Prescription Drug Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatment Resources

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    What you will learn
    • Prescription drugs have many benefits but are frequently misused and can cause addiction.
    • Examples of abused prescription drugs are stimulants, benzodiazepines, and opioid painkillers.
    • Prescription drug use can result in short-term and long-term effects, ranging from nausea and dizziness to permanent liver damage.

    Prescription drugs have long been used to treat a variety of ailments, but many also have a significant potential for abuse. Many people become so accustomed to their medications that they don’t even realize that they’ve developed a dependence. Let’s look at how you can identify dependence and what to do about it.


    What are prescription drugs?

    Prescription drugs can be used to treat everything from pain to mental illnesses and certain diseases. While prescription drugs can do a lot of good, they can also cause addiction, dependence, and serious health issues. 

    Fatal overdoses caused by prescription drugs rose during the past 20 years, only leveling out in the last few years.[1] The need for prescription drug addiction treatment has also risen to meet the demand for growing drug abuse.


    Side Effects of Benzos (Xanax®, Valium®, etc.)

    Benzodiazepines are primarily used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They work by dampening the body’s nervous system so that it works more slowly than usual. Side effects include confusion, dizziness, muscle weakness, and slurred speech.

    Most benzos, like Xanax®, are Schedule IV controlled substances. This means they have less of a potential for abuse compared to Schedule III or Schedule II substances. Benzo users may call these drugs blues, Roche’s, duck eggs, and mother’s little helpers.

    Side Effects of Opioid Painkillers (OxyContin®, Vicodin®, Percocet®, etc.)

    Opioids are one of the most addictive prescription drugs you can get your hands on. Many who develop an opioid dependence find themselves seeking prescription drug rehab to address and overcome it safely. 

    These medications are Schedule II controlled substances due to their very high potential for addiction and dependence. Other names for these drugs include vikes, oxy, hydros, and white stuff. 

    There are many uncomfortable side effects, including nausea, constipation, dizziness, and euphoria. Some people may experience a slow heart rate which could lead to an overdose.

    Side Effects of Stimulants (Adderall®, Ritalin®, Concerta®, Daytrana®, etc.)

    Stimulants are designed to speed up the nervous system’s functions. Many, like Adderall®, are meant to control the symptoms of ADHD or narcolepsy. Many stimulants are considered Schedule II substances because of their high potential for abuse. 

    Some of the most common side effects of these drugs include anxiety, weight loss, trouble concentrating, rapid heart rate, and insomnia. Stimulant users may refer to these drugs as addy, diet coke, coke jr, and rids. 

    How are prescription drugs taken?

    Almost all prescription drugs come in pill or tablet form and must be swallowed but not chewed. This allows the pill to slowly break down and release in the stomach rather than being released all at once. This keeps the use of the drug as safe as possible.

    When these drugs are used on the street, they are used differently to experience a more powerful “high” or euphoric response. Opioid painkiller pills like oxycodone are often crushed up and snorted through the nose or injected directly into the bloodstream. This allows the drug to be released all at once. This is extremely dangerous and often leads to accidental overdoses. 


    Prescription Drug Quick Reference 

    Drug Category Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
    Benzos (CNS Depressants) Xanax®, Valium®, Librium®, Paxipam®, blues, duck eggs, mother’s little helpers Schedule IV Oral pills
    Stimulants Adderall®, Ritalin®, Concerta®, Addy, diet coke, rids Schedule IIN Oral pills
    Opioids OxyContin®, Vicodin®, Percocet®, oxy, hydros, vikes, white stuff Schedule II Oral pills

    Learn More About Specific Prescription Drugs 

    • Sleeping Pill  Addiction
    • Opioid Addiction (Painkiller Addiction)
    • Adderall Addiction
    • Suboxone Addiction
    • Benzo Addiction

    Statistics on Prescription Drug Use, Misuse, and Addiction 

    In the past, opioid painkillers have been responsible for or connected to more than 16,000 deaths in a single year.[2] Many more have succumbed to opioid-related deaths year after year. 

    Many people hold to the misconception that these drugs are always safe because they are prescribed by a doctor, but this simply isn’t true. Any drug has the potential for abuse, though some may have a higher abuse potential than others. Addictions are more likely to form in those who already have substance use issues in other areas of their lives.[3]


    Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

    Prescription drug abuse often causes changes in a person’s behavior and appearance. Some may seem more agitated or engage in risky behavior like stealing. Many people lose weight, start slurring, and have trouble remembering things when they become addicted. Certain drugs may damage your internal organs and brain as well.

    Can You Overdose on Prescription Drugs? 

    Many deaths happen every year because of prescription drug overdoses. Overdoses happen when a person takes too much of a substance at once. It may also happen if the person uses the drug incorrectly, such as by chewing, snorting, smoking, or injecting it. 

    Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Overdose

    If a person has overdosed on prescription drugs, they may start vomiting, seizing, and seem confused. They may also become unresponsive and have a very slow and faint pulse. 

    What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on prescription drugs:

    It is important to call 911 right away if you find someone you believe has overdosed on drugs. Once a person is unresponsive, they may slip into a coma, and the overdose may become fatal. Getting medical attention will give that person the best chance of surviving.

    Dangers of Long-Term Prescription Drug Use

    Long-term drug use can take a serious toll on your health. The liver is the most vulnerable organ since this is where the substances are metabolized. 

    Many long-term substance use disorder sufferers experience liver and kidney damage. They may also suffer damage to the heart, lungs, and brain. Once this damage occurs, it is usually impossible to reverse it. Opioid painkillers and benzos like Xanax® are especially harmful to the brain.

    Mixing Prescription Drugs with Other Substances

    It is never a good idea to mix prescription drugs with other substances, such as benzodiazepines with alcohol. Since both benzos and alcohol suppress the nervous system, you could pass out, or your heart could stop. 

    Mixing prescription drugs with street drugs can also lead to cardiac problems, brain damage, and organ damage, as well as coma and death. 


    Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse

    All prescription drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction, but some are more addictive than others. Opioid painkillers are known for having a high potential for abuse, as are stimulants like Adderall. 

    Signs of Addiction to Prescription Drugs

    Common signs of addiction include watery eyes, itchy skin, weight loss, behavioral changes, and jitteriness. Some may steal money from their family and friends to illegally obtain more drugs. Others may steal prescriptions from medicine cabinets or money to purchase more. 


    Prescription Drug Addiction and Mental Health

    Being addicted to prescription medication can make a person feel hopeless. They may feel that they have no control over their lives. This can cause depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. This can become a larger problem if there is a preexisting mental health issue.


    Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

    The cost of treatment will depend on what kind of program you need. Most programs will cost more than a thousand dollars. You will have to receive treatment for 90 days or more in most cases. The treatment process involves detox, one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and more. 

    Therapies Used in Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

    Holistic therapies like Cognitive behavioral therapy are very common and highly effective for treating substance dependence. It helps people think in a more productive and positive way. Group therapy is ideal for relating your problems with others. Medication-assisted treatment is also effective for managing withdrawal symptoms.

    Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

    Mental health concerns like anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand with substance use. In some cases, substances are used to numb how one is feeling or to provide relief from mental health disorder symptoms. Many people who have developed a dependence on prescription drugs may also already be relying on other substances, such as alcohol. 


    Prescription Drug Withdrawal Management and Treatment 

    Going through withdrawals is a tough process, but it can be made easier with medication-assisted professional support. Most people take a month to fully go through withdrawals, but it may take only a week or two for some. The timeline will depend on the withdrawal management strategies each client needs.  

    Drugs Used in Prescription Drug Withdrawal Management

    Medications like buprenorphine, Suboxone®, naltrexone, Vivitrol®, and methadone can help reduce cravings and discomfort associated with withdrawal. It’s important to note that not everyone is a good fit for MAT Therapy. Your individual treatment plan will be customized to your needs.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can You Get Addicted to Prescription Drugs?
    How Do People Take Prescription Drugs?
    What Are the Side Effects of Prescription Drugs?

    Are you or a loved one struggling with Prescription Drug Addiction?

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