Learn About The Symptoms & Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of prescription drug addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about prescription drugs is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Prescription Drugs

Learn about prescription drug addiction and substance abuse

Prescription medications allow millions of people each year to manage numerous medical and mental health conditions. Opioid painkillers help relieve severe chronic or post-surgery pain, and sedatives and hypnotics can allow people with insomnia and other sleeping disorders to find rest. Stimulants help people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to focus and succeed in work and at school, while benzodiazepines, or benzos, help relieve the worst symptoms of anxiety disorders.

While prescription medications can bring relief from ailments, they can also cause immense harm if they are abused or not used as prescribed. Opioids, sedatives, and benzos can all produce feelings of euphoria and relaxation when abused, while stimulant abuse causes a user to feel pleasure and excessive amounts of energy. Abusing prescription drugs puts a person at risk of developing a prescription drug use disorder, which can potentially have severe and life-threatening consequences. Fortunately, it is possible to overcome a prescription drug use disorder with proper treatment provided by a caring team at a comprehensive substance use treatment center.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), men are 1.5 times more likely than women to abuse prescription opioids. Abuse of sedatives, hypnotics, and benzos is most common among 18- to 29-year-olds (0.5 percent) and is slightly more common among men than among women.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

Treatment experts have identified a number of factors that can contribute to an individual’s risk of abusing prescription drugs. Some of these risk factors include:

Genetic: A person’s vulnerability to prescription drug abuse is affected by his or her genetics. People whose parents or siblings have a prescription drug use disorder are more likely themselves to also develop a prescription drug use disorder. In addition, certain genetically-influenced personality traits, like impulsivity and novelty-seeking, can also increase a person’s risk of prescription drug abuse.

Environmental: Along with genetics, certain environmental factors can increase one’s risk for prescription drug abuse. Unsurprisingly, of the key environmental risk factors is availability of the drugs. People with prescriptions, or those who associate with people with prescriptions, are more likely than others to develop a prescription drug use disorder. Other environmental risk factors can include an unstable home environment, exposure to community violence, and experiencing trauma, abuse, or neglect.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of abuse of other substances
  • Having a prescription for opioids, benzos, sedatives, stimulants, or hypnotics
  • Associating with others who abuse prescription medications
  • Family history of substance use disorder or mental illness
  • Easy access to prescription medications
  • Experiencing traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, or violence

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The signs and symptoms of a prescription drug use disorder will vary based on the particular drug a person abuses, how long the person has been abusing it, and how extensive the person’s abuse of the drug is. However, the following signs and symptoms may indicate that a person is struggling with a prescription drug use disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Neglecting important occupational or recreational events in favor of using
  • Spending large amounts of time obtaining, using, or recovering from use of medications
  • Continuing to abuse prescription drugs despite being aware of problems in one’s life that are caused by medication abuse
  • Failure to fulfill major tasks or obligations at home or work as a result of prescription drug abuse
  • Using medications in larger amounts or over a longer time period than intended
  • Abusing prescription medications even in situations where being high is physically dangerous, such as while driving or at work
  • Efforts to reduce medication abuse are unsuccessful
  • “Doctor shopping,” or visiting multiple physicians in an attempt to secure multiple prescriptions for a medication
  • Continued abuse of prescription drugs despite experiencing interpersonal conflict or difficulties caused by use

Physical symptoms:

  • Changes in weight
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Withdrawal, or experiencing strong discomfort and unpleasant symptoms when abstaining from use for a period of time
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Sweating or chills
  • Weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Unsteady gait
  • Tolerance, or needing higher and higher doses of a medication over time in order to achieve a desired effect
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive energy
  • Dilated pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Slowed or racing thoughts
  • Impairment in attention, concentration, or memory
  • Experiencing cravings for one’s medication of choice

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Changes in mood
  • Neglecting social events in favor of use
  • Emotional fluctuations
  • Agitation or aggression


Effects of prescription drug addiction

Although prescription drugs are safe when used appropriately, when they are misused they can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs like meth or heroin. If a prescription drug use disorder goes untreated, a person may experience the following negative consequences:

  • Malnutrition
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Heart arrhythmia
  • Seizure
  • Job loss or demotion
  • Relational conflict, separation, or divorce
  • Coma
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Poor performance at work
  • Financial strain
  • Weight changes
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of child custody
  • Onset or worsening of mental health symptoms
  • Overdose
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Heart attack
  • Organ failure

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

People with prescription drug use disorders often struggle with additional co-occurring mental health issues, including:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Gambling disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: Because there are different types of prescription drugs, there are different sets of withdrawal symptoms that can emerge when a person attempts to abstain from use. Below are some of the most common symptoms of prescription drug withdrawal:

  • Sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Anxiety
  • Seizure
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Excessively slow or fast heart rate
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Fever
  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Runny nose
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Changes in appetite, weight, and sleep patterns

Effects of prescription drug overdose: As with illicit drugs, it is possible for a person to ingest more of a prescription medication than his or her body can metabolize or excrete. This potentially life-threatening circumstance is known as an overdose and should be addressed as soon as possible by medical personnel. The symptoms of a prescription drug overdose can include:

  • Fever
  • Aggression, agitation, or violent behavior
  • Struggling to breathe
  • Delusions
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Large or small pupils
  • Difficulty walking
  • Sweating
  • Drowsiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizure
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

This was the best place I could have ever chosen to go get help at! Unlike other behavioral health places in the Memphis area, Crestwyn is a very nice facility staffed with the kindest and most helpful people ever!

– Former Patient