Prescription Drug Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Prescription Drug Abuse

Learn About Prescription Drug Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction is a problem that impacts people throughout the world. One form of substance abuse that affects many of those people is the abuse of prescription medications. Studies have shown that over the past decade, there has been a substantial increase amongst the number of individuals who have started abusing prescription drugs in an attempt to achieve the mind-altering effects that come with doing so. There are a variety of different prescription medications that are widely abused by individuals, some of which include:

  • Antianxiety medications (Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, etc.)
  • Sedatives (Ambien)
  • Pain Medications (OxyContin, morphine, Vicodin, etc.)
  • Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)

When taken for significant medical purposes, each of these medications can serve a very specific purpose in helping to alleviate physical and/or psychological symptoms. However, when these medications are taken in larger doses than intended, or taken more frequently than prescribed, the result can be an addiction to the pleasurable feelings that abusing these drugs can provide. When consumed outside of the prescribing guidelines of a medical professional, drugs like sedatives, prescription painkillers, and antianxiety medications can bring about feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and a sense of detachment from one’s surroundings. Substances such as stimulants can increase an individual’s ability to focus, heighten his or her energy levels, and bring on weight loss by suppressing his or her appetite. These effects can be highly intriguing to many, causing them to become stuck in the dangerous cycle of prescription drug abuse and finding themselves battling with addiction. As soon as a prescription drug addiction has developed, it can be exceptionally challenging for an individual to defeat it without help from professionals.


Prescription Drug Addiction Statistics

The amount of people who are abusing prescription drugs is said to be rising, according to researchers. Many studies show that approximately 52 million people throughout the United States have abused some form of prescription medication. Additionally, research on the rates of drug overdose in the country has shown that prescription drug overdoses cause more deaths than car accidents, suicides, or gunshot wounds.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Addiction

There are a number of components that must be factored into play when trying to understand why some individuals become addicted to substances like prescription medications and others do not. Some of these factors can include:

Genetic: Years of research have shown that there is a genetic tie to the onset of drug addiction and abuse, including the abuse of and addiction to prescription medications. Those who have family members who have grappled with chemical dependency are more likely to battle with similar issues than those who do not have the same genetic tie.

Environmental: A variety of environmental factors can play into an individual’s vulnerability to developing a prescription drug addiction. One of these factors is an individual’s exposure to drug use. If an individual spends an exceptional amount of time within an environment where he or she witnesses drug use, he or she will become more vulnerable to experimenting with drugs, too. In addition, those who battle with a condition that leaves them in a state where they require a prescription medication to reduce their symptoms are more likely to become addicted to these substances. Those who experience trauma throughout their lives are also susceptible to developing a prescription drug addiction. When an individual is exposed to trauma and does not obtain the proper coping skills to handle that trauma, he or she is at an increased risk for developing a prescription drug problem, especially if he or she attempts to control his or her emotional upset through self-medication.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a condition that requires the use of prescription drugs for symptom relief
  • Ease of access to prescription drugs
  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

The signs and symptoms linked to an individual who is abusing prescription medications will vary, as they often depend on the type of substance that is being abused. Additional factors can impact the type of signs that are displayed, such as the period of time in which the substances have been abused and how much is being consumed. Some of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that might signify if an individual is battling with a prescription drug problem can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting numerous doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Constant absence from work
  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Changes in work performance (i.e. developing a decline in performance if addicted to prescription painkillers)
  • Behaving in an instigative and possibly aggressive manner
  • No longer partaking in activities that were previously enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Tremors/shakes
  • Impaired coordination
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Altered eating habits
  • Changes in sleep patterns (developing either insomnia or hypersomnia based on the type of prescription drug being abused)

Cognitive symptoms:

  •  Delayed thought processes
  • Decline in one’s ability to use sound judgment
  • Decline in one’s ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Changes in concentration capabilities
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Changes in temperament
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in things or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Frequent mood fluctuations
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Social withdrawal or a change in the company one keeps


Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

Abusing any form of drug will cause an individual to experience a number of dangerous consequences, and the abuse of prescription medications is no different. The specific effects that can develop in response to continual prescription medication addiction will vary based on the medication that is being abused. Some potential effects that can negatively impact an individual’s life after he or she has been abusing prescription medications can include:

  • Financial problems
  • Occupational failure, causing job loss and continual unemployment struggles
  • Interaction with law enforcement or legal ramifications as a result of falsifying prescriptions
  • Social isolation or disturbances arising within important relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Organ damage/organ failure
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Family discord/divorce

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription Drug Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who are battling with prescription drug addiction are at risk of developing other mental illnesses. Those who are battling posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for instance, after having gone through an exceptional amount of trauma, are more likely to start abusing substances to cope. In addition to PTSD or other trauma-related disorders, the mental health conditions below have been known to impact those who are struggling with prescription medication addiction:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Borderline personality disorders
  • Additional substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Know the Effects of Prescription Drug Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The continued abuse of prescription medications will bring about a period of withdrawal should an individual attempt to stop using them. Some of the many symptoms that can develop during withdrawal can include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Vivid dreams
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors/shakes
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Restlessness

Effects of prescription drug overdose: An overdose can happen when an individual consumes more of a substance than his or her body is able to handle. All overdoses should be looked at as medical emergencies, and treatment should be sought immediately to prevent death. Some of the signs that can indicate an overdose on prescription drugs can include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Changes in skin pallor
  • Respiratory failure
  • Sudden loss of the ability to communicate
  • Severe dizziness
  • Cyanosis
  • Death