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Navigation: Why is Prescription Drug Abuse Dangerous?, Prescription Drug Addiction, How to Tell if Someone is Abusing Prescription Drugs, Physical Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse, Psychological Symptoms, Lifestyle Changes, How to Help Someone Struggling with Prescription Drug Addiction, How is Prescription Drug Addiction Treated?


Prescription drugs are generally defined as medications that can be legally obtained from a healthcare professional through a prescription. These drugs are intended to treat specific medical conditions and are regulated by government agencies to ensure their safety.

There are many different examples of prescription drugs. It encompasses a wide range of categories, including antibiotics like amoxicillin for bacterial infections, antidepressants such as sertraline for managing depression or anxiety disorders, and antihypertensive drugs like lisinopril for controlling high blood pressure.

Other examples include opioid painkillers like oxycodone for severe pain management, insulin for diabetes, and statins like atorvastatin for lowering cholesterol levels. [1]

Each prescription drug serves a unique purpose in addressing various health issues. When taken as prescribed by a doctor, these medications are safe and effective. However, prescription drugs can also be dangerous when abused or taken for purposes other than their intended medical use. [1]

There are various reasons why prescription drugs are abused. Some of these drugs can induce a euphoric high that some people seek out. They abuse their prescription medications to manage their stress, improve concentration, or to cope with emotional pain.

Some people wrongly believe that misusing prescription drugs is safer than illicit drugs because they are given by a doctor or another healthcare practitioner. But this is just a common misconception. Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as street drugs.

In fact, those who are unaware of these dangers may put themselves at greater risk of addiction, drug dependence, serious health problems, or a fatal overdose. Recognizing the signs of prescription drug abuse in someone you care about is crucial for getting them the help they need.

Why is Prescription Drug Abuse Dangerous?

Prescription drug abuse is a serious issue that can affect individuals as well as their loved ones. Whether it’s painkillers, sedatives, or stimulants, misuse of prescription medication can lead to addiction, health problems, and even death.

These drugs are typically designed to treat specific medical conditions and are prescribed at particular doses under the supervision of healthcare professionals. When abused, people may take them in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed. This is what leads to serious health consequences.

Many prescription drugs have powerful effects on the central nervous system (CNS), altering brain chemistry and affecting functions such as perception, cognition, and mood. Opioids, for example, can cause respiratory depression, leading to overdose and death. Meanwhile, stimulants like Adderall can increase heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous levels. [2]

Anti-anxiety medicines and sedatives can help patients feel calm or less anxious. But when abused, they can cause memory problems, slowed breathing, and low blood pressure. An overdose can even cause coma or death. [2]

Long-term abuse of prescription drugs can lead to physical dependence and addiction, making it challenging for people to stop using them even when they recognize the harm they’re causing.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction, just like other types of substance use disorders (SUDs), is a chronic and relapsing medical condition that is characterized by the compulsive use of a substance. An addicted person will keep taking the drug even when they are already suffering from its effects. [2]

Prescription drug abuse leads to drug addiction. This means using prescription medications in a manner that is not prescribed by a healthcare professional puts you at risk of addiction. Even if you misuse your medication accidentally or take someone else’s prescription, it is generally considered substance abuse.

Prescription drugs that are commonly abused include opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium), stimulants (like Adderall or Ritalin), and sedatives.

Addiction to prescription drugs can have serious consequences, including physical dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.

Drug tolerance is when a person has to take higher doses of a substance in order to get the same effects they used to enjoy. Over time, the body adjusts to the presence of the substance and reacts negatively if the person does not take it. This is called drug dependence. When a drug dependent individual reduces or stops their intake, they suffer from withdrawal symptoms which may range from mild to life-threatening. [2]

How to Tell if Someone is Abusing Prescription Drugs

To protect your loved ones from the dangers of prescription drug addiction, it is important to learn how to recognize the signs. This can be challenging, especially since people may initially hide their usage or exhibit subtle changes.

Family members and friends are often the first ones to notice the behavioral changes caused by substance abuse.

One common behavioral indicator is noticeable mood swings or sudden shifts in behavior. Someone abusing prescription drugs may display heightened agitation, irritability, anxiety, or sudden outbursts of anger, followed by periods of extreme lethargy or sedation. They may also display significant changes in sleeping habits, including insomnia or oversleeping. [2]

Another behavioral cue is changes in social habits and priorities. Some people may start isolating themselves from friends and family. This may be a sign of them trying to conceal their substance use.

Conversely, they may exhibit increasingly risky behavior, such as associating with other people who engage in substance abuse or getting involved in criminal activity. They may lie or steal money just to obtain more of their preferred substance. [2]

There are those who attempt to obtain multiple prescriptions of the same drug from different doctors. This is called doctor shopping.

These shifts in social behavior often accompany secretive actions, like hiding pill bottles or running out of their prescription too soon. Recognizing these behavioral changes can prompt intervention and support for those struggling with prescription drug abuse. [2]

Physical Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

If it’s not the behavioral changes, you will probably notice the physical changes first. Loved ones should watch out for any changes in their appearance.

For instance, individuals abusing prescription drugs might exhibit sudden weight loss or gain, appearing either excessively thin or bloated.

Their overall hygiene and grooming habits may also decline, leading to unkempt hair, dirty clothing, or neglecting personal hygiene. Additionally, you may notice some changes in their physical coordination and motor skills, which may deteriorate, resulting in clumsiness, unsteady gait, or slurred speech. [2]

Another physical sign of prescription drug abuse is the presence of unusual marks or injuries. Needle marks, particularly on the arms or other areas of the body, could indicate intravenous drug use. This is commonly associated with opioids or stimulants. Bruising or scars from injections might also be apparent. [2]

Other physical symptoms include dilated or constricted pupils, tremors or shakes, and difficulty speaking clearly.

If they frequently complain of unexplained pain or illness, this may be their means of obtaining more prescription medication. It may be an indicator of doctor shopping.

These physical signs, when observed collectively, can suggest a potential problem with prescription drug abuse and warrant further investigation or intervention.

Psychological Symptoms

The effects of prescription drug abuse are not just physical but also psychological, so loved ones should stay on the lookout for psychological symptoms as well.

Aside from the behavioral changes we mentioned above, they may also appear unusually euphoric or elated at times, especially if they are under the influence of the drug. These mood fluctuations can disrupt relationships and daily functioning, leading to conflicts with friends, family, or coworkers. [2]

People who have become addicted to prescription medications will spend a lot of time thinking about these drugs. They will constantly think about obtaining and using these substances.

Another psychological symptom of prescription drug abuse is a noticeable decline in cognitive function.

This may manifest as impaired judgment, confusion, or difficulty concentrating on tasks. Addicted individuals may struggle to remember important information or experience lapses in memory. Additionally, they may exhibit impaired coordination and motor skills, which can increase the risk of accidents or injuries.

These cognitive impairments can interfere with work or school performance and may lead to a decline in overall functioning over time.

Lifestyle Changes

Certain lifestyle changes may also raise some red flags. Aside from becoming more secretive and changing their social circles, they may also begin to neglect their responsibilities like work or school. This is especially problematic if they neglect their responsibilities in favor of the drug.

A telltale indicator of prescription drug abuse is finding drug paraphernalia. Look for paper wraps, rolling papers, small pieces of cling film, tiny plastic bags, pipes, bongs, pierced plastic bottles, cans, burnt foil, spoons, and syringes. [3]

It is also common for addicted individuals to suffer from financial problems. They may borrow money frequently or even resort to stealing just to support their drug abuse. Becoming addicted can be financially draining. Their loss of productivity may cause problems at work, and they may even lose their job in the process.

Finally, addicted individuals may also get into trouble with the law. They may drive under the influence or steal medication. Many substances can cause people to behave erratically and engage in risky behavior, which may sometimes lead to criminal activity.

It’s crucial to approach these observations with sensitivity and empathy, as addiction is a complex issue that often requires professional intervention and support.

How to Help Someone Struggling with Prescription Drug Addiction

If you suspect that someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, it’s essential to approach the situation with care and compassion. Here are some steps you can take to offer support:

Educate Yourself: Learn about prescription drug addiction, its signs, symptoms, and consequences. Understanding the issue will help you provide better support.

Express Concern: Approach the person with empathy and express your concern for their well-being. Use “I” statements to avoid sounding accusatory, such as “I’m worried about you” rather than “You have a problem.” [3]

Offer Support, Not Judgment: Let them know you’re there to support them without judgment. Avoid blaming or shaming them for their addiction. Show empathy and understanding. [3]

Encourage Professional Help: Suggest seeking professional help from a doctor, therapist, or addiction specialist. They can provide appropriate treatment options and support tailored to the individual’s needs.

Explore Treatment Options: Help them research treatment options such as counseling, therapy, support groups, or rehabilitation programs. Offer to assist in finding resources or making appointments. [3]

Provide Emotional Support: Be there to listen without judgment. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Offer emotional support and encouragement throughout their recovery journey.

Encourage Healthy Habits: Support them in adopting healthy habits such as regular exercise, nutritious eating, and adequate sleep. These can help improve overall well-being and support recovery.

Set Boundaries: While offering support, it’s essential to set boundaries to protect your own well-being. Let them know what behaviors are not acceptable to you and stick to those boundaries.

Stay Involved: Stay involved in their recovery process without being overbearing. Offer to accompany them to appointments or support group meetings if they’re comfortable with it.

Be Patient and Persistent: Recovery from addiction is a long and challenging process. Be patient and persistent in your support, even if there are setbacks along the way. Celebrate small victories and offer encouragement to keep going. [3]

Take Care of Yourself: Supporting someone with addiction can be emotionally draining. Make sure to prioritize self-care and seek support for yourself if needed. You can’t help others effectively if you’re not taking care of yourself.

Remember, ultimately, the decision to seek help and recover lies with the individual struggling with addiction. Your role is to offer support, encouragement, and resources to help them on their journey to recovery.

How is Prescription Drug Addiction Treated?

Prescription drug addiction is a complex issue that often requires comprehensive treatment approaches tailored to the patient’s individual needs. Different rehab facilities may use different approaches. However, treatment typically begins with a thorough assessment by medical professionals to determine the extent of the addiction. This also helps identify any underlying physical or mental health conditions.

One common approach to treating prescription drug addiction is through detoxification, also known as medical detox. This involves gradually tapering off the drug under medical supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Medications may be prescribed to alleviate discomfort and cravings during this detox process.

Following detoxification, the patient may undergo therapy and counseling. These are crucial in terms of addressing the psychological aspects of addiction, including the underlying causes of substance abuse.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management are commonly used to help recovering individuals identify triggers, develop coping strategies, and modify unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors associated with drug use. [4]

In addition to therapy, participation in support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery can provide encouragement throughout the recovery journey. This is because addiction recovery has a social aspect to it, and having that peer support can go a long way.

Holistic approaches, including mindfulness techniques, exercise, and nutrition, may also be incorporated to promote overall well-being and reduce the risk of relapse.

Ultimately, successful treatment of prescription drug addiction often involves a combination of medical intervention, therapy, social support, and lifestyle changes tailored to the individual’s unique circumstances. [4]

Remember, overcoming prescription drug abuse is a challenging process, but with the right support and treatment, recovery is possible. By being aware of the signs of prescription drug abuse and offering assistance to those in need, you can make a positive difference in someone’s life.

Look for a rehab near you today if you or someone you love is dealing with prescription drug addiction. Your journey to recovery begins here.







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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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