Prescription Drug Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Prescription drug addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction

Any time that a person uses a prescription medication in a way that was not intended by the prescribing physician it is considered to be prescription drug abuse. For example, this may include taking more than one was prescribed, using a friend’s medication, or grinding up and snorting pills as a means of getting high. Since prescription medications are pills that you get from the doctor, many individuals are under the assumption that they are safer than illicit drugs. However, this could not be further from the truth. Abuse of prescription medications can be extremely harmful and cause many negative consequences throughout a person’s life.

Opioids, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medication, such as Xanax, are the most commonly abused prescription medications due to their mind-altering capabilities. Abuse of any of these medications can lead to tolerance and an increased risk for overdose. If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription medication abuse, it is extremely important to get help as soon as possible in order to fix the problem before it becomes worse and leads to the development of serious ramifications.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

Research has concluded that prescription medication abuse is on the rise. In the United States, the number of deaths caused by prescription drug overdoses has surpassed the rates of deaths caused by car accidents, gunshots, and suicides. Furthermore, it has been realized that nearly fifty-two million Americans have taken a prescription medication for non-medical use at least one time in their lifetimes.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

The majority of researchers agree that the cause for the development of prescription medication abuse and addiction are the result of a number of different factors working together. Some of the suggested causes and risk factors are described below:

Genetic: It has been suggested that individuals who have a family history of substance abuse and/or addiction are at a higher risk for developing substance abuse issues themselves. This indicates that one’s genes do, in fact, play a role in the development of substance abuse problems.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental factors that can influence whether or not an individual will go on to develop prescription medication abuse problems. For example, individuals who have been exposed to substance abuse or have a past history of abusing other substances are more likely to develop problems with prescription medications.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, or dependence
  • Exposure to chronic stress or conflict
  • Presence of a chronic pain condition
  • Easy access to prescription medication
  • Having certain preexisting conditions
  • Personal or family history of mental illnesses

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The signs and symptoms present in an individual who is abusing prescription medication is going to depend upon the specific drug being abused as well as individual characteristics of each person. Listed below are some of the behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that an individual who is abusing prescription medication can experience:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Missing work
  • School refusal
  • Decline in work or school performance
  • Inability to adhere to daily responsibilities
  • Lying
  • Increased conflict with or physical aggression towards others
  • Stealing
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Continuously claiming to have lost prescriptions
  • Making attempts to conceal drug use
  • Impulsive behavior

Physical symptoms:

  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor coordination
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Tremors
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Change in eating habits
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Irregular heartbeat

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired judgment
  • Delayed thinking
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Poor decision-making
  • Poor concentration

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Anxiousness
  • Declined motivation
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Changes in personality and temperament


Effects of prescription drug addiction

When an individual abuses prescription medication, it can lead to a wide variety of ill effects in all areas of his or her life. Some of the negative effects that can result from untreated prescription medication abuse can include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Divorce
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Manifestation of a mental health condition or conditions
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Suicide attempts
  • Death as a result of suicide or overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

In some instances, those that abuse prescription medications are doing so as a means of coping with the symptoms of a mental health condition or conditions. Additionally, prescription drug abuse can trigger the onset of certain mental illnesses. The following mental health disorders are those that can be diagnosed at the same time as a prescription drug use disorder:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Another substance use disorder
  • Depressive disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription medication withdrawal: After people have been abusing prescription medications for a prolonged period of time and suddenly stop taking them, they will most likely experience withdrawal. Below is a variety of symptoms that can occur when an individual is going through withdrawal:

  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Aching muscles
  • Profuse sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Tachycardia
  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Coma

Effects of prescription medication overdose: The abuse of prescription medications can place an individual at an increased risk for overdose, which occurs when an individual consumes more drugs than the body can metabolize. If you notice that you or a loved one is displaying the following symptoms, it is important that medical attention be sought immediately:

  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Inability to communicate
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow heart beat
  • Chest pains
  • Muscle cramps
  • Loss of skin tone
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness or falling into coma

My addiction to prescription drugs was very out of hand before going to Harbor Oaks. I am so grateful to all of the staff that has helped me through my recovery.

– Former Patient
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