is not uncommon for individuals who are struggling with prescription drug addiction to also be battling symptoms of one or more mental health problems. Some of these conditions can include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

Those who abuse or who have become addicted to prescription drugs might also be at greater risk for numerous co-occurring mental health disorders, including the following:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: If an individual’s body has become adapted to the presence of prescription medications and then suddenly is no longer receiving them, then his or her body can start to experience withdrawal. Examples of potential signs and effects of prescription drug withdrawal include:

  • Feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Feelings of agitation and irritability
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Profuse sweating
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness

Effects of prescription drug overdose: When individuals consume more of a substance than they can metabolize or excrete, they are at risk of suffering an overdose. Overdosing on prescription drugs can be deadly, and it requires emergency medical attention to stop a fatal outcome from occurring. Signs that could show that someone has overdosed on prescription drugs can include:

  • Disorientation to person, time, place, and/or situation
  • Seizures
  • Falling into a coma
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Clammy skin
  • Changes in skin tone
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Dilated pupils
  • Losing the ability to communicate
  • Severe dizziness
What our clients are saying

My addiction to prescription drugs got to the point where I would steal prescriptions from my friends and family. Thanks to Huntington Creek, I was able to get the treatment that I deserved and they ultimately saved my life!

– Former Patient
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