Prescription Drug Addiction

Although prescription drugs are legal and overseen by doctors, their misuse can wreak havoc on a person’s brain, body, and life. Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 18 million people misused prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in 2017. Chronic misuse can lead to increased risk of heart attacks, seizures, strokes, cerebral hemorrhage, and psychosis, as well as liver, kidney, and lung damage. Luckily, our rehabilitation programs can help people addicted to prescription drugs get on the path to long-term recovery.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Most misused prescription drugs fall into three categories: opioids, central nervous system stimulants, and depressants. Doctors prescribe each category of drugs for specific reasons, ailments, and conditions.


Opioids are painkillers. As such, doctors prescribe them to help treat severe pain caused by injury, surgery or accidents. Opioids also help ease persistent pain associated with diseases like cancer or chronic headaches and toothaches.

Some of the most popular opioids prescribed by doctors include:

  • Vicodin (Hydrocodone and acetaminophen)
  • OxyContin and Percocet (Oxycodone)
  • Kadian and Avinza (Morphine)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl


Stimulants are medicines that invigorate the brain, speeding up mental processes, increasing energy, and improving attention spans. They also increase alertness and elevate blood pressure as well as heart and respiratory rates. Generally, doctors prescribe stimulants to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

Some of the most popular stimulants prescribed by doctors include:

  • Adderall (Amphetamine)
  • Concerta and Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (Dextroamphetamine)


Depressants are medicines that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics. They slow brain activity which make them ideal for relieving anxiety and calming nerves. They also help ease muscle spasms and prevent seizures. Typically, depressants fall into three categories: benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedative hypnotics, and barbiturates.


Barbiturates are drugs that cause relaxation and euphoria. While doctors used to consider them safe, today they’re considered high risk drugs and are not prescribed often. Some barbiturates that are still prescribed today include:

  • Amytal (Amobarbital)
  • Butisol (Butabarbital)
  • Nembutal (Pentobarbital)
  • Seconal (Secobarbital sodium)
  • Brietal (Methohexital)
  • Pentothal (Thiopental)


Most physicians use benzodiazepines, known as “benzos,”as an alternative to barbiturates. Benzos are sedatives. Doctors use them to treat seizures, anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Popular benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (Alprazolam)
  • Librium (Chlordiazepoxide)
  • Tranxene (Clorazepate)
  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Dalmane (Flurazepam)
  • Estazolam


Non-benzodiazepine hypnotics also have a sedative effect on the body. The most common non-benzodiazepine hypnotics include:

  • Sonata (Zaleplon)
  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
  • Ambien (Zolpidem)

How Prescription Drugs Affect the Brain: From Medicine to Addiction

The shift from prescription drugs to addiction begins when the brain needs higher doses of the drug to function properly. At this point, the brain becomes dependent upon the presence of the drug in the body. It’s a gradual process, but once established, individuals have a chemical need for the misused drug. This, of course, makes it hard for individuals to stop using prescription drugs even if desired.

1. Prescribed Use

When taken as prescribed, opioid medications bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. Once bound, they block the body’s pain signals, leaving the individual temporarily free of pain.

Stimulants increase the body’s release of dopamine and norepinephrine, speeding up the activity in the central nervous system. This boosts users’ energy levels, causing them to feel alert and focused.

Depressants or sedatives increase the GABA neurotransmitter. As such, people taking sedatives feel less anxious.

Like most drugs, eventually, the effects of each medication will wear off.

2. Increased Tolerance

When chronic drug use takes place over time, an individual’s tolerance for the drug increases. The initial amount taken is no longer enough to feel normal. This may lead individuals to “doctor shop” to refill an expired prescription or to purchase prescription drugs illegally.

3. Brain Adaption & Dependence

As tolerance increases, the brain adapts to the presence of the drug. Slowly, the brain becomes dependent upon the substance. As a result, individuals consume more just to feel “normal” again. When left untreated, dependence can turn into addiction.

Signs & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Because most prescription drug abuse starts off with a legal recommendation from a physician, it can be hard to pinpoint misuse. But some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with misuse of prescription drugs include:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • “Doctor shopping” or visiting multiple doctors to get more prescriptions
  • Borrowing prescription medicine from others
  • Using prescriptions at a much faster rate than prescribed
  • Crushing or breaking pills
  • Lying about the amount of medication used or how often medication is taken
  • Stashing and hiding medication in many places around the house
  • Ordering prescriptions from online pharmacies
  • Stealing prescriptions

It’s also important to know the signs and symptoms specific to each type of prescription drug.

Signs and symptoms of opioid prescription abuse include:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • Rapid decrease in blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating

Signs and symptoms of prescribed stimulant abuse include:

  • Increased alertness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Impulsive behavior

Signs and symptoms depressants and anti-anxiety medications abuse include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady walking and movements
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Memory problems
  • Slowed breathing
  • Involuntary tics or movement

Prescription Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

The type, severity, and length of withdrawal symptoms depends upon the type of prescription drug misused. Generally, withdrawal symptoms for opioids start 8 to 12 hours after the last dose and last anywhere from 5 to 10 days. Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the last consumption, but they can last for months. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms start a few hours to several days after the last use. Generally, they last for weeks and sometimes months, after quitting.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness and inability to sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Digestive issues
  • Seizures

Stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Dehydration
  • Slow heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Unpleasant dreams
  • Body aches
  • Cravings

Withdrawal symptoms associated with depressants include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Confusion about the date, time and place
  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Body pains
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Heart palpitations

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction & Abuse

Treatment varies depending on whether the misused drug was an opioid, stimulant or depressant. But most treatment plans for prescription drug addiction begin with detox. Here at Solution Based Treatment & Detox, we provide drug and alcohol detox.

After detox, clients enroll in one of our three rehabilitation programs: residential treatment, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient. In these programs, clients receive behavioral and clinical support to recover.

Behavioral treatment includes counseling, individual and group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and contingency management. Through these various avenues, clients learn to function without drugs. They also learn how their thought patterns correlate with their behavior patterns. With time, clients learn how to manage drug cravings, reduce their risk for relapse, and mend personal and professional relationships.

During and after treatment, we encourage clients to join our recovery activities like sober living, Rock to Recovery, and Building on the Rock.

Overcoming an addiction to prescription drugs isn’t easy. Admitting the need for help is the first step to recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, call Solution Based Treatment today at 1-877-309-4311.

We Know From Experience

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Medical detox is a critical first step in recovery, which is why we provide supervised medical detox in-house.

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Every client benefits from a fully personalized treatment and plan of care, helping them recover and reach their unique goals.

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