Drug and Alcohol

Prescription Drug Abuse: What You Need to Know

Prescription drug abuse is a very common gateway into addiction. Our blog gives you the important facts about prescription drug addiction.

Prescription Drug Abuse: What You Need to Know

Table of Contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

December 7, 2022

The Edge Treatment Center

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription drug misuse and abuse occur when a medication is taken incorrectly (for example, without a prescription).

Unfortunately, prescription drug abuse and misuse among young people is a big issue. According to National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data on teenagers and young adults, reportedly more than 5,700 youth take pain medications for the first time without a doctor's supervision.

Misuse of prescription drugs involves taking them for purposes other than those prescribed by a doctor. Prescription medication abuse includes snatching or breaking pills to using a friend's painkiller prescription to get high. Prescription drug addiction can develop chronic and compulsive even when users know the risks.

Misuse of prescription medications is a serious problem affecting people of all ages, especially young adults and teens. Prescription opioid pain relievers, anti-anxiety meds, benzodiazepines, and stimulants are among the most often misused pharmaceuticals. However, if it is detected and treated early, prescription drug abuse can be stopped before it becomes an addiction.

What Are the Most Abused Prescription Drugs?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, three types of prescription medicines are frequently abused:

  • Opioids used to treat pain, like oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet) and hydrocodone-containing medicines (Norco)

  • Alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and zolpidem are some examples of anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, and sleeping pills used to treat anxiety and depression disorders.

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some sleep disorders are treated with stimulants such as methylphenidate and dextroamphetamine-amphetamine (Dexedrine)

The Reasons Driving Prescription Drug Abuse

But what factors contribute to prescription medication abuse? Why do people abuse these substances when they can cause harm? Despite the negative consequences of prescription drug usage, many people become addicted to their drugs for many reasons.

Some of the most prevalent reasons for prescription drug addiction are:

  • In search of euphoria or a high

  • To unwind or relieve stress

  • To deal with the stress of a demanding or hectic job or employer

  • To deal with the stress of financial difficulties

  • To keep withdrawal symptoms to a minimum

  • Acceptance from peers

  • To boost sociability and "loosen up" in social situations

  • To boost or improve partying at clubs, raves, music festivals, and other events

  • Increase one's ability to focus on a task or one's studies

Prescription Drug Abuse: Risk Factors

You can avoid addiction to prescriptions if you keep in touch with your doctor and take your meds exactly as prescribed. However, in addition to the many causes of prescription drug misuse, there are several prescription substance or drug abuse risk factors to consider.

  • Your family has a history of addiction or substance use issues.

  • Addiction to other substances in the past or present

  • A mental disease that existed previously

  • Peer pressure or living in an environment where substance abuse is frequent

  • Lack of information about the consequences of abusing prescription drugs due to easy access to prescription prescriptions, such as having multiple pills at home

In addition to these risk factors, hundreds of other circumstances can lead to pharmaceutical overuse. One typical reason for prescription medication misuse is that patients increase their doses to deal with discomfort after surgery. Individuals addicted to prescription drugs increase their risks of organ failure, cardiovascular illness, overdose, and death if they do not receive treatment.

It's also important to avoid excessive use of painkillers as this leads to addiction. Painkillers are commonly prescribed but using them regularly can be addictive and can have a significant impact on the brain. Painkillers are used to treat pain, which is commonly necessary after an injury or surgery.

According to NIDA, however, consuming a painkiller causes the brain to release excessive levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter found naturally in the brain that is released to reward normal survival activities such as ingesting food. Unfortunately, painkillers overstimulate this system and "create euphoric effects that strongly reinforce drug use behavior — encouraging the user to repeat it," according to NIDA.

Furthermore, long-term painkiller use may need the patient to increase their prescription strength to achieve the same pain-relieving results. Worryingly, the patient may rely emotionally on this state of bliss. As a result, the addiction becomes difficult to break and frequently necessitates therapy for both its physical and emotional aspects.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about prescription drug abuse? Reach out today.

Prescription Drug Abuse: Study Drugs

One of the most common forms of prescription drug abuse is when people share their pills with another person. Because everyone reacts differently to the effects of medications, using a non-prescribed drug increases the likelihood of allergic responses, incompatibility with others such as alcohol, and maybe an experience of a drug overdose.

Medications for attention deficit disorder, sleeping problems, or medications designed to treat anxiety, such as Ritalin, Ambien, Xanax, and Adderall, are not usually prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but are frequently shared and sold to others. In college, it’s not uncommon to see these referred to as “study drugs,” for the supposed advantage they give students.

Regardless of the purpose for sharing pharmaceuticals, it is considered drug abuse and can lead to prosecution, a criminal history, fines, and possibly jail time.

Prescription Drug Abuse: Side Effects

Prescription drug abuse can lead to a variety of issues. For example, when mixed with other prescription pharmaceuticals, some OTC medicines, or when combined with alcoholic beverages or illicit recreational drugs, prescription drugs can be very harmful and even fatal. 

Here are some severe effects of prescription drug abuse:

Medical Side Effects

Opioids: These can induce delayed breathing and even cause breathing to stop. Antidepressants can potentially result in a coma. Overdosing can be lethal.

Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications:  Abusing benzos and other tranquilizers can make you feel calmer or less nervous … and also might cause memory issues, a drop in blood pressure, and delayed breathing. Coma or death may occur in cases of overdose. Symptoms of withdrawal, such as a heightened nervous system and possible seizures, may occur if the medicine is suddenly stopped.

Prescription stimulants: Hyperthermia, heart problems, increased blood pressure, spasms or cramps, hallucinations, aggressiveness, and paranoia are all possible side effects of abusing ADHD drugs.

Prescription Drug Abuse: Addiction and Physical Dependence

Because frequently abused prescription medications trigger the brain's circuitry, physical dependency and addiction are conceivable.

Physical dependence: The body's response to chronic drug use is physical dependency, also known as drug tolerance. People who have developed a physical dependence on the medicine may experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly reduce or stop taking their prescribed dosage.

Addiction: Addicts not only develop a physiological tolerance to the drug but also crave it and use it even when it negatively impacts every aspect of their lives.

Other repercussions include:

  • Participating in unsafe activities due to poor judgment

  • Unlawful or psychotropic substance use

  • Getting involved in criminal activity

  • Demonstrating poor academic or occupational performance

  • Having problems with their relationships

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you have more questions about prescription drug abuse? Reach out.

Prescription Drug Abuse Symptoms

It is difficult to conceal a prescription drug addiction. Although it may be challenging to recognize a person having a prescription medication problem at first, the indicators become more visible as their addiction progresses.

The following are some frequent indicators of prescription medication addiction that you and your dear ones should be aware of.

  • Stomach pain, constipation, and vomiting and nausea

  • Insomnia

  • Breathing rate has slowed

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Coordination failure

  • Anxiety

  • An extra dose is required to feel the same effect (tolerance)

  • Pain sensitivity increases with higher doses (hyperalgesia)

  • Speech that is slurred

  • Paranoia

  • Concentration problems

  • Memory issues

  • Body temperature and elevated blood pressure

  • Behavioral signs include:

  • Stealing, forging, or selling prescriptions and medications

  • Taking higher-than-recommended doses

  • Unpredictable mood swings

  • Irritability

  • Sleep pattern changes

  • Ineffective decision-making

  • Impaired decision-making

  • Being high might reflect an improved mood, lethargy, or drowsiness

  • Constantly asking for refills

The symptoms of prescription drug addiction differ based on the substance. Prescription amphetamines, for example, promote alertness but can also damage the cardiovascular system. Tranquilizers create sleepiness and can affect the respiratory system.

You should only use prescription medications if your doctor recommends them.

Is Prescription Drug Addiction Treatable?

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction includes drugs that can help people regain control without increasing the risk of addiction. Sublocade (buprenorphine) is used to treat opiate withdrawal and dependence. To avoid relapse, doctors frequently combine it with the medicine naloxone (a combination known as Bunavail, Suboxone, or Zubsolv).

If you've been using buprenorphine pills and your body has eliminated all of the medications you've been abusing, you may have another kind of buprenorphine implanted under your skin. This is known as Probuphine. It delivers a steady dose of buprenorphine for six months. Sublocade, a monthly shot of buprenorphine, is also available.

Counseling is also part of the treatment for prescription drug addiction. You may also need to go to drug detox under the supervision of a doctor. 

Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse

It's not uncommon for people who need prescription painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants to manage a medical condition to develop a dependency on such medications. Here are some things you can do if your doctor has prescribed you a drug that many people end up abusing:

Ensure You're Taking the Right Prescription

Make sure your prescription is your prescription and not someone else's.

Make Sure Your Doctor Is Familiar with Your Health

Talk to your doctor about everything you're taking, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, and alcoholic beverages. It's a good idea to talk to your doctor about possible substitutions for your current medicine that don't have the same potential for abuse.

Talk to Your Family Physician

Talk to your doctor often to ensure you're getting the right dosage and the treatment is working.

Always Follow the Doctor’s Orders for Prescriptions

Take your medication as prescribed. If a prescription does not seem to be helping, do not stop taking it or change the dosage without first talking to your doctor. For example, don't take more of a pain reliever if you notice it's not helping.

Know How Your Prescription Works

Consult your doctor or pharmacist about the possible adverse reactions to any medications you take. In addition, determine whether there are any supplementary substances, including prescription pharmaceuticals, OTC medications, and alcohol, that you should not use while taking this medication.

Don’t Use Another Person’s Prescription

Although you may share similar symptoms, the treatment or dose prescribed may not be ideal for you.

Always Be Aware of Prescription Drug Abuse

You must follow the guidelines on your medication to reduce the risk of prescription drug misuse and should never alter the dosage without first consulting your doctor. Take steps to understand your medication as well. You should be aware of which consequences are typical and which are abnormal. Take your prescription drug and never use someone else's medication, even if you have comparable medical issues.

You should always contact your doctor/physician if you have been prescribed medication, as you should be aware of the symptoms as well as any other medications you are taking to ensure that you have been prescribed the optimum medication. Also, make sure that toddlers and teenagers have limited access to drugs. If your child is taking medication, they should understand that sharing it with others or consuming it without supervision is unacceptable. Parents should also educate children about the risks of abusing drugs and the consequences they carry.

Further, addressing the issue can be aided by educating both adolescents and their parents on the risks associated with drug usage and misuse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) created the website NIDA for Teens: The Science Underlying Medication Abuse to inform teenagers, their families, and educators about the research underlying the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Experts from NIDA collaborated with youth to create a site that provides factual information about the effects of drugs on the brain and body; this was done to guarantee the site's continued relevance and to empower young people with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Treatment is available if you or someone you know has a drug problem. Most drug addictions are treatable with the assistance of the primary physician, a service organization of friends and family, and rehabilitative therapy.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you need advice about prescription drug abuse? Reach out today.

How Can You Assist a Loved One Who Is Dependent on Prescription Drugs?

Consult your doctor if you suspect a family member or close friend is abusing prescription medicines. They can direct you to drug treatment programs that may be of assistance. You can also dial 1-800-662-HELP to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health crisis line (4357).

Discuss your concerns with the individual, so they know the issue. Prepare for a lot of opposition and denial. Many addicts must endure severe consequences before they understand they have a problem and seek assistance. Then, walk beside the person as they attempt to overcome their addiction.

The Edge Treatment Center Uses Evidence-Based Care to Treat Prescription Drug Addiction

The Edge Treatment Center is the nation's premier drug addiction treatment provider. Our facility provides greater flexibility in its treatment plans to ensure that everyone receives tailored treatment that can result in better and faster results, paving the path to sobriety and normal, healthy life.

The therapy options include assistance for those whose depression is intimately linked to substance misuse and alcoholism, with a combination of professional therapies and personal monitoring at every stage of recovery.

Don’t risk the harmful outcomes of prescription drug addiction. Contact The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more!

Newsletter banner

Sign up for Our Newsletter

Stay updated with the latest news, resources, and updates from The Edge Treatment Center, #1 Orange County Rehab.