Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

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Cross Creek Hospital helps children, adolescents, and adults who are struggling with prescription drug addiction through an unmatched quality of care and support. Located in Austin, TX, Cross Creek is the leading provider of prescription drug addiction treatment.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drugs and substance abuse

Prescription drug abuse is an ever-growing epidemic throughout the world today. Especially in the United States, millions of individuals are said to use prescription medications for non-medical purposes in an attempt to experience mood or mind-altering effects. There are a number of different prescription drugs that individuals frequently abuse and subsequently become addicted to. The following are examples of some such substances:

  • Stimulants (Adderall or Ritalin)
  • Sedatives (Ambien)
  • Antianxiety medications (Valium, Xanax, or Klonopin)
  • Pain medications (Percocet, morphine, Vicodin, or OxyContin)

There can be any number of reasons for why someone would begin to abuse prescription medications. For some, the effects of the use of such drugs elicit feelings of euphoria and an overall sense of wellbeing. For others, certain types of prescription medications can help increase one’s energy, enhance one’s ability to focus, and cause rapid weight loss by suppressing one’s appetite. Regardless of the type of prescription drug that one becomes addicted to and the reasons behind why that addiction developed, individuals who struggle with this type of chemical dependency often need professional treatment in order to overcome their dangerous habit.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

The prevalence of individuals who abuse prescription drugs is said to be steadily increasing. Recent studies have concluded that an estimated 52 million people over the age of 12 in the United States have abused some type of prescription drug for non-medical purposes at some point. Additionally, research that has been conducted on the rates of overdose in America discovered that prescription drug overdoses account for more deaths than do gunshot wounds, car accidents, and suicides.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

The development of an addiction to prescription drugs is believed by professionals in the field of addiction and mental health to be the result of a combination of factors. Brief descriptions of causes and potential risk factors are described in the following:

Genetic: Extensive research on the development of addictions has concluded that there is a strong heritability to the onset of chemical dependency. Individuals who have a family history of substance abuse and addiction are much more vulnerable to eventually struggling with addictions themselves than are individuals who do not share the same type of genetic background.

Environmental: The presence of certain environmental factors can make a person more susceptible to developing an addiction to prescription medications if he or she has a genetic predisposition for substance use disorders. For example, being in an environment in which one has easy access to prescription drugs, or in which one is surrounded by other individuals who abuse prescription drugs, can cause people to believe that experimenting with taking these types of substances is an acceptable behavior. That experimentation can rapidly morph into tolerance, dependency, and addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Exposure to substance abuse at an early age
  • Being able to obtain prescription medications with ease
  • Suffering from chronic pain conditions
  • Chronic exposure to stress and/or various types of conflict

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The symptoms that will be displayed by someone who is abusing prescription medications will vary depending upon the specific type of drug that is being abused, the frequency of the use, and the longevity during which the use has occurred. Additionally, a person’s age, as well as his or her overall physical health will impact the type and severity of the symptoms that an individual will exhibit. The following are examples of possible symptoms that may be indicative of the fact that someone is struggling with a prescription medication abuse problem:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Decline in an occupational or academic performance
  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Alienating loved ones
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to acquire multiple prescriptions for one’s drug of choice
  • Engaging in instigative, sometimes aggressive, behaviors
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or hypersomnia)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Altered eating habits
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Impaired coordination capabilities

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Lacking the ability to concentrate
  • Impaired ability to use appropriate decision-making skills or use sound judgment
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Confusion
  • Altered perceptions of reality

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent fluctuations in mood
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Periods of emotional numbness or emotional detachment
  • Excessive feelings of agitation and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of depression
  • Decreased motivation
  • Loss of interest in things / activities that were once enjoyed


Effects of prescription drug addiction

The chronic abuse of any type of prescription medication can render an individual vulnerable to any number of negative consequences. The specific effects that may develop will depend a great deal on the particular type of medication that one has been abusing, but general examples of various effects that may arise can include, but are not limited to:

  • Changes in one’s personality / temperament
  • Familial strife / discord amongst interpersonal relationships
  • Academic failure / truancy / dropping out, or being expelled from, school
  • Drop in occupational performance, resulting in job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial struggles
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Vital organ damage / multi-organ failure
  • Memory loss
  • Other forms of cognitive impairment
  • Overdose

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

There are many instances in which individuals who have developed a problem with abusing prescription medications are simultaneously suffering from symptoms of another type of mental health condition. The presence of such conditions may have been diagnosed prior to the development of the addiction or they may become noticeable as the abuse of the substance exacerbates previously unrecognizable symptoms. Examples of disorders that are known to co-occur alongside an addiction to prescription drugs may include:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: When someone suddenly stops taking a prescription medication that he or she has been abusing for a prolonged period of time, that individual is susceptible to experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. The specific type of medication that is being abused will greatly impact the types of symptoms that are experienced by a person going through withdrawal, but some general examples of possible symptoms can include:

  • Muscle aching / muscle weakness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Profuse sweating
  • Uncomfortable feelings of restlessness
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Significant sleep disturbances
  • Vivid, often disturbing, dreams
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Irritability

Effects of prescription drug overdose: When individuals abuse prescription medications, they are placing themselves at risk for experiencing an overdose. Overdoses occur when a person consumes a greater amount of a substance than his or her body is capable of properly metabolizing. The effects of a prescription drug overdose have the potential to be fatal, which is why it is imperative that emergency medical treatment is sought in the event that this occurs. Possible signs that may indicate that someone has overdosed on prescription medication can include:

  • Experiencing sudden difficulty regulating one’s breathing
  • Changes in skin color
  • Skin becoming clammy
  • Decrease in heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation to person, place, time, and/or situation
  • Sudden loss of the ability to communicate
  • Muscle cramping
  • Respiratory failure
  • Vomiting
  • Cyanosis
  • Seizures
  • Lapsing into a coma

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Past Clients Say

My addiction to prescription drugs was very out of hand before going to Cross Creek. I am so grateful to all of the staff that has helped me through my recovery.

– Former Patient