When people think of prescription drug abuse or addiction, painkillers or opioids are often the first drug class to come to mind. While the effects of the opioid epidemic remain problematic for cities and states across the nation, opioids are not the only form of prescription drug with high abuse rates. Each year, thousands of people die from drug-related overdose or misuse of different types of prescription drugs. Data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggests the death toll from prescription drug abuse often exceeds 100 people per day. Some research suggests as many as eighteen million people meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder based on their dependency on (or addiction to) prescription drugs. Without the help of an addiction treatment program, an addiction to prescription drugs can be challenging (and potentially dangerous) to overcome.


What Types of Prescription Drugs are Abused?


Commonly abused prescription drugs generally fall into one of several drug classes. These include opioids, stimulants, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, and sedatives (anti-anxiety medications). It is not uncommon for drugs within these categories to be widely prescribed by medical and mental health providers to help alleviate the symptoms of a wide range of conditions. When used as directed and for the length of time required, prescription drugs are highly beneficial. However, many also have a high risk for abuse and misuse, which quickly leads to addiction.


Each class or “type” of drug contains many medications that are familiar to most. For example: 

  • Opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and morphine Sedatives including Ambien
  • Benzodiazepines like valium, Diazepam, Ativan, Valium, and Xanax. 
  • Prescription stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin
  • Antidepressants include Prozac and Zoloft.


How to Tell if Someone is Abusing Prescription Drugs


It can be challenging to tell if someone is abusing prescription drugs. This is because the signs and symptoms of abuse will vary depending on the substance. Also, the effects one experiences when taking a particular substance may be the desired effects and not necessarily an indication of an addiction. However, some effects are often seen across all substances and may point to the need for comprehensive addiction treatment.


Prescription drug addiction symptoms fall into three categories: physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, and behavioral symptoms. Typical physical and behavioral indicates of prescription drug abuse may include mood swings, increased isolation, financial or legal problems, breathing problems, speech challenges, skin sores, cardiac issues, stomach problems, and withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop or reduce how often they use. Someone struggling with a prescription drug addiction may also experience psychological challenges such as stress, anxiety, psychotic symptoms, and depression.


How to Treat Prescription Drug Abuse


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. Typically, a prescription drug addiction develops from using a particular medication as part of a treatment plan. However, in time tolerance and dependency develop, making reducing or stopping use without help difficult. The detox process from some prescription drugs can lead to life-threatening medical complications and is best managed in a setting where medical care and supervision are available.


Once detox is complete, you can successfully transition into the therapeutic portion of addiction treatment. During therapy, you will learn more about the root causes of addiction. Understanding the triggers or circumstances that lead to drug abuse makes it possible to develop new, safer coping strategies to use when faced with stress, depression, or other situations formerly managed through substance use. As treatment progresses and you prepare to return to your day-to-day responsibilities and obligations, you will leave treatment having developed a range of relapse preventions skills you can learn to help maintain lasting sobriety.


How to Convince Someone Addicted to Prescription Drugs to Get Help


If a friend or loved one struggles with prescription drug addiction, it can be challenging to convince them to seek help. You may have suggested or even offered to help secure a stay at rehab, and your words have fallen on deaf ears. The process of admitting to or acknowledging an unhealthy relationship with substances is complex and very individual. Each person examines their dependency on drugs in a unique way. Given that prescription drugs are “prescribed” by a trusted medical or mental health provider, the process of helping a loved one understand the risks of not seeking help may be even further complicated.


If you want to help your friend or loved one accept help, suggest arranging an appointment with their primary care provider or mental health provider. This person, especially if they were the original prescriber, can offer insight and may help your friend or loved one decide the treatment is the best next step. In the absence of a medical provider, you can also reach out to the team at Footprints of Serenity. Our admissions team can provide additional information on how you can help get your friend or loved one the help they need to put addiction in the past.

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