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Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drugs designed to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions can also be highly addictive and dangerous to users. The rate of prescription drug addiction has increased in recent years, in part due to a higher number of prescriptions issued. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that as many as 52 million Americans age 12 and up have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at some point in their lives.

Dependency can develop even when a person is taking the substance as directed, prompting them to continue using the drug long after the treatment should have ended. Regular monitoring by medical staff is a must when these medications are prescribed. Others may take the substance for nonmedical reasons right from the beginning, becoming addicted to the intense “high” that can be achieved when these drugs are not used for diagnosed conditions. The mistaken belief that because they are legal, they must be safe, may fuel the choice to take these drugs whether they are medically necessary or not.

Type of Prescription Drug Addiction

NIDA lists three basic types of prescription drugs that are frequently abused:

Opioids – These prescription narcotics are typically prescribed to treat both acute and chronic pain, but the substances are also highly addictive. The two most common opioids taken for nonmedical purposes are oxycodone, which is found in brand-name drugs like Vicodin and Percocet, and fentanyl.

CNS Depressants – Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are primarily used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, but their addictive nature makes them dangerous whether taken for a medical condition or nonmedically. Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax and Ativan) are the most common drugs abused in this category, but addiction can also become a problem with non-benzodiazepine sleep medications like Ambien and Lunesta and barbiturates such as Mebaral and Luminal.

Stimulants – Prescriptions for these drugs are usually given to treat attention deficit disorders and less frequently, a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. Brand names included in this category are Ritalin and Adderall. These substances have become known as “study drugs,” because students have begun taking them to improve their focus and alertness while studying for tests. However, nonmedical use of these drugs can be both addictive and dangerous.

The Effects of Prescription Drugs on the Body

When drugs are taken as prescribed, these side effects are usually minimal. However, when there is no condition to treat, the results of the substances can be much more intense and dangerous. The hazard is increased by the fact that users taking these drugs for nonmedical reasons often consume much more than the recommended dosage.

When taken for reasons outside of their intended use, these substances can have different effects depending on the category of drugs used.

The results of opioids might include:

  • Feelings of extreme joy or happiness, known as euphoria
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impaired motor function, reduced coordination
  • Stomach upset, constipation and nausea
  • Decreased sensitivity to pain
  • Reduced respirations and difficulty breathing

Use of CNS depressants might result in the following symptoms:

  • Reduced heart rate and respiration
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disorientation and memory issues
  • Dizziness and slurred speech
  • Impaired balance and coordination
  • Problems breathing

Stimulants have the opposite effect as CNS depressants, resulting in some of the following effects:

  • Increased blood-pressure and body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate or irregular heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increase respiration, difficulty breathing
  • Irritability, anxiety and paranoia

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse and Dependency

When someone becomes dependent on a prescription drug, symptoms often appear that could indicate a problem. These might include:

  • Loss of interest in spending time with friends or participating in activities
  • More time spent in isolation
  • Work or school responsibilities begin to suffer
  • Changes in mood or sleep patterns
  • Increased time used for getting and using the substance
  • Needing more of the substance to achieve the same effects (tolerance)
  • Doctor shopping to obtain more prescriptions or forging scripts
  • Taking pills from friends or family members
  • Crushing the pills to snort or inject for a more intense “high”

When an addiction is suspected, it is vital to seek professional assistance as soon as possible. These drugs all have a high risk for overdose and other dangerous complications, especially when they are combined with other substances like alcohol.

Long-Term Damage from Prescription Drug Abuse

Damage from long-term use of these substances will also vary depending on the type of drug used. Some of the more significant harm caused by these drugs might include:


  • Respiratory difficulties, choking risk
  • Organ damage and failure
  • Brain damage
  • Overdose
  • Coma and death

CNS Depressants

  • Persistent confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss
  • Headaches and seizures
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Kidney damage and failure
  • Anxiety and depression


  • Increased body temperature and blood pressure
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Increased risk for stroke and heart attack
  • Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia
  • Overdose

The Dangers of Prescription Drug Withdrawal

When a person that is addicted to one of these substances stops taking it, the body may react to the absence of the drug by exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. These side effects can range from mild to severe, and some can be life-threatening. This is particularly true of benzodiazepine withdrawal, which might include seizures, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.

Even if the withdrawal symptoms are not dangerous, they can be uncomfortable enough to prompt the individual to use the drug once again to stop the unpleasant sensations. The pain, discomfort and potential risks associated with withdrawal make this process much more successful when it is done under the supervision of medical professionals trained to manage the withdrawal process. Once detoxification, full elimination of the drug from the body, is completed and withdrawal symptoms have subsided, addiction treatment can begin in earnest.

Help for Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drugs may seem safer than street drugs because they are prescribed by physicians. However, when these substances are taken for nonmedical reasons, they can be just as addictive and dangerous as any drug sold on the street. Now is the time to get you or someone you love the necessary help to overcome prescription drug addiction. Contact Serenity Oaks Wellness Center today at 844-720-6847.

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