Prescription Drug Addiction

Estimated reading time: 33 minute(s)

Prescription drugs can be quite effective in treating a wide range of medical and psychological conditions. 

Some prescriptions, though, are more liable to be abused than others. Misuse of prescription drugs happens when a drug is taken in a manner other than that for which it was intended. This could apply to increasing the dosage, taking another person’s medication, or abusing a prescription drug to get high.

Prescription drug misuse is a growing problem that can impact all age groups, even adolescents. Opioid analgesics, sedatives, anti-anxiety medications, and stimulants are the prescription medications most frequently abused.

Around 16 million Americans aged twelve and older abused prescription drugs in 2020. Sadly, the misuse of prescribed drugs can have extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal consequences. Identification and treatment of prescription medication abuse at an early stage may stop the problem from becoming an addiction.

What Is A Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug addiction is a serious illness characterized by using or administering prescription medicines excessively and recurrently, to the point where everyday functioning becomes dependent on these substances. In addition to prescription painkillers, also known as ‘opiates,’ addictive prescription medicines include stimulants and benzodiazepines.

It is essential to know that the use of prescription medications is not risk-free; if they are not taken as prescribed, they can produce a variety of serious side effects and even be fatal. Many individuals develop the destructive habit of prescription drug abuse after being prescribed the drugs for a genuine medical condition, while others abuse the medications for solely recreational purposes.

Furthermore, prescription drug addiction may be challenging to recognize due to the fact that patients may perform quite well for extended periods while using prescription drugs; they may not realize there is a problem until they are unable to function without the substance.

You can conquer the temptation to take prescription medicines and learn how to live a happy, drug-free life again if you receive effective therapy as part of a complete addiction treatment program.

The most abused substances are:

  • Opioid analgesics, which include codeine, oxycodone, and fentanyl
  • Depressants of the central nervous system (CNS), such as tranquilizers like benzodiazepines and anti-anxiety drugs like alprazolam
  • Stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall are often recommended for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Understanding The Signs Of Prescription Drug Addiction

Without a sound knowledge of prescription drug addiction symptoms, it can be difficult to detect a prescription addiction. Substance abuse disorders can affect a person’s appearance, behavior, and emotions, and the symptoms of substance abuse can be behavioral, physical, and psychological.

Not all drug and alcohol users have a substance addiction problem. However, approximately 10 percent of Americans battle substance misuse. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction is the preliminary step in getting assistance.

Fortunately for worried loved ones, family members, and friends, many features of addiction are straightforward to recognize, and many types of substance addiction have comparable signs and symptoms. If one can detect the symptoms of addiction, he or she may be able to assist a friend or relative who is afflicted with this disease.

Signs Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Recognizing the various signs of a prescription drug addict that perhaps becomes a part of their personality may be crucial in assisting a loved one or oneself.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 18 million Americans abused prescription medications in 2017. Abuse of prescription pharmaceuticals entails taking medications in a manner other than what was recommended. According to the National Institute on Drug Usage, prescription drug abuse can lead to dependence and a higher likelihood of overdose.

Prescription medication abuse is identified by the following symptoms.

Physical Changes

The physical manifestations of prescription medication abuse vary by drug type. Among the symptoms of opioid misuse are:

  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Pain that cannot be alleviated by large doses.

Included among the symptoms of central nervous system depressant misuse are:

  • Slow breathing rate
  • Memory impairment
  • Dizziness
  • Poor focus
  • Slow language
  • Unstable walking

Among the signs of stimulant abuse are:

  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Trouble sleeping

Behavioral Changes

Abuse of prescription drugs can cause mood swings, impulsivity, irritability, and neglect of duties such as school and job. According to experts, more peculiar and odd habits may include:

  • Requesting refills in advance
  • Visiting many physicians for the same condition.
  • Frequent trips to the restroom
  • Constantly shifting work hours
  • Leaving the house at unexpected times
  • Altering standard practices

Relationship Difficulties

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, a drug problem might lead an individual to separate themselves or lash out at loved ones. If talking with a loved one about their prescription medication use proves challenging, you may need to seek professional assistance.

Denial and fury are fairly common responses that might further harm a person’s relationship. It could be more useful to consult a mental health expert before initiating a dialogue.

Money Problems

As per the Mayo Clinic, spending a substantial amount of money on medications is also indicative of drug abuse. A person who has a problem with prescription drugs may also have to borrow or steal to sustain their habit.

Withdrawal Symptoms From Prescription Drugs

It is natural for the body to develop a tolerance to certain prescription medications, even when they are taken as prescribed. Withdrawal, the body’s response to the absence of a substance after frequent usage, is a typical indicator of physical drug dependence. Some withdrawal symptoms may indicate prescription drug abuse or dependence.

To prevent misunderstanding physical dependency, addiction should be called psychological dependence.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 18 million Americans have abused prescription medicines, which can raise the likelihood of addiction or overdose. Abuse can comprise not just taking prescriptions as advised or using another person’s prescriptions. Understanding the withdrawal symptoms of prescription drugs is essential for using medicines safely and preventing further abuse.

Among opioid withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Expanded pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Pallor
  • Shakiness
  • Accelerating heart rate
  • Yawning
  • Goosebumps

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms relies mostly on the number of opioids consumed per day and, to a lesser extent, on the type of opioid consumed.

Opioid withdrawal is possible with the use of medications that treat withdrawal symptoms. If you are taking your meds as prescribed and are generally healthy, you could “theoretically” taper off of them at home. And for those with an opioid addiction who require addiction treatment, stopping at home may not solve the problem.

Recovery is only a minor portion of the treatment for opiate addiction. Stopping the use of opioids is necessary for treatment success, but it is not adequate on its own.

Symptoms of central nervous system depressant withdrawal include:

  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Highly active reflexes
  • Accelerating heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fever with perspiration
  • Hallucinations

As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, withdrawal from depressants of the central nervous system can be life-threatening and should be performed under medical care.

Among the symptoms associated with stimulant drug withdrawal are:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep troubles
  • Depression

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, long-term usage of prescription stimulants can also raise the risk of:

  • Anger
  • Psychosis
  • Heart, nervous system, and digestive disorders
  • Paranoia
  • Overdose

While opioids are the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in the United States, prescription stimulant overdoses are on the rise.

How To Tell If Someone Is Addicted To Pills

Physical signs (described above) can be your first signal that someone is abusing drugs, backed by behavioral and psychological changes.

Secretive Conduct

Of the behavioral indicators of drug misuse, secrecy and concealment are perhaps one of the most prevalent and informative. A person with addiction may grow progressively estranged from loved ones and frequently seeks alone to buy or consume drugs. They may feel compelled to conceal their prescription drug usage and may lie about their location or activities.

Cutting Off From Others

Isolation on social, emotional, and mental levels are classic indicators that a person needs assistance for a prescription drug addiction. To conceal their addiction, people with substance use disorders may distance themselves from their partners, friends, and family members. They will attempt to deflect questioning regarding inexplicable bodily changes, such as weight loss or track marks, and peculiar behaviors.

Putting off Duties

If a person is constantly high or in the effects of painkiller prescription medications or tranquilizers, they may ignore their daily obligations, such as going to school or work, running a household, or caring for their pets and other animals. They may have trouble remembering essential appointments or disregard pressing deadlines or responsibilities.

Financial Problems

Depending on the medication used, prescription addiction problems can be highly costly. To continue their drug addiction, a person may continually take loans from friends or family or sell their things. If a person with a substance use disorder does not receive treatment, they may face tremendous financial difficulty and even bankruptcy.

Sudden Mood Swings

When a person is battling with addiction, they may experience mood fluctuations that are unexplained or appear to be unprovoked. When high, a person may be hyperactive, affectionate, or agitated. As soon as the effects of the drug wear off and withdrawal symptoms manifest, they may become hostile, irritated, or even verbally abusive.


People struggling with substance abuse disorders may experience paranoid thoughts. Individuals who abuse prescription drugs may mistrust those around them, become extremely suspicious of family and friends, and attribute irrational motivations to the behavior of others. Counseling approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to manage paranoid delusions during addiction treatment.

Absence of motivation

A person with a substance use illness may feel enslaved by their disease, unable to quit using drugs despite their best efforts. Depression and hopelessness may accompany symptoms of withdrawal such as excessive lethargy, causing a person to feel uninspired or incapable of overcoming addiction.


Substance use problems can cause dramatic mood swings, as well as increased irritability and hypersensitivity. A person experiencing terrible physical withdrawal symptoms may be extremely angry and lash out abruptly in rage. However, as with other substance-induced mood disorders, feelings of irritation can be addressed with individual therapy.

Resource References:

  1. Prescription drug withdrawal: Know the signs. WebMD. Available at:
  2. Prescription drug abuse. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Available at:
  3. Signs of drug use and addiction – how to tell if someone is on Drugs. The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. Available at:
  4. Prescription drug addiction signs and symptoms. Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms and Signs | Manor Clinic UK. Available at:

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