What Is Addiction To Prescription Drugs

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What Is Addiction To Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drug addiction refers to taking prescription medication for reasons other than what the doctor initially prescribed them.

Abusing prescription medications changes your brain's functions. Most people start off right, with a doctor-prescribed medication, but with time, the changes the drugs make to your brain make it hard to control your abilities and decision making.

Unfortunately, the addiction only makes you desire to take more and more of the drug.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are three main classes of prescription drugs that are commonly abused; (1)

1.Prescription Opioids

Medical professionals have been prescribing opioid painkillers since the 1990s. These include; hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.

These prescription drugs are mostly used as pain medication, in people with long-term pain.

The treatment works very well, and will even boost the quality of life when the doctor’s instructions are followed.

However, it is possible for one to develop a physical dependence to this particular drugs after short term use, even under the close watch of a doctor.

Developing prescription drug addiction to opioids is very easy, when the drug is taken for a long time.

Opioid Overdose

Opioid overdose, or an overdose of any other prescription drugs is life threatening and can be fatal.

Additionally, when taken together with other prescription drugs that work on your nervous system such as barbiturates, alcohol or benzodiazepines, will lead to high chances of developing breathing problems that can lead to death.

Why Do People Develop An Opioid Prescription Drug Addiction?

Because opioids give a mild joyful feeling. Most people use them illegally through injections or snorting in order to get the feeling faster.

Injecting addictive prescription drugs increases the chances of one getting diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.

2.Benzodiazepine Prescription Drug Addiction

Benzodiazepines are also known as central nervous system depressants CNS, and they are a collection of prescription drugs that include; Valium, Xanax, and Ativan.

They are usually used for the treatment of sleep disorders, such as insomnia and to treat anxiety.

What they do is affect a chemical in your brain known as GABA or Gamma Aminobutyric Acid. This chemical lowers your brain’s activity and causes you to feel calm and sleepy.

What Is Barbiturates Prescription Drug Addiction?

Barbiturates are part of the central nervous system depressants CNS, such as benzodiazepines, and doctors mostly prescribe them for the treatment of seizures

These include; Amobarbital/Amytal, Pentobarbital/Nembutal, etc.

Taking these particular prescription drugs for a few days or weeks will make you stay calm and feel drowsy.

After a while however, persistently taking CNS depressants will end up requiring you to take higher doses in order to experience the same feeling.

Mixing these prescription drugs with alcohol will cause some serious and negative consequences, which could lead to slowed breathing, slowed heartbeat and even death.

Taking CNS depressants over a long time and then suddenly stopping may lead to some life-threatening medical conditions such as withdrawal seizures and dangerously high body temperature.

3.Stimulants Prescription Drug Addiction

Stimulants will give your body a jump-start and a huge boost of energy, alertness and attention. They will also raise your blood sugar, heart rate and blood pressure.

Additionally, these prescription drugs will narrow your blood vessels and then open up your airways.

Doctors initially used stimulants prescription medication for the treatment of obesity and asthma, but they quickly caused a prescription drug addiction, and now doctors use them for ADD, ADHD, narcolepsy and depression.

Examples of this prescription drug includes;

Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ProCentra, lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylene, Ritalin), and a mix of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).

Stimulant prescription drug abuse can be taken through crushing and snorting the pills. High dosses will lead to an increased body temperature.

Misusing prescription stimulants or using them together with other substance abuse drugs such as decongestants may lead to an uneven heartbeat.

At Abbeycare, we understand that drug addiction is not just limited to illegal substances. prescription drug addiction is real, and we have various programs at our drug addiction treatment center, that are designed for prescription drug addiction treatment.

Addiction to widely available legal drugs such as over the counter cold medication, has caused a lot of controversy, with many blaming the NHS for the sharp increase in the UK’s addiction to Opioids.

Prescription Drug Abuse Signs and Symptoms

Prescription drug abuse is subtle. You may not even know that you are misusing your prescription drug, as you keep taking it to treat a specific condition.

One of the most common signs that you are misusing a prescription drug would be the need to take higher and higher doses of the drug.

Opioid Prescription Drug Addiction Signs And Symptoms;

  • Dizziness
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, or constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Depression or anxiety

CNS Prescription Drug Addiction Signs and Symptoms

  • Mood changes
  • Trouble walking
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory problems
  • Slow breathing

Stimulants Prescription Drug Addiction Signs And Symptoms;

  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Uneven heart rate
  • Paranoia

A BBC investigation (1) reported that more than two million working age people in England alone are estimated to have taken a painkiller, that was not prescribed to them between 2016 and 2017.

This prescription drug abuse took place in many areas of the country, such as the North of England.

The rate of prescription drug abuse for medication such as opioid painkillers is up to four times higher in London than other parts of England. This is mostly due to the availability of over the counter prescription drugs, and painkillers on the black market.

On this blog, we look to discover more about prescription drug addiction, and especially, prescription drug abuse. How prescription medications can take over your life and how Abbeycare can help.

Drug addiction treatment at Abbeycare

Drug addiction treatment at Abbeycare seeks to eliminate prescription drug abuse, through our many prescription drug addiction treatment options. These treatment plans will effectively release one from their addiction to prescription medications.

Understanding Opioid Prescription Drug Abuse

Opioids, also known as Opioid Painkillers are prescription medication given by doctors to treat pain that cannot be treated using any other drugs that are weaker forms of painkillers – such as Ibuprofen & paracetamol.

The opioid prescription drug works by affecting the opioid receptors in both the brain and the central nervous system.

This limits and reduces the way your body feels pain, increasing your tolerance for pain, whilst reducing our own physical reaction.

Unfortunately, opioid prescription drug abuse is as a result of how the drug makes one feel, leading to a physical dependence on the drug.

A lot of these Opioid Painkillers are well known and include:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Diamorphine
  • Dihydrocodeine

All of these can be prescribed by a doctor. Now, while the weaker opioid painkillers such as Codeine are available over the counter at pharmacies, they are often combined with aspirin or paracetamol.

Because of their addictive nature, opioid drug use is only intended for a very short period, and only to treat pain levels and triggers which do not respond to standard painkillers.

Although opioid painkillers are safe to take after a free confidential assessment by your doctor, they quickly cause drug addictions.

Most of the prescription drug misuse we treat at Abbeycare is usually for opioids, although we also get other drug abuse users in the mix.

But, the initial symptoms of prescription drug we see, especially from painkillers is drowsiness due to the damaged brain activity.

If you start feeling drowsy after taking prescription medication, and find that you are now taking high doses of the same drug, this means that you need professional help.

Call our enquiry line today, so we can help with your prescription drug addiction treatment.

Symptoms Signs Of Opioid Prescription Drug Misuse

Prescription Painkiller drug abuse can be incredibly hard to detect in most people. This is because, the nature of the medication causes great feelings in your body. These pills are also very small, which fuels prescription drug use in a subtle and hidden manner.

This is unlike other addictions such as alcoholic or heroin, that would necessitate the addict to leave things such as injections and bottles of alcohol around for all to see.

This is why, to abuse prescription drugs is very easy.

Common behaviours caused by prescription drug addiction, include:

  • A lack of care for one’s personal appearance
  • Invention & complaints about conditions that would warrant taking prescription drugs.
  • Regular trips to the doctor for CNS depressants, or stimulant abuse.
  • Mood swings & depression caused by the lack of available drugs
  • Anxiety – exacerbated by drug availability
  • Insomnia
  • Increased reliance on alcohol

If you recognise any of the above signs in either your own behaviour, or that of a loved one – it’s highly likely that you are being negatively affected by addiction to prescription drugs and other substances.

The highly addictive drugs will cause you to develop what is called tolerance to the treatment medications leading to negative effects that will lead to potential harm.

Symptoms of prescription drug addiction such as a calm feeling, drowsiness and the need to take more and more should necessitate the need for immediate treatment.

Dangers of Taking Prescription Drugs such as Opioids

The risk factors accompanied by Opioid addiction, mirrors other types of substance and drug addiction- whether it’s alcohol addiction or heroin addiction.

Search popular searches and you will realize that drug facts are the same, regardless of which one you take.

Physical and Psychological Dangers

According to the national institute of drug abuse, (2) the dangers are both physical and psychological, with the body suffering under constant substance abuse.

Painkillers can damage everything from the liver to the kidneys, to the heart and the brain – with permanent damage being suffered by those using painkillers over an extended period.

Heavy use can also trigger symptoms of prescription drug abuse such as mental health issues, with chemical changes taking place in the brain that affect behaviours (3) – increasing the likelihood of both depression and anxiety as part of the withdrawal symptoms.

Most people who abuse prescription painkillers, have developed an incorrect school of thought; that because these drugs have been prescribed by a doctor, they can do us no harm and hence, they ignore all symptoms of prescription drug abuse.

This belief, is one of the biggest risk factors when it comes to prescription drug addiction.

Treatment For The Abuse Of Prescription Drug Medications & Detox

At Abbeycare, we apply the same general approach for dealing with prescription drug medications and addiction, like we do other types of substance addiction.

The approach we have developed, which encompasses both physical & psychological treatments includes everything from group and individual counselling, right across to light medication and sedation.

Our goal is to access your medical condition, and how these prescription medications such as opioids and other stimulants have affected you.

It’s an approach that works.

During the treatment of prescription drug withdrawal symptoms, the FDA approves the use of first buprenorphine implant for treatment of opioid dependence.

That’s not to say all treatments are the same, every patient who walks through our doors receives a completely bespoke and tailored approach to beating their addiction, based around their exact requirements.

Abbeycare Treatment

At Abbeycare rehab clinics, we emphasize on therapy.

This therapy is focused on probing deeper into motivations causing addiction to prescription medicines. Deeper reasons may emerge during treatment and are likely to cause emotional reactions.

Hence, guidance from addiction specialists may be valuable in order to cope with the stress of changing a lifestyle pattern.

Abbeycare has a team of specialist Psychotherapists on board to deliver this specialist form of therapeutic counselling. The team will deliver treatment to counteract the negative thinking and behaviour patterns surrounding the use of prescription drugs.

Abbeycare psychotherapists utilize a number of tried and tested models of counselling such as:

To achieve sobriety.

During the treatment, the solution to substance use disorders begins with detox and rehab in a therapeutic environment designed to cease the use of prescription drugs and/or alcohol for the long-term.

If you feel that you, or your loved one has an addiction to prescription drugs, you should contact Abbeycare immediately in order to save their lives. We are more than ready to help you achieve sobriety.

Treatment is the only solution to prescription drug addition, because when not treated, the consequences are fatal and could lead to death.


Drug misuse and dependence can come from legally allowed medication or illicit drugs that have no medical value and are used for recreational purposes only.

Overcoming drug abuse is not easy but with the support of family and friends, and professional drug rehab centres, lives can be saved and drug dependents can be productive again.

Please note that other than the above drugs, street drugs and cold medicines are also greatly misused. This is because they cause drowsiness and relieve from insomnia.

But, even though mild, most drugs can cause overdose deaths, so avoid misusing them.

Abbeycare clinic offers plenty of options for drug abuse.

At Abbeycare, we are here to help you, or your loved one kick the addictive and restrictive habit of prescription drug addiction.

Get in touch to learn more about what we do.

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Last Updated: January 18, 2023

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Peter also co-authored the new 6th edition of Drugs In Use by Linda Dodds, writing Chapter 15 on Alcohol Related Liver Disease. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.