Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

  1. Home
  2. /
  3. Prescription Drugs
  4. /
  5. Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse


When the conversation turns to prescription drug abuse, many people first think of prescription pain killers or opioid drugs. The effects of the opioid epidemic continue to reach across the nation, responsible for the loss of thousands of lives annually. However, opioid drugs are not the only prescription drugs with elevated rates of abuse. Data provided from the most recent NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) indicates that prescription drug abuse leads to more than 100 deaths each day. 


Some research suggests that up to eighteen million Americans (of all ages and demographics) have a substance use disorder based on their dependency or addiction to a prescription drug. Because each drug produces different effects on the user, it can sometimes be challenging to determine if a friend or loved one struggles with an addiction to prescription drugs. Recognizing the signs of prescription drug abuse early can ensure you receive the help and support you need to get well at a treatment center like The Hills. 


Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Frequently abused prescription drugs come from widely prescribed drug classes, including opioids, depressants, and stimulants. These drugs are prescribed with high frequency by medical and mental health providers to help patients manage a wide variety of medical and mental health needs. 


When used as directed and for a prescribed duration, prescription drugs are typically highly effective. However, the benefits of these drugs are matched by a high risk for abuse and misuse, which quickly leads to addiction. Many are classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as controlled substances. 



Depressant drugs include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and medications used to manage sleeping disorders. Based on the DEA scheduling information, most of these drugs are class III and IV drugs. Medical and mental health professionals prescribe depressants to induce sedation and reduce feelings of anxiety for patients struggling with anxiety disorders. Examples of frequently prescribed depressants include Valium, Xanax, Diazepam, Ambien, Klonopin, and Phenobarbital. 



Medical providers prescribe opioid drugs to patients struggling with acute and chronic pain conditions. These drugs are derived (either naturally or artificially) from morphine and are highly effective yet very addictive substances. Most are listed as schedule II and III substances, with a few classified as schedule IV. Examples of opioids prescribed for pain management include codeine, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone. 


Stimulant drugs help to improve focus, increase energy and enhance mental alertness in patients who struggle with specific conditions related to focus and fatigue. Stimulants drugs are common elements in treatment programs for teens and adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and individuals with sleeping disorders such as narcolepsy or insomnia. Well-known drugs, including Ritalin and Adderall, are stimulant drugs. Both are schedule II drugs. 


What Makes Prescription Drugs Addictive?

When used as prescribed, prescription drugs are generally highly effective and beneficial to the person using them. However, when misused (used by someone other than the patient or incorrectly), they can be dangerous and highly addictive. Many people believe that because a medical or mental health provider prescribes a medication, it is “safe.” In most situations, this is a safe assumption. 


However, when someone abuses prescription drugs, the risk for addiction and other severe physical and psychological health consequences increases dramatically. 

Prescription opioids, stimulants, and depressants are often used as part of a treatment plan for an extended duration, and therefore, the chance of developing a tolerance increases dramatically. When you develop a tolerance to a specific drug, you are at increased risk for addiction and potential overdose. 


Prescription drugs are explicitly designed to impact the function of the brain and various body systems. These changes are necessary to manage pain or reduce the presence of specific symptoms. These changes are accomplished by altering how the brain’s reward system functions, making it harder to “feel good” without taking the drug. Eventually, it becomes difficult, even impossible, to feel the same effects felt at the initial dose. To accommodate intense cravings for the drug’s effects, someone addicted to prescription drugs will take larger and larger amounts to feel the same “high” or sense of relief. Once you stop using the drug, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms often occur. 


Recognizing the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Because prescription drugs are prescribed to achieve specific therapeutic outcomes, it can often be difficult to tell if the effects of prescription drug use are indicative of abuse or the desired effects of the medication. Indications of use such as increased energy, euphoria, or increased sedation are both desired effects and indications of abuse. It is also hard to determine the presence of abuse because the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse look different from drug to drug and person to person. However, some abuse signs are often seen across all substances and may point to the need for comprehensive addiction treatment. 


Signs of prescription drug abuse fall into one of three categories; physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. If a friend of a loved one is abusing prescription drugs, they may experience physical symptoms such as breathing difficulties, skin sores, heart problems, digestive problems, diet or weight changes, difficulties with new or worsening medical problems, problems sleeping,  and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using. 


Behavioral changes that often accompany prescription drug abuse are increased isolation, legal and financial problems related to drug abuse, mood swings, irritability, engaging in drug-seeking behaviors, poor judgment, stealing or forging prescriptions, and doctor shopping. Typical emotional symptoms connected to prescription drug abuse may include anxiety, stress, depression, cognitive decline, and psychotic symptoms. 


Overcoming Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to prescription drugs, the safest and most effective way to overcome addiction is to seek help at a substance abuse treatment program like our Los Angeles-area luxury drug rehab. It is not uncommon for someone to struggle with prescription drug abuse after using the medication as part of a treatment plan. These medications are powerful, and tolerance and dependency often develop quickly. Once someone is dependent on a drug, stopping use without help is challenging. It is crucial to remember that detoxing from certain prescription drugs can cause dangerous and life-threatening complications. 


Prescription drug withdrawal occurs when you actively choose to reduce or stop using a specific drug. Your detox experience will depend on how long you used, what you used, and the severity of your addiction. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can begin within six hours after your last dose and last for up to two weeks. Common prescription drug withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, agitation, body aches, difficulty sleeping, sweating, gastric disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. More severe symptoms can include irregular breathing, irregular heart rate, and seizures. In the most severe cases, withdrawal effects, including cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and coma, may occur. These potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms highlight the need for supported and guided medical detox. 


As part of medically assisted prescription drug detox, medical and mental health providers will support you throughout the process of cleansing your system from the effects of prescription drugs. They are available 24/7 to ensure you have access to medical and emotional support whenever you need help. During detox, they will monitor your vital signs and, if necessary, intervene to assist in the event of more severe withdrawal symptoms. If needed (and acceptable for your symptoms and treatment needs), medical staff can administer medication to reduce the intensity of certain withdrawal symptoms. 


Once detox is complete, the team at The Hills will help you as you transition into an addiction treatment program. As part of therapy, you will learn more about your addiction and how to manage the triggers and challenges that led to abuse. Learning and practicing these vital coping tools can help you effectively manage stressors, depression, and other triggers formerly managed through drugs. As you progress through treatment, we will work with you to develop an aftercare plan that ensures you have ongoing access to therapy, peer support, and sober living options designed to help you as you work towards maintaining lasting sobriety. 


Get Help to Overcome Addiction at The Hills

If you or a loved one struggles with prescription drug abuse and are ready to begin your journey toward recovery, remember that overcoming an addiction to prescription drugs can be a complex journey. Although it may seem more straightforward to “decide” to get clean and quit “cold turkey,” many who try this method fail or relapse when withdrawal symptoms become too overwhelming to manage without help. The safest and most effective way to quit prescription drugs and achieve lasting sobriety is to get help at a treatment program like The Hills. 


When you arrive at our luxury Los Angeles rehab, we will work closely with you to learn more about your overall health and treatment needs. Through comprehensive and detailed assessment practices, we will learn more about how we can help you achieve your sobriety goals. A thorough assessment also allows members of our treatment team to develop a therapeutic program based on your unique needs as you begin treatment. Addiction and the path to sobriety look different for everyone. Because of the unique landscape of addiction, it is vital to choose a program where the selected treatment models are suited specifically for your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 


Reaching out for help to overcome prescription drug abuse is the first step on a journey to freedom from the hold of addiction. Let us help you take the first steps as you start over and pursue a future without prescription drugs. Contact The Hills today to learn more about programs at our luxury addiction treatment center in Los Angeles, California.

Related posts