Prescription Drug Addiction: Abuse, Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Written By: Facility Staff

Published Date:

Edited By: Editorial Team

Last Updated: May 7, 2024

Prescription drug addiction has become a widespread issue, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. From painkillers to sedatives, these medications, when misused, can result in addiction, health problems, and possibly death from overdose.

At Hope’s Destiny, we specialize in helping people struggling with substance use disorders (SUDs) overcome prescription drug addiction through compassionate and personalized care.

Read on to learn more about prescription drug addiction and how Hope’s Destiny can support you on your path to recovery.

What to Know About Prescription Drug Addiction 

Prescription medication addiction is a significant issue in the United States, affecting millions of Americans nationwide. 

Recent statistics reveal that over 6% or 18 million Americans aged 12 and older have misused prescription medications in the past year alone.

Among the most commonly misused prescription drugs are:

  • Opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and morphine
  • Benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
  • Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug addiction, help is available. At Hope Destiny, we offer specialized programs and supportive care to guide you towards a life free from the grips of addiction.

Top Facts on Prescription Drug Abuse & Addiction

  • Prevalence: Over 18 million Americans aged 12 and older have misused prescription medications in the past year.
  • Drugs of abuse: Opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants are among the most frequently abused prescription medications, with drugs like tranquilizers, codeine, oxycodone, ‌percocet, Xanax, and Adderall being the most prevalent.
  • Prescription types: 82% of pharmacy-filled prescriptions are opioids. When that prescription ends, some people may turn to illicit opioids like heroin to find the same effect.
  • Risk factors: chronic pain management, mental health disorders, recreational experimentation, and easy access to medications.
  • Effective treatments: medication-assisted treatment, therapy, and support groups.

How Prescription Drug Abuse Turns to Addiction

Addiction to prescription drugs typically begins with legitimate medical use. However, as you continue to take these medications, your brain chemistry changes, hijacking your brain’s reward system.

This leads to developing a higher tolerance for the drug, meaning you’ll need higher doses of it to achieve the same effect. This can further impair your ability to control cravings and resist the urge to take the drug.

Eventually, dependence forms, and you find yourself trapped in a cycle of addiction, seeking drugs despite the harm they cause.

Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Recognizing the signs of prescription drug addiction is important for early intervention and treatment. In fact, it can save your or someone else’s life.

Whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, being aware of these signs can help you seek help promptly. 

Here are some key signs of prescription drug addiction to watch for:

  • Physical symptoms, like dizziness, impaired coordination, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, and decreased appetite.
  • Behavioral changes, like seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors or pharmacies, social withdrawal and increased secrecy like hiding medication use or lying when asked about it.
  • Psychological signs, like mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or depression, intense urges or cravings for the drug, and compulsive drug use that lead to financial problems or relationship issues.
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and responsibilities, such as missing work deadlines, poor academic performance, and frequent absences. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms, like feeling physically ill or experiencing flu-like symptoms when attempting to stop or reduce drug use and using the drug to alleviate withdrawal symptoms rather than for its intended purpose.

Does Prescription Drug Addiction Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Yes, prescription drugs can cause withdrawal symptoms, and the severity and duration of withdrawal vary depending on the type of drug. 

Some common withdrawal symptoms associated with different prescription drugs include:

  • Opioids: Flu-like symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), muscle aches and pains, anxiety and irritability, insomnia, and sweating and chills
  • Benzodiazepines: anxiety and panic attacks, sleep disturbances, tremors or shaking, seizures (in severe cases), and hallucinations or delusions
  • Stimulants: Fatigue, depression, mood swings, increased appetite, sleep disorders, and cravings for the drug

Causes of Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction develops because of a combination of factors, ranging from personal needs to external influences. 

Common causes of prescription drug addiction can include:

  • Chronic pain management: People prescribed opioids for chronic pain management may develop a physical dependence and addiction over time. Their tolerance may increase, requiring them to take higher doses to achieve the same level of pain relief.
  • Mental health disorders: People with mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may turn to prescription medications to self-medicate. However, this relief is only temporary, potentially leading to addiction.
  • Recreational experimentation: Some people may misuse prescription drugs for recreational purposes, seeking to experience euphoria or altered states of consciousness. This, however, can quickly escalate into addiction when the drugs’ pleasurable effects are sought repetitively.
  • Easy access to medications: Many people have easy access to prescription medications through their own prescriptions, family members’ medications, or illicit sources. This availability increases the likelihood of misuse and addiction.
  • Misinformation and underestimation of risks: Misconceptions about the safety of prescription drugs compared to illicit substances contribute to addiction. Some people underestimate the addictive potential and risks associated with prescription medications, leading to careless use that culminates to addiction.
  • Peer pressure and social influences: Some people, especially young adults, may be influenced by their peers who misuse prescription medications, leading to experimentation and eventual addiction in an attempt to fit in or alleviate social pressures.

Who Is at Risk for Prescription Drug Addiction?

Some people and groups are more susceptible to prescription drug addiction. Some at-risk populations include:

  • People with a history of substance abuse or addiction
  • People with mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • People prescribed high doses or long-term courses of prescription medications, like prescription opioids
  • Adolescents and young adults experimenting with opiates or prescription stimulants 
  • People with a family history of addiction or substance misuse
  • People experiencing medical conditions requiring long-term pain management like prescription painkillers 
  • People receiving prescriptions from multiple healthcare providers (doctor shopping)
  • Older adults with multiple prescriptions 

Ways People Abuse Prescription Drugs

People abuse prescription drugs by taking higher doses than prescribed, either by ingesting multiple pills at once or crushing them into powder for snorting or injection.

To increase the intensity and onset of a high, some people may experiment with alternative routes of administration, such as intravenous injection or rectal administration.

Others may engage in polypharmacy, combining multiple prescription medications or mixing them with alcohol or illicit drugs to amplify euphoria or sedation. This often stems from a desire to self-medicate, underlying mental health issues, or to cope with stressors. 

Persistent stigmas associated with seeking help for mental health or substance use disorders may discourage people from seeking treatment.

What Are the Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Misuse of prescription drugs can lead to various short-term and long-term health problems.

Short Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

In the short term, prescription drug misuse can cause various health effects that can be overlooked as minor issues. These include:

  • Euphoria or feeling high
  • Fluctuating body temperatures 
  • Drowsiness or sedation
  • Slurred speech and impaired coordination
  • Nausea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Confusion and cognitive impairment

Long Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

Persistent prescription drug abuse can cause major health problems, some of which are life-threatening. These complications can include:

  • Weight fluctuations, including weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disorders, like narcolepsy and insomnia
  • Dental problems, such as tooth decay or gum disease
  • Hormonal imbalances, leading to reproductive issues or endocrine disorders
  • Immune system suppression, increasing susceptibility to infections
  • Organ damage, such as liver or kidney failure
  • Cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and stroke
  • Respiratory problems, such as difficulty breathing or respiratory depression
  • Nervous system disorders, including seizures or cognitive impairment
  • Gastrointestinal issues, such as gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers
  • Increased risk of overdose and death

Top Treatments for Prescription Drug Use Disorder

Getting comprehensive drug addiction treatment is important if you or a loved one is struggling with a prescription drug use disorder. Several evidence-based approaches can help you overcome addiction and achieve long-term recovery.

Prescription Drug Detox

Prescription drug detoxification, commonly referred to as detox, is the initial phase of treatment aimed at safely managing withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing drug use. 

During a detox, patients receive medical supervision to ensure their safety and comfort. Medications may be administered to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. 

Common medications used for prescription drug detox include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Residential Rehab Programs

Residential rehab programs provide comprehensive and intensive treatment in a structured environment where patients live at the recovery center for the duration of treatment. 

These programs offer 24/7 support and supervision, including medical care, therapy sessions, crisis interventions, and holistic activities. 

Residential rehab is ideal for people with severe addictions or those who require a controlled and supportive environment to achieve recovery. 

The duration of residential rehab programs typically ranges from 30 to 90 days or longer, depending on your needs and treatment goals.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs offer flexibility for people to receive treatment while living at home. These programs provide various therapeutic interventions, counseling, and support services without requiring overnight stays. 

Outpatient programs are suitable for people with milder forms of addiction or those who have completed residential treatment and require ongoing support. 

Despite not providing round-the-clock supervision, outpatient programs can be effective in helping you maintain sobriety and manage daily responsibilities.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment addresses co-occurring mental health disorders alongside prescription drug addiction. 

Many patients with substance use disorder also experience underlying mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

Dual diagnosis treatment integrates mental health care with addiction treatment to address a patient’s complex needs while identifying the underlying issues that led to addiction. 

By treating both conditions simultaneously, dual diagnosis treatment improves outcomes and reduces the risk of relapse.


Several psychotherapy (or talk therapy) treatment options are combined with other approaches to help people struggling with opioid use or other SUDs to recover from addiction.

These therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to drug use.
  • Motivational interviewing (MI): A collaborative approach that helps you explore and resolve doubts you may have about changing your behavior.
  • Family therapy: Involves family members in the treatment process to address family dynamics, communication patterns, and support systems.
  • Group therapy: Provides peer support and a sense of community among people in recovery, fostering mutual understanding and accountability.

These treatments, tailored to your needs and preferences, form a comprehensive approach to addressing prescription drug use disorder and promoting long-term recovery.

Continuing Care for Prescription Drug Recovery

Once you or a loved one has completed treatment, continuing care can help you maintain recovery, decreasing your chances of relapse. 

A few continuing care resources include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA): NA is a non-profit fellowship of individuals who support each other in their journey to overcome addiction to drugs, including prescription medications. They offer regular meetings, literature, and a supportive community for those seeking recovery.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): SAMHSA provides a wealth of resources, including treatment locators, educational materials, and support services for people and families affected by SUDs. 
  • Partnership to End Addiction: This organization offers a helpline and resources for individuals and families affected by prescription drug addiction. 
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): NIDA provides evidence-based information on prescription drug addiction, treatment options, and research updates. 

Hope’s Destiny also offers a full spectrum of outpatient levels of care to see you from the early stages of recovery to long-term recovery.

Find Recovery Freedom from Prescription Drug Abuse at Hope’s Destiny

Discover life without prescription drug abuse at Hope’s Destiny. 

Our compassionate team is here to support you every step of the way, offering personalized treatment plans tailored to your needs. 

Take the first step toward a healthier, drug-free life by reaching out to us today. Your journey to recovery begins here at Hope’s Destiny.

Further Reading

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Further Reading

Frequently Asked Questions

How is prescription drug addiction treated?

Prescription drug addiction is typically treated through a combination of therapies, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral therapies, counseling, and support groups. Treatment plans are tailored to your needs and involve detoxification, followed by ongoing support and relapse prevention strategies.

What does prescription drug addiction look like?

Prescription drug addiction can manifest in various ways. This may look like:

  • Compulsive drug-seeking behavior
  • Using medications despite negative consequences
  • Developing tolerance and withdrawal symptoms
  • Experiencing disruptions in personal, social, and occupational functioning
Physical signs may include changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and mood swings.

Can you overdose on prescription drugs?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on prescription drugs, especially when they are misused or taken in high doses. Overdose symptoms vary depending on the type of medication but may include respiratory depression, unconsciousness, coma, and death. Prompt medical intervention is crucial in cases of overdose.

How long does it take to get over a prescription drug addiction?

The duration of recovery from prescription drug addiction varies for each person and depends on factors, such as the severity of addiction, the type of medication abused, and the effectiveness of treatment. While some may achieve significant progress in a few months, others may require longer-term support and ongoing care to maintain sobriety.


Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Focus Area: Substance Use Disorders.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. “Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How can prescription drug addiction be treated?” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

National Institute of Health. “Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

Mayo Clinic. “Prescription drug abuse.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

United States Department of Justice. “Prescription Drugs Fast Facts.” Retrieved from: Accessed on March 5, 2024.

Prescription Drug Addiction: Abuse, Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Written mBy: Written by Placeholder

Published Date: 03/11/24

Last Updated: 03/11/24