Prescription Drug Addiction Causes & Effects

Learn About Prescription Drug Abuse

Learn About Prescription Drug Abuse & Treatment at Life Healing Center

Substance abuse and addiction is a widespread problem in the world today. One type of substance that countless people have found themselves battling an addiction to is prescription medication. Research has shown that, within the past decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who have begun to abuse prescription drugs in an attempt to achieve the mood-altering and/or mind-altering effects that can result. There a number of different types of prescription medications that are abused by individuals, of which include:

  • Pain medications (OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine, etc.)
  • Anti-anxiety medications (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, etc.)
  • Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)
  • Sedatives (Ambien)

When taken for legitimate medical reasons, all of these medications serve a very specific purpose in helping to alleviate various types of distress that individuals experience. However, when taken in greater dosages than prescribed, or when taken more frequently than prescribed, the result can be the onset of pleasurable feelings that become addictive to the individual. When taken outside of the guidelines that are given by the prescribing physician, drugs like prescription pain medications, sedatives, and anti-anxiety agents can elicit feelings of profound relaxation, euphoria, and a pleasurable sense of detachment from one’s surroundings. Drugs like stimulants can work to enhance one’s ability to focus, increase one’s energy, and elicit weight loss by suppressing one’s appetite. These effects can be seen as extremely appealing to many individuals, causing them to fall into the relentless cycle of prescription drug abuse and subsequent addiction. Once this addiction has developed, it can become extremely difficult for people to overcome without the assistance of qualified professionals.


Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

The number of people who abuse prescriptions drugs is cited by researchers as being one that is steadily rising. In fact, studies have shown that an estimated 52 million people in the United States alone have abused some type of prescription medication. Furthermore, research that has been conducted on the rates of drug overdose in the U.S. have concluded that prescription drug overdoses take more lives than do car accidents, gunshot wounds, or suicides.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Abuse

There are various components that must be considered when trying to understand why some people develop an addiction to substances like prescription medications while others do not. Such components are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Decades of research have concluded that there is a strong genetic link to the onset of drug abuse and addiction, including the abuse of and addiction to prescription medication. People who have family members who have struggled with chemical dependency are at a much higher risk for struggling with similar concerns than are those who do not have the same type of hereditary background.

Environmental: There can be a number of environmental factors that contribute to a person’s susceptibility to developing a prescription drug abuse problem. One such environmental factor involves an individual’s exposure to the use of drugs. If a person spends a great deal of time in an environment where he or she is exposed to drug use, he or she is going to be more likely to experiment with the use of drugs as well. Additionally, people who have suffered from a condition that leaves them in a state where they medically require prescription medication in order to alleviate symptoms are more vulnerable to developing an addiction because of the access they now have to a particular substance. Another environmental concern that can leave individuals at a higher susceptibility of abusing drugs, such as prescription medication, is the experiencing of a traumatic event or series of traumatic events. When an individual is subjected to a trauma and does not possess the appropriate coping skills necessary for dealing with that trauma, he or she is at a heightened risk for developing a substance abuse problem, such as a problem with abusing prescription drugs, as he or she attempts to numb his or her emotional distress.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms that are displayed by a person who is abusing prescription drugs will vary drastically depending on the specific type of drug that is being abused. Additional factors that can affect the particular type of symptoms that are exhibited can include the length of time during which the abuse has occurred and the amount of the substance that is being ingested at any given time. Examples of various behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that may indicate that someone is struggling with a prescription drug abuse problem may include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absences from work
  • Alterations in occupational performance (for example, one may exhibit a decline in performance if he or she has developed an addiction to prescription painkillers, while one may exhibit an increase in performance if he or she has developed an addiction to stimulants)
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal or a change in the company one keeps
  • Behaving in instigative, and sometimes aggressive, ways
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to acquire multiple prescriptions

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Altered eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (possibly suffering from insomnia or hypersomnia, depending on the type of drug that one is abusing)
  • Impaired coordination
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of good hygiene

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in things or activities that were once enjoyed
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Frequent mood fluctuations
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Changes in temperament


Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

Abusing any type of drug will make an individual susceptible to experiencing a variety of negative consequences, and the abuse of prescription drugs is no different. Similar to the aforementioned symptoms, the specific detriments that may arise as the result of ongoing prescription drug abuse will vary depending on the specific type of medication that is being abused. Possible examples of effects that may negatively impact a person’s life after he or she has been consistently abusing prescription medications can include:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription Drug Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

The presence of symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions have been known to arise in individuals who are struggling with an addiction to prescription medications. People who are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, after having experienced a trauma are extremely susceptible to beginning to abuse substances like prescription drugs as they attempt to cope with their distressing emotions. In addition to PTSD or other trauma-related disorders, the following mental health conditions have been known to afflict individuals who are battling an addiction to prescription medications:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Prescription Drug Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The ongoing abuse of prescription drugs will result in the onset of a period of withdrawal when an individual stops using them. The specific type of prescription drug that has been abused will impact the type and severity of symptoms that are experienced during this withdrawal period. Examples of various symptoms and effects that can arise during this time may include the following:

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

Effects of prescription drug overdose: An overdose occurs whenever a person consumes more of a substance than his or her body is capable of metabolizing. All incidents of overdose, as with prescription drugs, should be viewed as medical emergencies and treatment should be sought immediately in order to prevent fatalities. Examples of signs that may indicate that someone has overdosed on prescription medication may include the following:

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

Creating cocktails of prescription drugs used to be a big part of my free time. However, it got to the point where family was low on my list of priorities. I didn't want this to happen. The staff at Life Healing Center helped me get the appropriate rehab and detox. I am on my first month of sobriety and am confident that I will have many more to come with the supportive staff at LHC.

– Eric F.
Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • LegitScript
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)