What are the Symptoms and Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse has swept the nation over the past decade. Prescription medications are extremely useful in treating a wide range of ailments, which can give the false impression that these drugs are somehow safe or legal to use other than as directed.

Prescription drug abuse can be defined as taking a prescribed medicine:

  • That is not prescribed for you
  • In larger dosages than prescribed
  • For reasons other than the condition it is prescribed for
  • In ways other than prescribed (for example, crushed and snorted or injected rather than swallowed)

Most Abused Prescription Drugs

Here are the basic facts about some of the most abused prescription drugs.


Opiates, also called prescription narcotics, are generally prescribed to relieve pain. They can be swallowed, but users often snort or inject crushed pills for a faster, more intense high. These routes of administration have been linked to a number of fatal overdoses. Opiate abuse can lead to drowsiness, confusion, constipation, low blood pressure and depressed breathing.

When trying to quit opiates, addicts often experience painful withdrawal symptoms such as muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, restlessness and involuntary kicking movements.

Some of the most commonly abused opiates include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Percodan, Percocet and OxyContin)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine

Central Nervous System Depressants

Depressants, also known as tranquilizers and sedatives, are typically prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. As a result of their effect on the GABA neurotransmitter, depressant abuse can slow brain function and heart rate. When used with other drugs, especially alcohol, the combination can lead to serious breathing problems and even death.

The main categories of depressants are:

  • Barbiturates, which treat tension, anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples include mephobarbital (Mebaral) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal).
  • Benzodiazepines, which are prescribed to treat panic attacks, acute stress, convulsions and short-term sleep problems. Examples include diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide HCl (Librium), and alprazolam (Xanax), triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (ProSom).

When an individual stops using depressants, slowed brain activity rebounds, sometimes racing out of control to cause seizures. Because withdrawal from certain depressants can be life-threatening, detox should be supervised by a physician or medical professional.


Stimulants are commonly prescribed to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and severe depression. Pills can be swallowed or crushed and dissolved, then smoked or injected.

The effects of stimulants include increased attention, energy and alertness. They also elevate heart rate, breathing and blood pressure, as well as dopamine levels, resulting in a sense of euphoria.

Stimulant abuse can cause agitation, high blood pressure, paranoia, irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, anxiety and seizures. These and other effects can be amplified to more dangerous levels if stimulants are combined with antidepressants or certain over-the-counter cold medicines.

Some of the most commonly abused stimulants include:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Adderall and Dexedrine)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)

If an individual abruptly stops using stimulant drugs, they may experience depression, sleep problems and fatigue.

Addicted to Prescription Drugs

Dependence on prescription drugs is characterized by tolerance (needing more of the drug to experience the same effects) and withdrawal (physical symptoms when trying to quit using prescription drugs).

People who are addicted to prescription drugs also become psychologically dependent, experiencing drug cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior. They continue to abuse prescription medications despite negative effects on their health, career, relationships and finances.

Prescription drug addicts may find themselves stealing drugs from other people’s medicine cabinets, forging prescriptions or visiting multiple doctors to obtain more drugs. Although prescription drugs are legal when taken as prescribed for a valid medical purpose, when abused they are just as dangerous as illegal drugs.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Since prescription drug addiction affects every area of an individual’s life, including work, relationships, finances and self-esteem, treatment must be tailored to suit the addict’s needs and provide a variety of therapies for mind, body and spirit.

The first step in treating prescription drug addiction is often prescription drug detox. Because detox from certain prescription drugs can be painful and even life-threatening, supervised medical detox is the safest, most comfortable way to stop using certain prescription drugs (namely opiates, barbiturates, benzodiazepines and certain depressants). Under the supervision of a physician or medical team, individuals may be prescribed methadone, Suboxone or other medications to minimize withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.

After completing detox, the emotional, psychological, and spiritual work of addiction recovery can begin. Whether an individual chooses outpatient drug rehab or inpatient drug rehab, prescription drug addiction may be treated using the following interventions:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Medication
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Individual, Group & Family Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Educational Lectures
  • 12-Step Support Groups

Studies suggest that a combination of medication and behavioral therapy is the most effective way to treat prescription drug addiction. Research also shows that the longer an individual stays in treatment for prescription drug addiction, the better equipped they are to maintain lifelong addiction recovery.

In drug rehab for prescription drug addiction, patients address the issues underlying their addiction and learn how to handle drug cravings and relapse triggers. As a result, individuals can return to work or school and reinvest in the people and activities that matter most to them.

If you or someone you know is wrestling with prescription drugs, call our free helpline today at (844) 543-3242.

Information used with permission from CRC Health Group.

Get help now! Call (844) 543-3242