Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms, Signs & Effects

Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with prescription drug addiction. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction.

What is Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn More About Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug abuse is the use of a prescription medication in a way not intended by a licensed physician. This can include taking another person’s prescription medication, taking more than prescribed, using for longer than prescribed, or crushing and injecting pills to get high. Some medications have mind-altering properties and are sometimes abused for that reason. This type of drug abuse may continue despite the negative consequences occurring in a person’s life, and after prolonged abuse, may lead to the development of addiction. The most commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants.

Since these drugs are prescribed by a physician and regulated by the FDA, many people believe that these medications are safer than illicit drugs. However this is only true when they are taken as prescribed. When these substances are abused, prescription drugs can be addictive and put users at risk for adverse health consequences, including overdose and death. When taken in excessive amounts or when not needed for a health concern, these drugs may affect the brain is ways very similar to illicit drugs.  Treatment for prescription drug abuse should always be medically supervised as withdrawal symptoms are not only uncomfortable but dangerous.


Statistics of Prescription Drug Addiction

In 2010, about 7 million people (or 2.7% of the United States population) were current users of psychotherapeutic drugs taken for non-medical purposes. After marijuana and alcohol, prescription medications are the most commonly abused substances by Americans age 14 and older.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Addiction

Many people do not understand why or how some individuals become addicted to drugs while others do not. Sometimes people hold the misconception that those who are addicted to prescription medications lack willpower and could stop if they wanted. However, prescription drug addiction is a complex disease that most researchers believe is caused by a combination of a number of risk factors working together. The most commonly recognized causes for prescription drug abuse include:

Genetic: People who have first-degree relatives, such as a parent or sibling, who struggle with addiction are at a greater risk for developing an addiction themselves.

Physical: People who struggle with chronic health conditions such as pain-related conditions or mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, are at greater risk for developing addiction to prescription drugs. Additionally, prescription medications disrupt the way nerve cells normally communicate with one another. As the drug abuse continues, the brain adapts to overwhelming surges in dopamine by producing less of this neurotransmitter, which compels an individual to keep using to get the same euphoric feelings.

Environmental: Environmental stressors often play a large part in the development of addiction. People who began to abuse drugs and alcohol early in their youth are at greater risk for developing an addiction later in life. Additionally, a peer group or circle of friends who abuse drugs may influence someone to begin abusing prescription medication.

Risk Factors:

  • Addiction to other substances
  • Younger age – between the teen years and early 20s
  • Existence of mental health disorders
  • Easy access to prescription drugs
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Bad parenting

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

The symptoms experienced from prescription drug abuse will vary depending upon the type of medication abused, however the symptoms of addiction are similar. The most common symptoms of prescription drug abuse include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work
  • May borrow or steal to get money
  • Engaging in secretive behaviors
  • Sudden change in friends and hobbies
  • Frequently getting in fights, accidents, or illegal activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Extreme weight loss or gain
  • Deterioration of personal hygiene
  • Tremors
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Mood swings, irritability, angry outbursts
  • Lack of motivation
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or giddiness
  • Anxious
  • Paranoid or fearful with no reason


Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

The longer prescription medications are abused, the larger the number of unpleasant complications that affect every aspect of an addict’s life. There are a variety of physical and emotional effects that occur as a result of addiction. The most common complications of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Damaged liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs
  • Job loss
  • Social isolation
  • Legal problems
  • Family problems
  • Addiction
  • Death from suicide or overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Prescription Drug Addiction

There are a number of co-occurring, comorbid mental health disorders that can occur alongside prescription drug abuse. The most common co-occurring mental health disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose of Prescription Drug Addiction

Taking medications in a way not prescribed can lead to dangerous consequences, especially when mixed with other drugs and alcohol. This can very easily lead to overdose. If you suspect someone you love is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Common symptoms of overdose on prescription medications include:

  • Awake but unable to talk
  • Limp body
  • Pale, clammy skin
  • Cyanosis
  • Slow, erratic heart beat
  • Choking sounds
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory collapse
  • Rapid respiration rate
  • Chest pain
  • Large pupils
  • Seizures
  • Muscle cramping
  • Dizziness
  • Coma
  • Death

Once an individual becomes physically dependent upon a prescription medication, they will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug abuse is stopped. Due to possible complications, withdrawal should always take place under the supervision of a doctor and trained medical staff. The most common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tachycardia
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation or emotional agitation
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma
  • Death

Faking issues to get prescription drugs was second nature to me. After an intervention with my family and friends, I realized I had a problem. Only OHP was able to help me break free from the vicious cycle of addiction by getting to the root cause of it.

– Tyler S.
Marks of Quality Care
Why does this matter?
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
  • The Jason Foundation
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval