Addicted To Prescription Drugs Symptoms

Many individuals who abuse prescription drugs mistakenly think that prescription medication is safer than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist.

In the United States, the prevalence rate for prescription drug addiction in those over the age of 17 in the U.S. is estimated at about 2.7%, which amounts to over 7 million people. This number is staggering when one considers that the monthly estimates by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of people who use such drugs for non-medical reasons are close to 6.1 million.

Prescription drug abuse, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement should be considered an epidemic especially when one considers that about 6,600 people begin using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons each and every day.

Currently, prescription drug abuse is the leading cause of overdose including allergic reactions as well as accidental and intentional overdose. Well known celebrities who died of prescription drug overdoses include Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Petty, Heath Ledger and Chris Penn. Their deaths bring into spotlight the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.

Additionally, prescription drug abuse may sometimes develop ‘by accident’. A dependence results from pleasurable effects derived from taking the drug. Some people develop this problem after legitimately using a prescribed medication for pain, illness, or psychological reasons. After taking the drug, they notice the enjoyable effects and begin to take the medication for recreational purposes. Addiction sometimes follows and individuals continue to take the drug even when it is no longer necessary. They may need higher doses to maintain the desired effects of the prescription drugs. Others may develop a prescription drug abuse problem by experimenting with medication found in their medicine cabinet at home or experimenting with their ‘friends’ medications.

Prescription drug abuse can affect all ages though it is more common in young people. The most common ones include sedatives, opioid painkillers, sedatives, anti-anxiety medication, and stimulants. The most frequently used categories of prescription drugs abused are:

  • Pain medication – 5.1 million Americans
  • Tranquilizers – 2.2 million Americans
  • Stimulants – 1.1 million Americans
  • Sedatives – 0.4 million Americans

These estimates can be considered low as many individuals who abuse prescription medication, for one reason or another do not seek treatment. In fact, there has been a marked increase in the abuse of prescription drugs. National survey findings have indicated that almost one-third of those over the age of 11 use prescription drugs non-medically when first starting to experiment with drugs.

One category of the population that is frequently exposed to opportunities is college students who sometimes experiment with, misuse and abuse so many different types of prescription drugs. This can occur because of ‘wanting to belong to a group’, peer pressure or merely to experience what their college mates are experiencing.

Types Of Prescription Drugs

The symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug. The different symptoms from stimulants and pain relievers to anti-depressants and tranquilizers—can make it difficult to know what signs to watch for. Each medication has different effects, and mixing these drugs with alcohol and other drugs is very dangerous as this can lead to permanent organ damage and even death. Being aware of the signs that might signal prescription drug abuse can go a long way to detecting prescription drug abuse.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are used for the:

  • Treatment of pain: Opioids, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone) and those containing hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco).
  • Treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders: Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium) alprazolam (Xanax) and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien).
  • Treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders such as insomnia. Stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine).


The symptoms of prescription drug addiction in different categories will vary among those who abuse these drugs. These include:


  • Constipation
  • Impaired coordination
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Hypotension
  • Respiratory depression
  • Confusion
  • Sweating

Sedatives and Anti-anxiety medication:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Rapid involuntary movement of the eyes, known as Nystagmus
  • Impaired judgement


  • Weight loss
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Impulsive and reckless behavior

Other common symptoms of prescription drug abuse include:

Mood symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Forging prescriptions to get a drug of choice
  • Increased or decreased need for sleep
  • Poor decision-making abilities
  • Excitable, unusually energetic and/or lethargic
  • Sharing, stealing or ‘borrowing’ prescription medication from loved ones and friends
  • Inventing vague ailments in a quest for additional prescriptions
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Buying prescription drugs off the internet
  • “Doctor shopping” or going to many doctors for additional prescriptions
  • Becoming angry when the prescription medication runs out
  • Buying prescription drugs from ‘street vendors’
  • Financial problems
  • Poor scholastic or occupational functioning
  • Legal problems – DUI, DWI, prescription forgery
  • Taking more of the drug in order to experience the same ‘high’
  • Taking a medication to get high
  • Taking a drug recreationally

Physical symptoms:

  • Addiction
  • Sweating excessively
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tolerance – needing more and more of the drug than prescribed initially to obtain the same results
  • Dependence – body goes into prescription drug withdrawal when the medication is abruptly stopped

Psychological symptoms:

  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Panic attacks

Drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin have had an increased popularity among college students and young adults in recent years. According to USA Today, over 20% of college students admitted to using these drugs to study or party.

However, there are many who do not realize that recreational use of these drugs can lead to an addiction. Over the longer term, individuals who use these drugs experience a loss of appetite and sleep. On occasion, they will develop insomnia and will become constantly hostile and suffer from paranoia.

While the symptoms of prescription drug abuse vary widely, they have the following characteristics in common:

  • Using legal prescriptions only to turn around to sell them for money in order to buy a drug that they prefer.
  • “Borrowing” drugs from friends, family and acquaintances
  • Altering prescriptions
  • Drastic mood swings: one minute upbeat or elated and the next, irritable, hostile and aggressive.
  • Repeatedly obtaining additional prescriptions
  • Impaired decision making abilities
  • Using more medication than what the doctor prescribed.
  • Increased or decreased sleep

A dependence on prescription drugs can have wide reaching consequences. These include:

  • An emotional low after experiencing a ‘high’
  • Relationship problems which may result from abusers looking for people who are in a similar situation
  • Reduced motivation to perform a job well which can result in job loss. Abusers may, instead spend large amounts of their time looking to procure the drug of their choice.
  • Financial problems which may result from the prescription drug abuser spending large amounts of the budget on getting the drugs to ‘feel good’.
  • Psychological and emotional distress
  • Impaired judgement and impulsive or high risk behavior
  • Short attention span
  • Shopping for an alternative source once the doctor who originally wrote the prescription no longer wishes to do so. The need to replace prescription drugs with illegal drugs.

Once an addiction develops, many individuals often find that they need to ‘concoct’ stories in order to obtain a prescription. Alternatively, they may even try to get a prescription for the same drug from several other doctors.

However, if an individual is unable to get any more legitimate prescriptions to ‘feed his habit’, it may result in severe withdrawal symptoms. This may cause the person to turn to illegal drugs to remedy their inability to tolerate the distressing symptoms.

In 2016, to fight the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic that killed 63,000 people, at least 39 states are insisting that health professionals use the systems known as prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, to analyze each patient’s prescription drug use before writing another prescription for highly addictive drugs such as Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin.

Keys to Overcoming Prescription Drug Abuse

Once an individual is committed to recovery, it’s time to explore treatment choices. While addiction treatment can vary according to the specific drug, a successful program often includes different elements. These include:

  1. Detoxification. This is usually the first step is to purge the body of drugs and manage withdrawal symptoms.
  2. Behavioral counselling. Individual, group, and/or family therapy can help to identify the root causes of prescription drug use, repair relationships, and learn to cope with overcoming drug use.
  3. Medication may be used to manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse, or treat any co-occurring mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Long-term follow-up can help to prevent relapse and maintain sobriety. This may include attending regular in-person support groups or online meetings to help keep your recovery on track.

If left untreated, prescription drug abuse can worsen over time. Prescription drugs affects the ability of individuals to appropriately cope with life and causes dysfunction in all major areas of their lives. Such dysfunctional behavior can cause the deterioration of family and social support leaving the individual feeling helpless and alone.

Get help from a professional treatment center that specializes in prescription drug abuse treatment. Centers such as Peaks Recovery can provide the education, individualized treatment plans, and proven skills of recovery to help individuals understand the recovery process.

Drug & Alcohol Detox

Peaks Recovery is medically staffed by a primary care physician, a psychiatrist, and round-the-clock nursing. The medical team’s acumen provides the safest medical detox in Colorado.

Inpatient & Residential Treatment

Peaks Recovery is licensed to provide the highest level of inpatient and residential programming in Colorado. In addition to satisfying state criteria, we have further received the highest recognition from the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) for our 3.7 and 3.5 levels of care.

IOP Treatment

Peaks Recovery provides accommodating support for individuals who may be experiencing some obstacles in their recovery journey or are looking for a step down from an inpatient program.

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