Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Last Updated: May 30, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Prescription drug addiction can be extremely destructive, causing damage to your relationships and career. The most devastating fact about prescription drugs is that each year, more Americans die from prescription drug abuse than illegal drug abuse.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

There are several categories of prescription medication that are frequently abused. These are the most common:


Chemically similar to heroin, opioid painkiller medications are frequently misused because of the powerful effect they have on the reward receptors in the brain. The misuse of opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin can cause serious issues like coma, slowed breathing and addiction. Also called opiates, commonly abused prescription opioids are:

  • Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • MS Contin (morphine)
  • Percocet, OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Methadose (methadone)
  • Some forms of Tylenol (codeine)

Benzodiazepines are sedatives that are typically prescribed for conditions like anxiety. When misused, they can cause problems that range from confusion and memory loss to suicidal ideation to coma to death. The withdrawal symptoms from the ceasing of these drugs can be dangerous, even fatal. If you are coming off drugs like these, it is recommended that you undergo medically assisted detox. Commonly abused prescription benzodiazepines are:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)

Stimulants are typically prescribed for ADHD. When abused, they can have similar effects to methamphetamine. They can lead to paranoia, anxiety and damage to organs. Sometimes these problems can even lead to death. Commonly abused prescription stimulants are:

  • Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine)
  • Vyvanse
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)
  • Bronkaid (ephedrine)

Prescription Drug Addiction Signs and Symptoms

There will be different symptoms depending on the prescription drug that is being abused. They are all similar to the side effects from illegal drugs. For example, side effects of prescription stimulant abuse will be similar to the side effects of methamphetamine use, side effects of prescription benzodiazepine abuse will be similar to the effects from alcohol misuse and side effects of prescription opiate abuse will be similar to effects from heroin use.

There are some signs, however, that are present no matter what the prescription drug being abused is. If you notice the following symptoms in yourself or someone you love, you may suffer from prescription drug addiction:

  • Urgent desire to use the prescription drug
  • Inability to feel normal without it
  • Taking higher doses than usual or prescribed
  • Visiting multiple pharmacies or doctors to get more prescriptions
  • Mood swings or changes in personality
  • Appearing or feeling high
  • Decrease or increase in energy
  • Forging or stealing prescriptions

If there is a combination of any of the above signs, the situation definitely needs to be looked at. If you notice that you experience these signs or you notice that a loved one is exhibiting these behaviors, consider reaching out to an addiction specialist.

Prescription Drug Withdrawal

The withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines can cause irritability, increased anxiety, hand tremors, sweating, panic attacks, sleep disturbances, memory problems, weight loss, nausea and vomiting and difficulty concentrating. The benzodiazepine detox process should always be medically supervised as they can be extremely dangerous—sometimes even fatal—when attempted alone.

The withdrawal symptoms for opiates can cause sweating, headaches, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, depression and tremors. It is recommended that the withdrawal process for prescription opiates also be medically supervised as it can be extremely uncomfortable. Prescription stimulants do not have many physical withdrawal symptoms. However, some depression and anxiety might occur.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

If you have been struggling with a prescription drug addiction, you should know that you aren’t alone. As addiction specialists, we at The Recovery Village Ridgefield understand what you are going through. Many of us have even been through it before. But it’s never too late to seek the treatment you deserve.

We provide a holistic and multidisciplinary approach to drug and alcohol addiction treatment at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Tucked away in the Cascade Mountains, we are convenient to Tacoma, Washington; Eugene, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. If you are suffering from a substance use disorder, it’s time for you to take your power back. Reach out to us today to have a confidential conversation with one of our understanding addiction specialists, and start your path to recovery.


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