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Prescription Drug Addiction – A Complete Guide

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

April 2, 2019

Coping with an addiction to prescription medication, personally, or by connection through a friend or loved one, is extremely stressful and difficult to manage. Often, prescriptions are more readily available than illicit drugs, and likewise, more readily taken and abused. A prescription drug user, who has become addicted, can also become very skilled at hiding his or her problem.

The misuse or abuse of prescribed medications by an individual is recognizable, by side effects and changes in behavior. Acknowledgment of these signs is the first step toward recovery from a debilitating drug cycle; the second step is a contacting a rehab center counseling service which can guide those afflicted to an appropriate treatment program.

Prescription drug abuse and addiction is not just a ‘big city’ problem, rather it has become an issue nationwide, in rural or mid-sized locals, and treatment admissions reflect this trend. According to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration news release, rehabilitation centers have provided inpatient treatment for those addicted to prescription drugs at an increase of 430 percent, between the years 1999 to 2009.

An addiction to prescribed drugs may start with a prescription – legitimately, or just as easily start, illicitly, as recreational use and abuse is, also, on the rise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse in a 2010 survey, an average of 2.4 million people reported using prescription drugs, non-medically, for the ‘first time,’ and 5.9 million reporting regular ‘recreational’ use in the period of a month. Among this rising number of non-medical users are young people, ages 12 to 17, who account for 3% of the total use in the United States.

What is Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction can be defined by three factors – compulsive seeking out, and overuse of such a drug, without regard to the harmful consequences. Addiction becomes a severe physical dependence coupled with complications in brain function leading to uncontrollable cravings which ultimately affects personal relationships, obligations, and social interactions., This misuse may begin following an actual medical condition often requiring medication such as an injury, surgery, physical pain, and a mental or emotional disorder.

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The two main results of misuse and addiction are:

  1. Tolerance – needing more and more of a prescription drug to achieve the same effect.
  2. Withdrawal – the onset of undesirable, often painful physical symptoms when one stops using, such as nausea, sweating, and vomiting.

The Most Common Types of Prescription Drugs

It is well-known that many types of prescriptions have mind-altering properties, therein lies the appeal to misuse. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are included within the following four categories: opiates (painkillers), stimulants, depressants (hypnotics/sedatives), and anti-depressants.

Prescription Opiates

Also called prescription opioids, these medications are prescribed to alleviate pain or help the body recover after surgery. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 8 million people have used prescription painkillers illicitly during their lifetime. Some of the most commonly abused prescription opiate drugs are:

Prescription Stimulants

These drugs increase attention, awareness, alertness, and can elevate mood. They are most commonly used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Some of the most commonly abused stimulant drugs are:

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

These drugs that slow certain brain activity. They are commonly referred to as sedatives and prescribed to those diagnosed with anxiety or insomnia.

Some commonly abused Central Nervous System depressants are:


Antidepressant drugs are used to treat condition such as, depression and anxiety disorders, OCD, eating disorders, and chronic pain. They often have dangerous side effects – one being addiction.

Some commonly abused antidepressant drugs are:

  • Celexa
  • Lexipro
  • Cipralex
  • Paxil
  • Seroquel
  • Luvox
  • Zoloft

Signs that A Person Needs Rehabilitation for Prescription Abuse

Like other addictions, there are specific signs that indicate someone is abusing prescription drugs. Some of these signs include:

  • Using a prescription drug non-medically
  • Using a prescription for an effect or result other than its designated purpose
  • Taking a higher dosage than is directed
  • Taking the prescription more often than directed
  • Craving prescription drugs
  • Coming up with different ailments, injuries and illness to obtain prescriptions
  • Doctor Shopping” or seeing several doctors in order to acquire and abuse a prescription drug
  • Becoming “intoxicated” from use of these drugs
  • Blacking out
  • Neglecting responsibility due to abusive prescription use
  • Tolerance and withdrawal

Treating Prescription Drug Addiction

Years of research and combined inpatient case records of prescription drug abuse treatment reveal that if an addict can successfully recover if he or she enters the right rehabilitation center. Rehab programs address both the physical and psychological aspects of an addiction problem, helping to detox the body and renew the mind.

During inpatient rehabilitation treatment and post-treatment therapy, the emotional ties created by abusive prescription use are also discovered and changed – the underlying causes confronted and removed, to be replaced with healing, health-giving, practices and activities that can last a lifetime.

Any addict can make a full recovery with effective treatment. Contact us, today, for more information on prescription drug rehab options that are available – the first step in a drug-free, dependence-free life.

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