Prescription Drug Overdose

A prescription drug overdose can be very dangerous. Read on to learn more about their signs, symptoms, and treatment options.
Prescription Drug Overdose

Prescription Drug Overdose

A prescription drug overdose can be very dangerous. Read on to learn more about their signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

Table of Contents

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Abusing any medicine, including those prescribed to you by a doctor, may alter the way your brain functions. The majority of patients start using these drugs voluntarily. However, over time, these brain changes affect the user’s ability to control the use of drugs. If you or your loved one cannot regulate your prescription medication intake, you are at a greater risk of accidental overdose due to the acute cravings for extra pills.
Abuse of prescription medications occurs when a patient starts taking the prescription medication in a manner that was not prescribed by the doctor. The number of people aged twelve and older who have taken prescription pharmaceuticals for reasons other than those prescribed by a doctor is estimated to exceed eighteen million. That translates to about 6% of the total population of the United States.1

Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Commonly abused prescription medicines excite the brain’s reward system, which may lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Developing a tolerance can lead to a physical dependence, which is where a person may need greater dosages of a substance to get the same results as before. They may also suffer withdrawal symptoms if they reduce their dosage or stop using the drug suddenly. Those who have problems with prescription drugs and addiction not only develop a physical reliance on the substance, but also often develop a compulsive need to consume it, even if doing so causes significant difficulties in their daily life.

What Does a Prescription Drug Overdose Look Like?

A prescription drug overdose may cause critical organs, including the lungs, to shut down because the body cannot absorb the increased quantity of medicines in circulation. A lack of oxygen in circulation is often caused by slower or stopped breathing, changes in blood pressure and the circulatory system, or damaged veins. It may cause a change in a person’s behavior and make the individual pass out, go into a coma, or even die.

Can a Person Overdose on Prescription Medicines?

It’s possible to die from a prescription drug overdose. In the United States, forty individuals lose their lives every day due to an overdose on drugs, which are mainly narcotic prescription medicines.

The American Public Health Association observes that the following prescription medications are the ones that are misused the most frequently:2

  • Opiates used to treat pain, such as codeine and Vicodin
  • Xanax and Valium, which are drugs used to treat anxiety and depression problems and also help people sleep better
  • Stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin, which are for the treatment of ADHD

The Most Common Signs of Prescription Drug Overdose

The signs of a prescription drug overdose can vary significantly from person to person. A person’s age, the state of their health, the type of drug used, and many other factors all contribute to the intensity of the symptoms. Also, the substance or chemicals used, the amount used, and how one ingests the substance (smoking, snorting, or injecting) are some other elements that might play a role in determining the symptoms and signs of overdose.
The following are some common signs of an overdose:
  • Stupor (the person appears conscious but doesn’t respond to any stimuli)
  • Hallucinations, delusions
  • Fluctuations in core temperature (hypothermic/hyperthermic)
  • Alterations in one’s mental state, such as muddled thinking, foggy perception, meandering or quick speaking, or hyper-attention
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Racing pulse
  • Irritable bowel syndrome or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea and throwing up
  • Falling unconscious
  • Changes in breathing patterns, such as shallow breaths or a quicker breathing rate
  • Changes in one’s emotional state, such as depression, rage, or euphoria
  • Convulsions


Drugs That Can Cause Addiction

Prescription medications may be divided into three broad categories; these will be detailed below.


Opioids are a class of drugs that includes compounds like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), and meperidine (Demerol).3

Although opioid analgesics can treat coughs and diarrhea, they primarily manage severe pain. Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord’s central nervous system, blocking the brain from receiving pain signals.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

Alprazolam, phenobarbital (Luminal), Xanax, and diazepam (Valium) are a few of the types of CNS depressants.

Depression medications are typically prescribed to treat anxiety, stress, and insomnia. These medications work by boosting the action of a neurotransmitter known as GABA, which is known to calm down neural activity. These result in a soothing or sleepy feeling depending on how much you have been prescribed.4


Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine often sold under the brand name Adderall, as well as methylphenidate (Ritalin), are examples of stimulants.

Medical professionals commonly use stimulants to manage both narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Because they boost brain activity, stimulants help people stay awake, focused, and energized throughout the day.

Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse

If you are concerned that you or a loved one might overdose on a prescription, schedule a visit with your doctor immediately. Although you may feel embarrassed or not know where to start, remember that medical professionals are educated to assist, not to pass judgment. It is simpler for the issue to develop into a dependency and eventually become more dangerous if you don’t seek treatment.
There are many reasons for the misuse of prescription drugs, including:
  • The desire to be accepted by one’s peers
  • To experience euphoria or a high
  • To test how the medication affects one’s mind
  • Decrease cravings for food or boost mental focus
  • To put one’s mind at ease
  • To enhance one’s ability to focus and do well in school or the workplace
  • To continue engaging in addictive behavior while avoiding experiencing withdrawal

Complications of Prescription Medication Abuse

Always be sure to take your medications in the manner that your physician has prescribed. Abusing prescription medications, such as exceeding the recommended dosage, may result in a wide variety of adverse outcomes, including but not limited to the following:

  • Respiratory depression and multiple organ failure
  • Physiological and physical dependence, as well as addiction
  • Indulging in dangerous behaviors such as unprotected sex and drunk driving due to a lack of judgment
  • Using illicit substances or pharmaceuticals for recreational purposes while you cannot have your prescriptions refilled
  • Participating in illegal activities

How to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Overdose
Because of the severity of the risks associated with abusing prescription medications, the importance of avoiding this issue cannot be overstated. Take the following steps to prevent the misuse of prescription drugs: 
  • Check that you are being prescribed the appropriate medicine. Only pick up medications from a qualified pharmacist if you have a valid prescription from your doctor.
  • Consult with your primary care physician first before taking any chemical substance, whether prescription or over-the-counter.
  • Always use prescription medicine for the reason it was intended.
  • Learn the purpose of the drug you take. Check with your medical professional on the potential for the medicine to have adverse effects and how you are likely to feel while taking it.
  • Never use a prescription that a doctor wrote for someone else
  • If you must acquire prescription medications online, be sure to do so only from reputable pharmacies.

Get Help with Prescription Drug Addiction at Arrow Passage

A prescription drug overdose is a life-threatening medical emergency that can occur with little warning. You need to be alert to the warning signals of overdose symptoms and move promptly to take action. In most cases, medical attention from a professional is required, and quickly acting might be the difference between life and death.

Help is readily available for those struggling with drug use. Arrow Passage is here to walk you through your recovery journey. Contact us if you have more questions or concerns about our prescription drug rehab and other treatment options. Please don’t wait for any sign of overdose on medicine before taking action. Instead, reach out today for immediate help.  

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