Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drugs are used to treat physical and mental health conditions for people of all ages. When they are taken as prescribed, these medications have helpful effects, but when they are abused, it can lead to addiction and other harmful consequences.

According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), in the year 2020, approximately 16 million people in the United States abused prescription drugs. Abuse of a prescription drug is when a person will begin to take their medication more frequently than prescribed or in higher doses to achieve euphoric effects. Not all prescription drug abuse will turn into an addiction, however, recognizing the signs of abuse early can prevent an addiction from forming. Abusing prescription drugs can cause chemical changes in the brain, which will, in turn, cause the person to compulsively seek the drug above everything else. This is when abuse turns into an addiction. The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) states that 12% of prescription drug abusers are addicted.

Although most addictions to prescription drugs will start with an actual prescription of the drug, they are sold illegally, therefore many people will seek out the illegal purchase of prescription drugs for their euphoric effects.

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Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Opioids, stimulants and central nervous system (CNS) depressants are the most common prescription drugs that are abused.

Opioids are often prescribed to relieve pain levels for chronic or acute pain. Opioids interfere with how pain is processed and increase levels of dopamine in the brain. The effects of prescription opioids are almost identical to those of heroin, a highly addictive illegal drug. Abusing prescription opioids has many serious consequences, the most dangerous being the possibility of overdose and death. The NIDA states that in 2020 alone, over sixteen thousand people died from an overdose involving prescription opioids. Some of the prescription opioids that are commonly abused are:

  • Percocet
  • OxyContin
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Dilaudid

Prescription stimulants are typically used to treat ADHD but are also prescribed to help with other conditions. Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system and dopamine levels in the brain. They speed up specific body functions, providing users with high energy, a sharpened focus, and increased motivation. The effects of prescription stimulant drugs are like those of the illegal drugs cocaine and crystal meth. When prescription stimulants are abused, users will receive a rush of euphoria. However, people abuse them for a variety of reasons apart from the euphoric effects.

People will abuse prescription stimulants to stay awake for long periods of time, to help with academic studies, and lose weight quickly. Stimulants increase blood pressure, heart rate, and the body’s temperature which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. The most common prescription stimulants abused are:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin

CNS depressants have the opposite effect of stimulants on the body. Whereas stimulants speed up activity in the central nervous system, CNS depressants slow it down. Prescription CNS depressants are typically used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. They provide users with a calming effect on their minds and body.

Abusing prescription CNS depressants can have damaging effects on the memory, causing people to “blackout”, or not remember periods of time. They also slow down breathing and heart rate which can lead to death. People will often combine the use of alcohol with prescription CNS depressants. This combination is very dangerous and can cause death. Some commonly abused CNS depressants are:

  • Klonopin
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Ambien
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepine

Signs of a Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction is a serious matter, as it can be life-threatening. The risk of overdosing is always prevalent, but abuse of prescription drugs can also have many negative side effects on a person’s health. Recognizing the signs of prescription drug addiction can eventually help save someone’s life. Signs that someone may be struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs are:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Visiting multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions (Doctor shopping)
  • Stealing other people’s prescriptions and/or medication
  • Impaired judgment
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not taking the prescription
  • Lying about the frequency of use
  • Hiding medication
  • Finishing prescriptions faster than prescribed

If a loved one is showing signs of prescription drug addiction, it is best to seek help immediately.

Treatment Options

There are many options available for the treatment of prescription drug addiction. The first step in getting help is to reach out to a medical professional so they can help you best decide what your loved one needs. If the use of the prescription drug has been constant over a long period of time, it is likely that a physical dependency has formed.

Stopping the use of the drug suddenly will cause the person to go into withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to deal with and will typically drive a person back to using drugs in order to feel okay again. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal from prescription drugs include but are not limited to:

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Cold sweats and chills
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps

Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Low energy/lethargy

CNS Depressant Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Tremors/shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations

If withdrawal symptoms are present, medical detox should be the first step in the treatment process for prescription drug addiction. While in detox, clients will be monitored 24/7 to ensure they are detoxing safely. There are medications available to ease symptoms of withdrawal and can be given on a case-by-case basis. After completing medical detox, it is best to continue their treatment with an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. This allows clients to be in a safe and comfortable environment away from the possibility to access drugs entirely. Patients will receive therapy, learn about the disease of addiction, and develop tools to help them stay sober once they return to their life.

How Moving Mountains Can Help

Here at Moving Mountains Recovery, we have a team of professionals who are passionate about helping people recover from addiction. Our goal is to help clients overcome their addiction and assist them in building a new life where they no longer have the desire to turn to drugs. Our team is ready to answer any questions about prescription drug addiction and help get you or your loved one on the path of sobriety today. Please call us today!


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