Prescription Drug Addiction Defined

Prescription drug addiction is when a person either develops a physical dependence on a prescription medication or they compulsively seek to use a prescription medication even when it is causing harm in their life.

Prescription drug addiction can arise from abusing prescription drugs, meaning using a drug in a way that wasn’t intended by the prescribing medical professional. For instance, when someone is taking an opioid medication that was prescribed for acute or chronic pain, an addiction can take hold when that drug is taken in greater dosages than prescribed or is taken more often than originally authorized. Prescription drug abuse is also characterized by the use of someone else’s medicines taken in order to achieve a high or feel good in some other way.

It’s important to remember however, that not all prescription drug addiction stems from intentional drug abuse. Sometimes physical dependence develops when a person is taking medication as prescribed. Support for detox and rehabilitation treatment can be incredibly helpful in either case.

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Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The following are some of the most commonly abused prescription medications that can easily lead to addiction.


Opioid Painkillers are highly addictive. They interact with opioid receptors in the nervous system to reduce pain. Common prescription drugs in the opioid family include:

  • Oxycodone (brand names include Percocet, Percodan, and OxyContin)
  • Morphine (brand names include Avinza, Kadian, and MS Contin)
  • Hydrocodone (brand names include Lortab, Lorcet, and Vicodin)
  • Diphenoxylate (brand name Lomotil)
  • Meperidine (brand name Demerol)
  • Fentanyl (brand name Duragesic)
  • Codeine (brand names include Tylenol with Codeine, and Vopac)
  • Hydromorphone (brand name Dilaudid)
  • Propoxyphene (brand name Darvon)
  • Methadone (brand name Methadone)

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

CNS depressants slow down activity in the brain and have a calming effect. They are often prescribed to treat insomnia, anxiety and panic disorders. Some of the most common prescription drugs in this category include:


  • Diazepam (brand name Valium)
  • Alprazolam (brand name Xanax)
  • Triazolam (brand name Halcion)
  • Estazolam (ProSom)

Non-Benzodiazepine Sleep Medications

  • Zolpidem (brand name Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (brand name Lunesta)
  • Zalepon (brand name Sonata)


  • Pentobarbital sodium (brand name Nembutal)
  • Mephobarbital (brand name Mebaral)
  • Phenobarbital (brand name Luminal Sodium)


As the name suggests, stimulant drugs increase alertness and energy. They can also elevate blood pressure and decrease appetite. Stimulants are often prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Prescription stimulant drugs include:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Focalin
  • ProCentra
  • Ritalin
  • Zenzedi

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Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 70,000 Americans died in 2019 due to drug overdoses. Prescription opioid drugs were involved in 70.6% of those overdose deaths.

Becoming addicted to prescription drugs is, unfortunately, a more common occurrence than expected for millions of Americans. While most people think of drug addiction as something that only involves illegal substances, like heroin or cocaine, millions of individuals acquire an addiction to legal substances that are prescribed by physicians for specific ailments.

Opioid drugs are often prescribed for pain, sleeping pills are given for insomnia and other drugs, benzodiazepines, help with anxiety disorders. Stimulants, such as methylphenidate, amphetamines and drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), are also potentially addictive prescription drugs.

As helpful as these medications may be, they can lead to a dangerous addiction or dependency that can become deadly, especially when it comes to the misuse of prescription opiate drugs.

It’s important to recognize the signs of prescription drug addiction. Think about whether these symptoms are occurring in yourself or a loved one so you can seek out the help you need before addiction takes over your life.

The symptoms associated with prescription drug addiction include:

Physical Signs:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Constricted pupils
  • Sleepiness
  • Poor, unsteady coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Runny nose or nose sores
  • Needle marks
  • Slowed rate of breathing
  • Higher doses needed to relieve pain or symptoms
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Involuntary tics, rapid eye movements
  • Appearing to be intoxicated
  • Hypotension
  • Heightened alertness
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug

Psychological Signs:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Feeling intense cravings for the drug that take precedence over other thoughts
  • Continuing to use the drug even though you realize it’s causing problems, psychologically, socially and physically
  • Failing to stop using the drug even when you attempt to do so on your own

Social Signs:

  • Showing hostility towards others
  • “Doctor shopping” – going to more than 1 doctor to get more prescriptions
  • Stealing or borrowing prescription drugs from others
  • Stealing money needed to acquire drugs
  • Using prescription drugs more quickly than prescribed
  • Crushing or breaking pills
  • Lying about how much medication is being taken
  • Hiding drugs in different places around the home
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Lowered inhibitions; doing or saying things you ordinarily wouldn’t do, such as stealing
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Not meeting work, family or school obligations
  • Lack of interest in your appearance or grooming habits
  • Keeping secrets from loved ones, such as where you go, locking your room or other changes in behavior

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Long Term Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

The effects of prescription drug addiction can be far-reaching. In the long term, these effects will depend on different variables, such as the type of prescription drug being abused, how long you’ve been using it and the dosages you’ve been taking.

The health consequence associated with this type of addiction over the longer term can include:

Infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis:

These diseases can occur due to prescription opioids that are injected in order to achieve a high.

Respiratory problems:

Opioids can work to slow your breathing rate, block oxygen from getting into your lungs, or worsen asthma symptoms.

Gastrointestinal issues:

Nausea and vomiting as a symptom of some prescription drug misuse can worsen, causing abdominal pain, decayed bowel tissue, acid reflux, severe constipation and dehydration.

Neurological problems:

Some prescription drugs not only lead to the brain disease that is addiction, but they can also cause changes in brain function that affect learning, memory, decision-making, impulse control and difficulty managing stress.

Addiction to prescription opioids:

can result in severe withdrawal symptoms when the drug use is reduced or stopped suddenly. The long-term effects include:

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes or goose bumps

Cardiovascular disease:

High blood pressure, heart arrhythmias or heart attacks can result from the long-term abuse of stimulants.

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Prescription Drug Addiction Statistics

Addiction to prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydromorphone, hydrocodone and fentanyl, contributes to a large portion of overdose fatalities in the US. Also involved in overdose deaths are benzodiazepine drugs.

  • In 2019, overdose deaths due to prescription opioid abuse accounted for more than 70% of the total number (71,000) of all drug overdose fatalities that year.
  • More than 15 million people in the US abuse prescription drugs
  • Over 14,000 people died as a result of prescription opioid overdoses in 2019.
  • The total number of drug overdose deaths due to prescription benzodiazepine abuse totaled 9,711 in 2019.
  • Close to 74% of adults with a substance use disorder also struggle with alcohol abuse
  • In 2017, over 8 million US adults suffered from both a mental health condition and substance use disorder
  • The most common prescription drugs abused are opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, sedatives and stimulants.
  • Women are more apt to experience chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers and become dependent on them more rapidly than men.
  • More individuals report using prescription drugs than they do to using other drugs, like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines, combined.
  • More than 17% of people using benzodiazepines have misused them, with overdoses stemming from combining their use with opioids

Prescription Drug Withdrawal Explained

Withdrawal from certain prescription drugs can have different side effects and symptoms, depending on the type of drug, the length of the addiction and how much of the drug you’ve been taking.

Prescription drug addiction negatively impacts nearly every aspect of your health over time and can produce long-term lingering effects if help isn’t sought in time. The recovery process can help your body and your brain heal, but first you must go through a period of withdrawal to eliminate the drugs and toxins from your body.

During medically assisted withdrawal, you can expect to experience a number of symptoms, some of which can be uncomfortable. Certain medications can be given to help you deal with the anxiety, pain and discomfort that sometimes accompany withdrawal from prescription drugs.
These symptoms can include some of the following:

For prescription opioids:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Goosebumps or cold flashes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Body aches

For benzodiazepines:

  • Anxiety
  • Achiness
  • Feelings of skin-crawling
  • Visual disturbances
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Sweats
  • Quickened pulse rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Panic attacks
  • Delirium
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

For stimulants:

  • Jittery feelings
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Dehydration
  • Dulling of the senses
  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Loss of interest in things
  • Slower movements
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Memory impairment
  • Body aches
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Bad dreams

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Treatment Options for Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction requires treatment for recovery so you can begin to heal and achieve sobriety that will help you live a healthier lifestyle for the long term.

At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we offer a variety of treatment options for prescription drug addiction. Our recovery plans are customized to meet your individual needs, regardless of where you are in your journey towards renewed health and recovery.

  • Medication-Assisted Detox
  • Residential Rehab
  • Outpatient Treatment
  • Aftercare
  • Co-occurring Disorder Treatment

We offer medical detox assistance so you can cleanse your system of drug toxins in a way that will minimize your withdrawal symptoms and ready you for rehab treatment. During your inpatient detox stay, you’ll be supervised around the clock by our clinical staff and provided with medications to help you cope more easily with the physical, emotional and cognitive aspects of drug withdrawal.

Our residential treatment provides you with a comfortable, serene environment to heal from prescription drug addiction. While you live on-site at our modern facility that has plenty of amenities, outdoor activities and a caring staff, you’ll be able to completely immerse yourself in the treatment you’ll receive, with little outside distractions.

An outpatient program for rehab may be right for you if you need to continue working, going to school or fulfilling family obligations as you work on your recovery goals. You can access the individual therapy you need to heal as you live a sober lifestyle and learn more about your triggers and how to cope with cravings.

Even after you’ve completed treatment for prescription drug addiction, you still need continued support to keep you from relapsing in the future. This is why we offer Aftercare help beyond the intensive treatments of your rehab program. The more therapy you continue to receive, even during Aftercare, puts you at less risk for experiencing a return to drug use.

Addiction to drugs can often be traced back to some form of underlying trauma that has occurred in your life. Co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression, also contribute to addiction or stem from past trauma. At Resurgence Behavioral Health, we take a whole-person approach to prescription drug addiction treatment, addressing any co-occurring mental health disorders so we can help you better manage your emotions and thoughts, all of which can contribute to drug abuse behaviors.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.