Causes & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

Since 1957, Azure Acres Treatment Center has given hope to individuals struggling with prescription drug abuse and its lasting effects. Azure Acres provides residents high-quality alcohol and drug abuse treatment near Santa Rosa, California.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction

Substance abuse and addiction is a growing problem throughout the world. One type of substance abuse that is becoming more and more prevalent is the abuse of prescription medications. Studies have shown that over the past 10 years, there has been an exceptional increase in the amount of individuals who abuse prescription drugs in an effort to obtain the mood and mind-altering effects that these substances can produce. Some of the many forms of prescription medications that are most commonly abused by individuals include:

  • Sedatives (Ambien)
  • Pain medications (Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine)
  • Stimulants (Ritalin, Adderall)
  • Antianxiety medications (Valium, Klonopin, Xanax)

When consumed for medical reasons, all of the above listed medications can be tremendously helpful and effective in alleviating problem symptoms for individuals. However, when taken more often that prescribed, or in higher doses than recommended, the result can be euphoric feelings that can be addictive. When consumed outside of a prescriber’s guidelines, drugs like prescription painkillers, antianxiety medications, and sedatives can trigger extreme relaxation and happiness, as well as detachment from one’s surroundings. Drugs such as stimulants work to increase one’s focus and energy, all while curbing one’s appetite. All of these effects can be highly appealing to many, causing them to rapidly fall into the dangerous pattern of prescription drug abuse and addiction. As soon as an addiction to prescription drugs has developed, it can be nearly impossible to overcome without professional help.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

The amount of people who abuse prescription drugs is continually rising, according to researchers. In fact, numerous studies have reported that roughly 52 million people within the United States have abused some type of prescription drug. In addition, research that has included rates of drug overdoses in the country has determined that prescription drug overdoses claim more lives that suicides, gunshot wounds, and car accidents.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

There are a number of factors that come into play when attempting to determine why some individuals develop an addiction to prescription medications while others do not. Some of these factors are explained below:

Genetic: Years of research have concluded that there are powerful genetic ties to the onset of drug abuse and addiction, including the abuse of and addiction to prescription drugs. Those with family members who have suffered from chemical dependency issues are at greater risk for also battling with similar concerns than those who do not share in the same genetic background.

Environmental: Environmental factors play a large part in whether an individual will develop a prescription drug abuse problem or not. One environmental factor includes a person’s exposure to drug abuse. If a person is often within an environment where he or she is a witness to drug abuse, then he or she will be more likely to experiment with drugs, too. Those who struggle with a condition that causes them to use prescription medications to reduce symptoms connected to that condition also leaves individuals susceptible to abusing prescription drugs because of the access they have. Additionally, when one or more traumatic events occurs within a person’s life, he or she becomes more likely to abuse prescription drugs as a means of coping with his or her trauma. These individuals are more likely to develop a substance abuse problem as they utilize these drugs as a form of self-medication for their distress.

Risk Factors:

  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Suffering from a condition that requires the use of prescription drugs to relieve symptoms
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, or chemical dependency
  • Ease of access with which one can obtain prescription drugs
  • Going through trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The signs and symptoms that an individual will exhibit when he or she is abusing prescription drugs will depend on a number of things, including the type of drug that is being abused. Other factors that can impact the symptoms that an individual will display can include the period of time in which they have been abusing said substance, as well as the amount they have been consuming. Some of the many behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms that an individual who is battling with prescription drug abuse might display include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to acquire multiple prescriptions
  • Frequent absences from work
  • Alterations in occupational performance (for example, one might show a decline in performance if he or she has developed an addiction to prescription painkillers, while one might show an increase in performance if he or she has developed an addiction to stimulants)
  • Social withdrawal or a change in the company one keeps
  • No longer participating in activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Altered eating habits
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (possibly suffering from insomnia or hypersomnia, depending on the type of drug that one is abusing)
  • Impaired coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Decline in one’s ability to utilize sound judgment
  • Decline in one’s ability to use appropriate decision-making skills
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Delayed thought processes
  • Changes in concentration capabilities
  • Altered perceptions of reality

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent mood fluctuations
  • Periods of emotional detachment
  • Loss of interest in things or activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Agitation
  • Changes in temperament
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability


Effects of prescription drug addiction

The abuse of any drug will cause an individual to be vulnerable to a number of negative consequences, and the abuse of prescription drugs is no different. Just like the above listed symptoms, the types of damages that might occur in response to an ongoing prescription drug abuse problem will vary depending on the type of medication that is being abused. Some possible examples of effects that can destroy an individual’s life after he or she has developed a prescription drug abuse problem include:

  • Organ damage / organ failure
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Occupational failure, leading to subsequent job loss and continued unemployment struggles
  • Financial problems
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental disorders
  • Interaction with law enforcement or legal ramifications as a result of falsifying prescriptions
  • Social isolation or disturbances arising within important relationships
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Memory disturbances
  • Family discord/divorce

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The symptoms that are tied to other mental health conditions have been known to develop when individual is battling a prescription drug abuse problem. Those who are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are much more likely to abuse prescription drugs after going through a traumatic event in an effort to cope with their emotions. In addition to trauma-related disorders like PTSD, below are some other mental health conditions that have been known to impact those who are also struggling with a prescription drug abuse problem:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The continued abuse of prescription drugs will bring about the onset of withdrawal if an individual attempts to stop using them. The type of prescription drug that is being abused will affect the severity and the type of symptoms that an individual will experience during this process. Some of the many effects that can emerge include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Vivid dreams
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Profuse sweating
  • Sleep problems
  • Restlessness

Effects of prescription drug overdose: An overdose happens when an individual consumes far too much of a substance than his or her body is able to manage. All overdoses should be treated as medical emergencies, and treatment should be obtained immediately to prevent death. Some of the signs that an individual is experiencing a prescription drug overdose include:

  • Lapsing into a coma
  • Dilated pupils
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Severe dizziness
  • Sudden loss of the ability to communicate
  • Cyanosis
  • Changes in skin pallor
  • Respiratory failure

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An assessment is an important first step toward treatment of and recovery from addiction.

My addiction to prescription drugs was very out of hand before going to Azure Acres. I am so grateful to all of the staff that has helped me through my recovery.

– Former Patient