Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction, such as its causes, side effects, and effective treatments in this comprehensive article.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction, such as its causes, side effects, and effective treatments in this comprehensive article.

Table of Contents

What Is Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drugs are medications that address medical concerns and are available only through a written prescription from a doctor. These drugs are regulated due to high chemical activity and an increased potential for abuse or misuse. In contrast, over-the-counter medications are available without a doctor’s prescription.

An addiction is an uncontrollable compulsive pattern of substance use, irrespective of the harm and consequences it causes. Thus, prescription drug addiction refers to compulsive prescription medication use for nonclinical purposes and ways not intended by the prescribing doctor, often stemming from progressive prescription drug abuse. 

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Addiction includes taking prescription medication for recreational use (e.g., for euphoric effects), at random, without a prescription, belonging to someone else, long after the regimen should have ended, and in larger doses than specified are cases of prescription drug abuse or misuse. 

Can You Get Addicted to Prescription Drugs?

Yes, addiction to prescription medication is possible and is more likely during the intake of drug classes with high addictive potential. In most cases, prolonged prescription drug misuse leads to substance tolerance and biological or psychological dependence, which develops into an addiction.

How Many People Are Addicted to Prescription Drugs?

In regards to prescription drugs, abuse and addiction have been a significant issue for decades. This is due to the fact that people’s brains are hardwired to become addicted to certain illicit substances.

In 2020, 0.3% of people aged twelve or older had a prescription stimulant use disorder, 0.4% had a prescription tranquilizer or sedative use disorder, and 0.8% had a prescription opioid use disorder. In 2021, an estimated 4.4% of twelfth-grade students reported misusing any prescription medication.1

Why Is Prescription Drug Addiction on the Rise?

The rise of prescription drug addiction could be due to increased accessibility over the years and reduced stigma around prescription medication use compared to illicit drug use, among other factors.
This rise in prescription use is seen in the younger demographic, possibly due to experimentation and subsequent dependence formation. In 2014, a national survey found that over 5,700 teenagers misused prescription pain relievers for the first time.

The Most Addictive Prescription Drugs

Some drugs have higher addictive potential than others. Due to this increased ability to induce dependency and drug-seeking behavior quickly, intake should be monitored and limited to a doctor’s prescription. 

The classes of drugs commonly misused will be detailed below.


Opioids are usually prescribed to numb pain, i.e., analgesics, and as cough suppressants. They are natural, semisynthetic, or synthetic derivatives of the poppy plant (Papaver somniferum). Common opioids include fentanyl, codeine, and morphine.

Data shows that four out of five prescriptions filled at a pharmacy are opioids. Additionally, opioids are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs, with 9.3 million cases.3


Stimulants are a class of drugs most commonly used to increase excitatory action in the nervous system. Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine, are generally prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, as they can increase energy levels, alertness, and attention.

Central Nervous System Depressants

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics, are prescribed for treating anxiety and sleep disorders. These depressants can increase the action of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the CNS, leading to sleepiness, calmness, and sometimes euphoria. Examples include drugs in the barbiturate and benzodiazepine chemical classes. 

Prescription Drug Addiction Causes and Risk Factors

The causes and risk factors of prescription drug addiction vary from person to person. However, knowing some of those potential risk factors can be helpful in recognizing addiction, should it arise.

Discover more about the biological, psychological, and environmental impacts of prescription drug addiction and misuse below.

What Causes Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug addiction is a mental health condition that occurs due to changes in the brain caused by repeat substance abuse. While the factors that incite abuse of prescription medication vary on an individual level, such as medical history and the specific drug abused, some causes occur more frequently.

Risk Factors of Prescription Drug Addiction

  • Medication overuse
  • Improper prescription drug usage
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Genetic factors
  • Environmental factors (increased accessibility, peer pressure)
  • Mental health conditions

Common Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Addiction

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of addiction development. These include:


Family studies suggest up to half of the risk of an individual developing prescription drug addiction depends on the individual’s genetic makeup.4 Individuals with a family history of addiction are most likely to show prescription drug addiction signs. However, a family history of addiction does not necessarily guarantee an individual’s prescription drug abuse or addiction.


Prescription drug abuse and addiction are common among young adults between eighteen and twenty-five due to higher incidences of experimentation. For example, they may take a stimulant like Adderall without a doctor’s prescription because they were told it helps them study better.

Mental Health

Mental health conditions like depression, ADHD, and anxiety can increase an individual’s risk of developing a prescription drug addiction. Prescription medication use, in this case, either based on a doctor’s recommendation or personal use, may spur feelings of euphoria that temporarily reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety. This leads to recurrent usage in a patient with mental health issues.

Physical Health

Opioids are commonly prescribed to patients with physical health conditions, such as chronic pain or rheumatoid arthritis, to treat physical pain. These painkillers are capable of inducing analgesic effects and feelings of euphoria. Continual use during care can eventually lead to drug dependence and addiction.

Past Addiction Experience

Individuals who have struggled with addiction or dependence on any substance have higher tendencies to develop an addiction to prescription drugs. This could be due to relying on prescription medication as an alternative to illicit drug use. 

Other Possible Factors

Environmental factors are other potential risk factors for prescription drug addiction. These factors include the availability of drugs, social and economic stressors (poverty), peer influence, and early exposure to physical or emotional trauma.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

High-level drug-seeking behavior marks prescription drug addiction symptoms and warning signs. Drug-seeking behavior can be observed as constant refills of medication, running out of prescriptions quicker than the instructed dose, neglecting responsibilities, poor self-care, disorderly conduct, and engaging in risky practices like buying and consuming illegal drugs.

The following include common physical, psychological, and behavioral signs of prescription drug addiction:

Physical Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Physical indications of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Impaired coordination or uncoordinated movements
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Pupils that are larger or smaller than usual
  • Poor self-care, such as poor hygiene and not eating or resting

Psychological Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Psychological indications of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Unexplained changes in mood or personality
  • Sudden mood swings, such as spontaneous joyfulness and anger outbursts
  • Frequently spacing out
  • Anxiety, paranoia, and fear for no reason

Behavioral Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Behavioral indications of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Drop in school or work performance
  • General withdrawal from interpersonal contact with others
  • Inability to keep up with current lifestyle and relationships
  • Sudden changes in friends, hobbies, and hangout spots

Side Effects and Health Risks of Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug abuse and addiction can lead to numerous side effects ranging from mild to severe. Additionally, the health risks involved can potentially be life-threatening, making it essential to learn about and have the ability to recognize these effects to prevent further damage.

Common Side Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

Misuse of prescription drugs can have several side effects, including:

  • Physical Dependence: Dependence occurs when the body grows accustomed to a substance, learning how to function normally with the drug in the system. Withdrawal symptoms, adverse effects when substance use ceases, commonly occur after dependence develops. 
  • Tolerance: Tolerance occurs when the body adjusts to the substance’s amount, resulting in the need to increase the dosage to experience the same effects.
  • Other Side Effects: Other common side effects include itching, sweating, dizziness, constipation, depression, and confusion.

Deadly Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

Misusing prescription drugs could have serious, sometimes deadly, effects on an individual’s physical and psychological health. Harmful effects of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Increased or reduced heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased or reduced blood pressure
  • Severe withdrawal seizures in the absence of medications
  • Slow breathing due to respiratory depression
  • Structural damage to the body, digestive issues, and other abnormalities
  • Coma
  • Death

Prescription Drug Overdose

The only way to prevent prescription drug overdose is to avoid unnecessary use and strictly follow the doctor’s prescription. A prescription drug overdose occurs when an excessive amount of prescription medication is consumed, resulting in toxicity. In this case, the body can no longer metabolize the prescription drug fast enough, leading to severe and life-threatening side effects and possibly death.

The higher the dosage consumed, the worse the prognosis of recovery from an overdose episode. In 2020, 16,416 people died from a prescription opioid overdose, 12,290 died from a drug overdose involving benzodiazepines, and 5,507 died from an overdose involving antidepressants.5

Other Warnings and Complications

  • Using Prescription Drugs With Alcohol: Using prescription drugs with alcohol is a dangerous yet common form of substance abuse. Mixing alcohol with most prescription medication can lead to interactions causing headaches, vomiting, fainting, losing coordination, internal bleeding, and heart problems. Also, alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of medications.
  • Polydrug Abuse: Polydrug use refers to using more than one drug, illicit or legal, simultaneously or sequentially. Polydrug use is common among older adults and people with multiple comorbidities, so the risk of unintentional polydrug abuse is higher in these groups. The use of multiple drugs that may interact with each other leads to an increase in potency and subsequent overdose.

Prescription Drug Addiction Prevention

Fortunately, prescription drug addiction can be prevented in various ways.

How Can Prescription Drug Addiction Be Prevented?

Preventing prescription drug addiction revolves around the individual efforts of the patient and health care provider. 

  • History of Drug Abuse: To avoid the misuse of prescription drugs, the prescribing health provider should check the patients for previous or current substance abuse problems and family history of substance abuse and addiction. 
  • Monitor and Educate: Prescribing health providers should monitor patients taking medications with a high potential for abuse and educate them on the effects and dangers of misusing prescription drugs.
  • Safe Drug Disposal and Storage: People should practice safe medication disposal and storage; most teens who misuse prescription drugs get them from relatives or family members’ drug cabinets.
  • Awareness and Review of Signs and Drug Use: Patients should report any signs of dependence to their health care provider. At the same time, health care providers should routinely review prescription medication use, especially opioids, CNS stimulants, and depressants. 

How to Help Someone With Prescription Drug Addiction

One of the first things to consider when trying to help an individual with prescription drug addiction is acknowledging that addiction is a mental health condition and can be challenging to quit. Therefore, the best way to help someone with prescription drug addiction is to encourage them that it is okay to seek help. 

Seeking professional help is a huge and positive step towards recovery from addiction. In addition, prescription drug detox centers like Arrow Passage Recovery help guide patients on the best ways and procedures to overcome addiction and abuse.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Options

Prescription Drug Addiction

Substance abuse treatment facilities offer a variety of effective options to treat prescription drug addiction, including:


Detoxification is the gradual clearance of harmful substances from the body. Medical experts offer safe and secure detoxification to prevent and manage withdrawal symptoms. Underlying medical conditions can influence the amount of time prescription drug detox may take.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment requires patients to stay at the facility while receiving treatment, providing a controlled environment for healing and recovery. This treatment method offers twenty-four-hour care services and focuses on developing personal responsibility and a more productive lifestyle. Inpatient treatment is an intensive and effective prescription drug rehab program, especially in cases of severe prescription drug addictions.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is a less-intensive method for treating prescription pill addictions, allowing individuals in recovery to stay at home, work, and regularly live during treatment. 

Outpatient treatment requires regular visits to a prescription drug addiction treatment center for check-ups, counseling, and other helpful activities. Outpatient treatment for prescription drug addiction is a good option for those with mild to moderate prescription drug addiction or as a part of long-term treatments for prescription drug addiction. 

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy covers a variety of treatment methods for mental health conditions. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is widely used in treating prescription drug addiction, as it helps individuals address disturbing thoughts and behaviors and overcome addiction. 


Medical professionals can administer medications to help patients manage withdrawal symptoms, other symptoms caused by drug abuse, and cravings during treatment. These symptoms can take weeks or months depending on the drug, duration, frequency, and amount abused. Pharmacotherapeutic remedies are a form of medically supervised withdrawal.

Get Help for Prescription Drug Addiction at Arrow Passage Recovery

Arrow Passage Recovery is a drug rehab center in Ohio with expertly licensed and professional medical health service providers. Our staff has the knowledge and experience to effectively and safely treat prescription drug addiction, so each patient receives the support they need for a successful recovery. At Arrow Passage Recovery, our services are personalized to provide the best care for every patient. 

Contact Arrow Passage Recovery for more information on prescription drug abuse and the best treatment options available for prescription drug addiction today.

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