The Unlikely Side Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

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Even when used as directed, prescription drugs are potent substances that, in some cases, can be highly addictive. Prescription medications are relied on to improve health, treat disease, and address symptoms related to various mental health conditions. Although prescription drugs can make symptoms easier to manage and improve overall treatment outcomes, it is crucial to understand that all drugs (including over-the-counter varieties) have risks and benefits.


Even when taken exactly as directed, prescription drugs can be harmful. This is why it is important to take prescriptions precisely as prescribed and not to take drugs that do not belong to you. Taking them in a way other than prescribed increases your risk for dangerous and potentially fatal outcomes.


How Prescription Drug Abuse Affects the Brain

Drugs work in the body in different ways. This means that depending on the reason for your prescription, a prescription may impact one body system and not another. Despite their differences, all prescription drugs have one thing in common. In one way or another, they alter the structure and function of the brain. 


When chemicals are introduced to your brain, and nervous system in the form of prescription drugs, specific chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters in the brain are altered. Depending on the drug, the production of neurotransmitters may increase or decrease, or the medication may block their ability to communicate between the brain and body. When these neurotransmitters are altered, it causes the brain to send different sets of signals throughout the body. This can cause changes in thoughts, behaviors, and emotions vastly different from how you usually think or feel.


Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

The scope of prescription drug abuse and misuse in the United States is shocking. Data from the National Institute on drug abuse reports that nearly 16% of Americans over the age of 12 reported misusing prescription drugs in 2020. Data from the report surveys people regarding misuse of various prescription drug abuse categories, including stimulants, sedatives, pain relievers, benzodiazepine, and psychotherapeutic drugs. Some statistics indicate over 100 people each day die from the effects of overdose or medical conditions related to prescription drug abuse.


In 2017, data showed more than 18 million people older than 12 had misused prescription medications in the last year. That equates to approximately 6% of the United States population. Of those, only a small percentage will seek or complete addiction treatment, further adding to the number of people with prescription pill addictions across the nation. 


What types of Drugs are Prescription Pills? 

Prescription pills (or prescription painkillers) are strong medications often used to treat symptoms related to chronic pain, injury,  post-surgical recovery, and various mental health conditions. Three categories of prescription pills are commonly abused. These include opioids used for pain relief (such as Vicodin, Codeine, or OxyContin), depressants used to address anxiety and sleep-related problems (including Valium or Xanax), and stimulants used for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (like Adderall and Ritalin). 


Common Types of Prescription Drug and Their Side Effects

The most commonly abused types of prescription drugs generally fall into four categories. This includes opioids, stimulants, antidepressants, and depressants. As part of a comprehensive medical or mental health treatment plan, each of these drugs has a specific use for the patient to which they are prescribed. Again, when used as directed, these powerful medications can be beneficial; however, abusing them or taking them in a way other than as prescribed intensifies their potency and makes it more likely that you will experience dangerous side effects or develop an addiction.



Depressants come in a variety of forms. You may hear them referred to as “Downers, “sedatives, and tranquilizers. This drug category includes sleeping pills (sedative-hypnotics) and benzodiazepines. Common examples of depressant drugs include well-known medications such as Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, and Valium. 


The short-term effects of depressant drugs include:

  • slowed breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • difficulties concentrating
  • dizziness
  • slurred speech
  • confusion
  • seizures


Another side effect of depressants, extreme fatigue, is not entirely unexpected. The primary use of many sedative drugs is to treat anxiety symptoms and help with sleeping disorders such as insomnia. Therefore, fatigue is a “desired side effect.” however, misuse and abuse of antidepressants are linked to an increased risk of addiction and other potential long-term side effects that are undesirable.


Many people do not consider the potential long-term effects of depressant use and how those effects impact body systems that are not necessarily related to the primary purpose for depressive use. Examples of unexpected consequences of depressant abuse include diabetes, sexual dysfunction, panic, and paranoia. Chronic abuse of depressants also puts you at a greater risk for elevated body temperatures, agitation, convulsions, hallucinations, and delirium. 


Withdrawing from depressants can be a complex and challenging process. When you reduce or stop using these highly addictive drugs, withdrawal symptoms often occur. Depending on the severity of your addiction, withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Therefore, if you have an addiction to depressant drugs, it is crucial to seek help at a treatment facility like The Hills to safely detox and begin addiction treatment.



Opioids, often called prescription painkillers, are drugs prescribed to treat severe and chronic pain conditions. These drugs are also among the most over-prescribed and widely abused prescription drug classes. Examples of common prescription painkillers include Morphine, Demerol, Percocet, Oxycontin, and codeine. Typical short-term effects of opioid use include:

  • Constipation
  • slowed breathing
  • drowsiness 
  • nausea


In some cases, more severe side effects of opioid use include unconsciousness and coma. It is not uncommon for people to abuse opioid drugs because of their calming and sedating effects. However, they do not realize one of the unlikely side effects of opioid abuse is actually the opposite of the relaxing and calming effect they seek.


Prolonged abuse of opioids can lead to dependency and addiction. It also causes intense and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawing from opioids can lead to insomnia, intense muscle spasms, vomiting, anxiety, and paranoia. 


Another potential and unexpected side effect of opioid abuse are transitioning to stronger, non-prescription drugs. Some statistics show that opioid addiction is often a gateway to challenges related to heroin use and abuse. Because the opioid crisis has reached dangerous levels in virtually every state in the United States, state and local regulators have taken great strides to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions written by providers each year. As a result, there are fewer opioids circulating in “the market” for people with an opioid addiction to use.


When prescriptions run out, or the drug is no longer accessible, it is not uncommon for someone with an addiction to the effects of opioid medications to seek an alternative option. Heroin use produces many of the same effects as prescription opioid painkillers.



Stimulant drugs, also known as “uppers,” are designed to increase alertness and energy temporarily. Examples of frequently prescribed prescription stimulants include such drugs as Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall. When used as prescribed, stimulants can help individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy effectively manage their symptoms. However, as with the above drug categories, stimulant drug abuse can lead to a variety of unintended consequences, some of which are the opposite of the drug’s intended effects. Examples include:


  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Apathy and depression
  • Hostility and paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dangerously high body temperatures



Eddie depressants are prescription drugs used to manage symptoms of clinical depression. In some cases, they are also an effective part of their treatment plan for other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Antidepressants such as Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft, work by increasing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Specific neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are connected to mood and emotion regulation. They may also affect pain signals sent by the nerves to the brain, which helps to explain why antidepressants are sometimes effective in chronic pain management.


As with all the drugs mentioned above, antidepressants are a practical treatment component when used as part of a comprehensive therapy plan. However, abuse of these powerful drugs can also lead to a variety of side effects that may worsen your existing symptoms. Abuse of antidepressants can lead to 

  • Paranoia
  • worsening anxiety
  • irritability
  • violent actions
  • aggression
  • hallucinations
  • suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors


Withdrawing from antidepressant drugs is a complex process as well. Someone with an addiction to antidepressants should not attempt to detox without support and guidance from a professional detox program in Los Angeles. Withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, severe depression, headaches, vomiting, tremors, aggression, and overwhelming suicidal thoughts are not uncommon during antidepressant withdrawal.


Getting Help for Prescription Drug Abuse Addiction in Los Angeles

Prescription drugs are highly addictive substances. While there are indeed benefits to their use as part of a program to address mental health or medical health concerns, their use is not without risk. Millions of people who use prescription drugs exactly as directed by their providers will experience symptoms of dependency and addiction.


Prescription drug abuse is a dangerous and potentially deadly practice. Because many people who abuse prescription drugs experience severe withdrawal symptoms that can lead to permanent medical consequences or even death, it is crucial to begin your recovery journey in a safe and medically monitored environment with trained professionals who can help ensure your safety as you start your recovery.


At the hills in Los Angeles, we understand the potential risks associated with prescription drug abuse detox and withdrawal. Our team of highly skilled medical and mental health professionals are trained in medically managed detox and here to help you through each step. Don’t try to detox from prescription drugs alone. Let us help you ensure you can safely and successfully take your first steps towards lasting sobriety. To learn more about our programs, contact us at The Hills in Los Angeles today.

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