Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Understanding the Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Understanding the signs of prescription drug addiction

Prescription drug abuse is the use of a prescription medication in such a way not intended by the prescribing physician. This type of behavior can include taking another person’s prescription medication or crushing and injecting pills to get high. This type of drug abuse may be ongoing and compulsive despite the negative consequences in a person’s life. The most common types of drugs that are abused include prescription painkillers, CNS depressants, and stimulants. Early identification of prescription drug abuse and early intervention may be able to prevent this type of behavior from turning into an addiction. Prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States and elsewhere and is likely the result of certain factors working together.

As these drugs are prescribed by a physician and regulated by the FDA, many people mistakenly assume that they are safe. This is not the case; prescription drugs act the same way as illegal drugs do and can lead to very serious consequences. Also, prescription medication has become more widely prescribed, which increases the amount of medication available and is likely driving the increasing amount of people abusing these drugs.


Statistics for 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.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for prescription drug addiction

Most researchers believe that addiction is caused by a number of risk factors working together to create addiction to prescription drugs. The most commonly cited 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 as opposed to people who do not have a similar history.

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.

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 a man or woman to abuse prescription medication.

Risk Factors:

  • Addiction to other substances
  • Younger age – between the teen years and early 20s
  • Co-occurring mental disorders
  • Easy access to prescription drugs, such as working in a hospital or doctor’s office
  • Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs


Symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The symptoms of prescription drug abuse will vary tremendously based upon the type of drug abused, polydrug use, individual genetic makeup, frequency of use, amount of drug used, and length of use. The most common symptoms of prescription drug abuse include:

Prescription Painkiller Abuse Symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Hypotension
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired coordination

Sedatives and Anti-Anxiety Agent Abuse:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady gait
  • Poor judgment
  • Nystagmus – involuntary, rapid movement of eyeball
  • Dizziness

Stimulant Abuse:

  • Weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Restlessness
  • Impulsive behaviors

Other Symptoms:

  • Drug-seeking behavior
  • Continuing use against medical advice
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Appearing unusually high, intoxicated, or amped up
  • Poor decision making
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed more often than intended
  • Lying to others about drug use
  • Stashing drug in various places around home, work, and car
  • Withdrawing socially
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Withdrawing from once-enjoyed activities
  • Changes in behavior
  • Sudden need for money – may borrow or steal from others
  • Frequent doctor visits


Effects prescription drug addiction can have

Long-term abuse of prescription drugs can lead to a host of unpleasant complications that leave virtually no part of an addict’s life unscathed. The effects are most notable when people abuse several drugs at once. The most common complications of prescription drug abuse include:

Prescription Painkiller Effects:

  • Increased risk of aspiration and choking
  • Hypotension
  • Slowed respiration rate
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Coma

Anxiolytic Effects:

  • Impaired memory
  • Needing more medication to achieve the same effects
  • Loss of normal coping abilities; relying upon medication to deal with unpleasant emotions
  • Hypotension

Stimulant Effects:

  • Dangerous hyperthermia
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Hypertension
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia

Other Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse:

  • Job loss
  • Homelessness
  • Poverty
  • Worsening mental health
  • Addiction
  • Incarceration
  • Organ system damage
  • Organ system failure
  • Seizures
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Coma
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Death

Withdrawal Effects

Effects prescription drug withdrawal can have

Many people who abuse prescription drugs use a mixture of drugs and alcohol to increase the feelings of happiness and reduce the unpleasant side effects. 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:

Prescription Painkiller Overdose Symptoms:

  • 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
  • Coma
  • Death

Anxiolytic Overdose Symptoms:

  • Nystagmus
  • Falling
  • Confusion
  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Stimulant Overdose Symptoms:

  • Tachycardia
  • Rapid respiration rate
  • Chest pain
  • Large pupils
  • Seizures
  • Muscle cramping
  • Dizziness
  • Coma

When a person becomes physically dependent upon a prescription drug, he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued. Withdrawal should always take place under the supervision of a doctor and trained medical staff. The most common symptoms of withdrawal include:

Prescription Painkiller Withdrawal:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Anxiolytic Withdrawal:

  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome
  • Tachypnea
  • Tachycardia
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Status epilepticus
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma
  • Death

Stimulant Withdrawal:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation or agitation
  • Increased appetite
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about prescription drugs

What are the effects of painkiller overdose?

In the event of a painkiller overdose, the following effects can occur:

  • Vital organ damage
  • Coma
  • Heart attack
  • Asphyxiation
  • Death

What are the symptoms of painkiller overdose?

While it depends on the painkiller being abused, the most common symptoms of painkiller overdose include the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Respiratory depression
  • Irregular pulse
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What are the symptoms of painkiller addiction?

Painkiller addiction is associated with a variety of signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for painkillers
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from activities
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Impaired coordination
  • Disorientation
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Significant mood changes
  • Irritability

Can you overdose on painkillers?

Yes. Painkillers, even if they are prescribed by a medical professional, can be extremely dangerous when misused or abused, and doing so can lead to an overdose that could potentially be fatal.

What are the withdrawal symptoms from prescription painkillers?

Withdrawal symptoms from prescription painkillers can vary based on the specific painkiller being abused, but they often include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Sweating
  • Inability to sleep

What is the best way to detox from painkillers?

Because the detoxification, or detox, process from prescription painkillers can be dangerous, it is best to detox in a professional facility that is equipped to provide detox services. Most facilities utilize medications to help manage withdrawal in order to increase patient comfort during this time.

How do you know if you’re addicted to painkillers?

If you are addicted to painkillers, you will likely experience the following symptoms:

  • Experiencing cravings or withdrawal symptoms upon ceasing or minimizing use
  • Constantly thinking about how to obtain and use painkillers
  • Being unable to stop using once started
  • Being secretive about use
  • Continuing to use despite knowing the risks

I denied my prescription drug addiction for a long time, but I'm so glad I got help at Highland Ridge. They are amazing!

– Jackie A.