Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms & Warning Signs

What is Prescription Drug Addiction?

Learn about prescription drug addiction & abuse

Substance abuse remains a constant problem throughout the United States, however, the abuse of prescription medications is a rapidly growing concern affecting millions of people each day. Recent studies have proven that, over the past 10 years, there has been an exceptional increase in the number of individuals who have started to abuse prescription medications in an effort to obtain the mood and/or mind-altering effects that these substances can produce. There are various types of prescription medications that are regularly abused, some of which include:

  • Antianxiety medications (Klonopin, Valium, Xanax)
  • Pain medications (morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin)
  • Sedatives (Ambien)
  • Stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall)

When taken for their intended purposes, each of these medications can be highly effective in helping reduce distress for individuals who are afflicted with the conditions that warrant prescription medications. However, when taken in higher doses than prescribed or taken more often than recommended, the resulting effects can produce enticing feelings of euphoria. When taken outside of the parameters that a physician has provided, drugs such as prescription painkillers, sedatives, and antianxiety medications can bring about feelings of relaxation, detachment from one’s surroundings, and other pleasurable sensation. Stimulants, for example, can increase someone’s focus, energy, and bring about weight loss by constricting one’s appetite. Effects such as these can be highly appealing to many, and cause people to continually abuse prescription drugs and subsequently become addicted to them. Once an addiction has developed, it can be exceptionally challenging to overcome it without the help of professionals. Thankfully, effective treatment for prescription drug abuse is available.


Statistics on prescription drug addiction & abuse

The number of people who abuse prescription drugs is said to be constantly rising. Many studies show that there are an estimated 52 million people in the United States who have abused some form of prescription medication. In addition, research shows that prescription drug overdoses claim more lives than gunshot wounds, car accidents, or suicides each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction & abuse

There are many factors that can explain why an individual develops an addiction to substances like prescription medications while someone else does not. Some of these factors can include:

Genetic: Years of research show that there is a strong genetic tie to the onset of substance abuse and addiction, including the abuse of prescription medications. Those who have family members who struggle with chemical dependency issues are at a greater risk for battling similar concerns than those who do not share this same background.

Environmental: There are many environmental factors that add to an individual’s vulnerability of developing a prescription drug abuse problem. One of these factors includes an individual’s exposure to drugs. If an individual is spending time in an environment where drug use is common, his or her chances of doing the same become increased. In addition, those who have been afflicted with a condition where prescription medication is medically necessary are also more likely to abuse prescription medications because of the access they have to them. The experience of one or more traumatic events can also increase an individual’s chances of developing an addiction to prescription drugs. When an individual is subjected to trauma and does not have the skills to properly cope with that trauma, he or she becomes more likely to develop a substance abuse problem as a means of coping with his or her upset.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Suffering from a condition that requires the use of prescription drugs for symptom relief
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Ease of access with which one can obtain prescription drugs
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction & abuse

The signs and symptoms displayed by an individual who is abusing prescription drugs will vary depending on the type of drug he or she is abusing. In addition, the length of time that an individual has been abusing these substances, as well as how much is being ingested, can all play a role in the symptoms that he or she exhibits. Some of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that infer someone is struggling with a prescription drug problem can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Stealing
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Alterations in performance at work (for example, one’s performance might decline if he or she develops an addiction to painkillers, while one’s performance might increase if he or she becomes addicted to stimulants)
  • Lying
  • No longer partaking in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Behaving in an instigative and sometimes aggressive way
  • Social withdrawal or a change in the company one keeps

Physical symptoms:

  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Altered eating habits
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in sleep patterns (either suffering from insomnia or hypersomnia, depending on the drug that is being abused)
  • Tremors/shakes
  • Impaired coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delayed thought processes
  • Decline in one’s ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Decline in one’s ability to utilize sound judgment
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Changes in concentration capabilities
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Agitation
  • Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Changes in temperament
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Frequent mood fluctuations
  • Depression
  • Periods of emotional detachment


Effects of prescription drug addiction & abuse

Abusing any sort of prescription drug can cause a person to subsequently experience a number of dangerous consequences. The adversities that can arise in response to prescription drug abuse will vary based on the type of medication that is being abused. However, some of the most common effects that prescription drug abuse can have on an individual’s life include:

  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Occupational failure, leading to job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Organ damage/organ failure
  • Financial problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Interaction with law enforcement due to criminal activity, such as falsifying prescriptions for more of a medication
  • Onset or worsening of symptoms of mental illnesses
  • Social isolation or disturbed interpersonal relationships
  • Memory disturbances
  • Family discord/divorce

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The continued abuse of prescription drugs will lead to the onset of withdrawal symptoms when use of these substance has stopped. The type of prescription drug that has been abused will also affect the severity of symptoms that an individual experiences as well. Some of the many symptoms and effects that can develop during withdrawal can include:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors/shakes
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Vivid dreams
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Abdominal cramping

Effects of prescription drug overdose: An overdose happens when an individual ingests far too much of a substance than his or her body is capable of handling. All overdoses should be treated as medical emergencies, and treatment should be sought immediately to prevent fatalities. Some of the many signs that a prescription medication overdose has occurred can include:

  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Dilated pupils
  • Respiratory failure
  • Changes in skin pallor
  • Severe dizziness
  • Cyanosis
  • Lapsing into coma
  • Sudden loss of the ability to communicate