November 14, 2023

Prescription Drug Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

image of woman representing what is an addiction

Prescription drug abuse refers to the use of prescription medication in ways not prescribed by a healthcare professional. Abusing prescription drugs may involve taking more than prescribed doses, taking someone else’s prescription painkiller for personal use, or altering the route of administration – by crushing pills and then snorting or injecting the substance to trigger a euphoric high, for instance.

Prescription drug abuse, otherwise known as prescription medication misuse, can develop into a persistent and compulsive pattern that leads to the development of an addiction to prescription drugs, clinically described as substance use disorder.

Opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and stimulants are among the most addictive prescription drugs. This form of substance abuse impacts all age groups, including young adults. Adverse outcomes associated with prescription medication addiction include dependence, addiction, and overdose. Early identification and timely intervention of the abuse of prescription drugs can help prevent the development of addiction, an incurable but treatable chronic condition.

Are Prescription Drugs Addictive?

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An addiction to prescription medication may develop, even in individuals who use the drugs as directed by their prescribing physicians. The abuse of controlled medications increases the risk of addiction.

Frequently misused prescription drugs include:

  1. Prescription opioids: Opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and tramadol are substances associated with abuse and addiction. In this category, fentanyl is perhaps the most addictive prescription drug. This synthetic opioid is up to 100 times stronger than morphine.
  2. Prescription benzodiazepines: Benzos like Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin are prescription medications that are all frequently abused. Z-drugs like zolpidem and tranquilizers like chlordiazepoxide are also known drugs of abuse.
  3. Prescription stimulants: Dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate are stimulants prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy that may be abused for non-medical purposes.

All of these Schedule II controlled substances medications can lead to the development of tolerance, causing the effects of the medication to diminish. Many people attempt to counter tolerance by increasing consumption. Abuse of prescription medications is likely to result in the development of physical dependence. Dependence often but not always leads to addiction. If you become addicted to prescription drugs, engaging with evidence-based treatment will streamline the recovery process. Before you learn how to connect with help near you, how can you tell when addiction to prescription medication is developing?

Prescription Drug Addiction Signs

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse can vary depending on the specific drug. Due to their potential for inducing altered states of consciousness, the most commonly misused prescription drugs are opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Specific signs and symptoms differ depending on the prescription drug being abused.

Signs of opioid addiction

Opioids are indicated to treat moderate and severe pain. Signs of addiction to this class of medication may include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Euphoria
  • Decreased respiratory rate
  • Lethargy
  • Mental confusion
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Increased tolerance requiring higher doses for pain relief
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

Signs of benzodiazepine addiction

Benzos are prescribed to treat panic disorders and anxiety disorders. Potential markers of benzodiazepine addiction might include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady gait
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired focus
  • Dizziness
  • Memory impairments
  • Depressed respiration

Signs of stimulant addiction

If you or someone that you know is prescribed stimulants for the treatment of narcolepsy or ADHD, look for the following indicators of addiction:

  • Heightened alertness
  • Euphoria
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

Signs of addiction that are not substance-specific

Watch for the following red flags for prescription drug addiction:

  • Forging, theft, or sale of prescriptions
  • Noncompliance with prescribed doses
  • Hostility
  • Mood swings
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Impulsive decision-making
  • Altered energy levels
  • Drowsiness
  • Attempts to obtain early refills
  • Repeated claims of lost prescriptions
  • Seeking prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers
image of man representing prescription drug addiction abuse

Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms

DSM-5-TR, published by American Psychiatric Association, outlines the criteria for diagnosing substance use disordera. These are the symptoms of prescription drug addiction:

  1. Medication is often taken in larger amounts or for longer than intended.
  2. Unsuccessful attempts to moderate or discontinue use.
  3. Spending lots of time using the medication or recovering from its effects.
  4. Cravings for the prescription medication.
  5. Ongoing use resulting in a failure to meet personal and professional commitments.
  6. Continuing use of prescription drugs even though it is causing or worsening interpersonal problems.
  7. Giving up or reducing important activities in favor of using prescription medications.
  8. Using prescription medications in dangerous situations.
  9. Taking prescription medications even though they are triggering or inflaming a physical or psychological condition.
  10. Tolerance developing so that more of the medication is required to deliver the initial effects.
  11. Withdrawal symptoms manifesting when use is moderated or discontinued.

The severity of prescription drug addiction is determined by the number of symptoms present:

  1. Mild: 2 to 3 symptoms
  2. Moderate: 4 to 5 symptoms
  3. Severe: 6 or more symptoms.

Consult a qualified healthcare professional for a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis. They can help determine the severity and appropriate course of action for treatment.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Treatment for prescription drug abuse typically involves a comprehensive and personalized approach.

Medical detoxification

Under the supervision of healthcare professionals, individuals undergo a carefully managed detox process to rid the body of the addictive substance under controlled conditions.

Behavioral therapy

Engaging in various forms of therapy, including CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and CM (contingency management), can help address the underlying triggers and behaviors associated with prescription drug addiction.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment)

In certain cases, FDA-approved medications may be prescribed to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, facilitating the recovery process.

Support groups

Participating in support groups and counseling sessions to foster a sense of community and receive guidance and encouragement from peers facing similar challenges.

Holistic approaches

Incorporating holistic practices such as mindfulness techniques, yoga, and meditation to promote overall well-being and address the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction.

Aftercare planning

Developing a comprehensive aftercare plan that may include continued therapy, regular check-ins, and access to support networks to prevent relapse and maintain long-term recovery.

An image of a woman using addiction hotline's to find prescription drug addiction treatment

Call Addiction Hotline for Help with Prescription Drug Addiction

Do you or a loved one need prescription drug addiction treatment? If so, call our substance abuse hotline any time of day or night for immediate assistance.

Fewer than one in ten people with addictions engage with any form of treatment. Regrettably, addiction is a chronic condition that typically worsens if untreated. If you have no idea how to initiate your recovery, call our hotline today at 855-701-0479 and we can help you find the detox services and addiction treatment you need in California.

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Compassionate Care for Substance Abuse Treatment

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