Prescription Drug Addiction Information

What are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are a class of drugs prescribed by medical professionals to help patients suffering from a broad range of conditions. Prescription drugs generally fall under the following categories:

  • Opioids

  • Tranquilizers and Sedatives

  • Stimulants

Though they are legally prescribed by medical professionals, prescription drugs have a high potential for abuse and are often misused either due to misinformation or recreation.

Prescription drug misuse is a growing problem in the US.1 The opioid epidemic has been in the public eye for some time now and still leads to overdose and death on a regular basis. Tranquilizers and sedatives are commonly abused as post-party drugs to help users relax while coming down from other substances. This polydrug use can be damaging to both physical and mental health. Stimulants are also seeing a rise in misuse. Young people are increasingly using prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin to boost energy and focus in both academic and party settings.2

Prescription Drug Abuse: Trends and Statistics

Prescription drugs are often highly addictive. Misuse of prescription drugs is highly dangerous, as tolerance to these medications builds quickly. When used outside of professional recommendation, a built up tolerance means that a user will need more of the drug to achieve its desired effects. This leads to dependence and quickly becomes addiction, from which recovery requires professional help and support.

Understanding the severity of the problem is the first step to solving it or at least reducing its severity. The following are some trends and statistics regarding prescription drug misuse in the U.S.3:

  • Approximately 18 million people (over 6% of the population aged 12 and over) had misused prescription medication at least once between 2016 and 2017

  • According to NSDUH, the number of first time prescription drug misusers reached an estimated 2 million in 2016-2017. This averages over 5,000 first time users per day

  • In the same year, over 1 million people misused stimulants, approximately 1.5 million people misused tranquilizers, and almost 300,000 people misused sedatives for the first time

What are Opioids?

A patient might be prescribed opioid drugs such as:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)

  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin)

  • Codeine

These are prescribed to manage pain following an injury, surgery, or to relieve pain related to cancer. Opioid drugs work by attaching to naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain to reduce sensitivity to pain, thus providing relief.

Effects of opioids typically include:

  • Drowsiness

  • Slowed breathing

  • Nausea

  • Euphoria

  • Pain relief

What are the Dangers of Opioids?

  • Highly addictive – high potential for abuse

  • Severe withdrawal symptoms when misused and abused

  • Slowed breathing, increasing the risk of overdose (especially when combined with other drugs, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines)

What are Tranquilizers and Sedatives?

Tranquilizers and sedatives are medications that usually fall under the category of Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants. Commonly known tranquilizers and sedatives include:

  • Xanax

  • Valium

  • Librium

These drugs are CNS depressants, meaning that they act on the central nervous system by reducing its activity5. For this reason, they are usually prescribed to patients suffering from conditions such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Restlessness

  • Panic attacks

Effects of central nervous system depressants:

  • Relaxation and calmness

  • Slower than normal brain and cognitive function

  • Drowsiness

Dangers of Tranquilizers and Sedatives:

  • Slowed breathing, risk of unconsciousness and death when mixed with other drugs, even some over the counter medications

  • Leads to withdrawal when misused

  • Tolerance builds quickly – increased risk of overdose

What are Stimulant Drugs?

Stimulant drugs are unlike opioids and CNS depressants in that they increase energy and brain activity. Typical prescription stimulants include:

  • Ritalin (Methylphenidate)

  • Adderall (Amphetamine compound)

  • Dexedrine (Dextroamphetamine)

Stimulant drugs are usually prescribed to patients diagnosed with:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Narcolepsy

Effects of stimulant drugs include:

  • Increased alertness

  • Improved attention

  • Increased energy

  • Improved breathing

  • Euphoria

Dangers of Stimulants:

  • Highly addictive

  • High potential for abuse

  • Irregular heart rhythm

  • High body temperature

The Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

Knowing the signs of abuse and addiction is important in reducing the chances that you or your loved one will come to serious harm.

When it comes to prescription drug use, abuse and addiction are often characterized by the following signs:

  • Mood swings

  • Stealing or forging prescription papers

  • Drastic changes in sleeping patterns

  • Unusually energetic or sedated

  • “Losing” prescriptions, meaning more must be prescribed

  • Taking prescribed drugs in higher doses than recommended by the doctor

  • Seeing more than one doctor to get more prescriptions

Help is Available

Managing prescription medication misuse requires an effective solution, one based on patient and doctor education and increased public awareness about the dangers of prescription medication. Those addicted to prescription medications usually require professional Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™ and treatment to recover from their condition.

At Heather R. Hayes & Associates, we are experts in recovery. Our professional staff members are able to offer Trauma-Informed Responsive Intervention™, crisis and case management, and other recovery options including coaching and Respectful Therapeutic Transport Protocol™. Please call or email us today with any queries and concerns you may have about yourself or a loved one.


1 Ford, Jason A. et al. “Disability Status And Prescription Drug Misuse Among U.S. Adults”. Addictive Behaviors, vol 85, 2018, pp. 64-69. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2018.05.019. Accessed 15 Oct 2020.

2 Frye, Devon. “More Young Adults Misuse Stimulant Medications”. Additude, Accessed 16 Oct 2020.

3 NIDA. “What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2020, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

4 Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, et al. Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths—United States, 2017-2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:290-297.

5 NIDA. “Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 6 Mar. 2018, Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

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