Horrors of Prescription Drug Abuse: Signs and Treatment

Horrors of Prescription Drug Abuse: Signs and Treatment

Table of Contents

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse occurs when the prescribed drugs are used in ways that was not suggested by the doctor. It has a wide spectrum and includes everything from abusing your friend’s prescription pills for your back pain or injecting or snorting ground-up pills for getting high.

Some of the prescription drugs have the potential to lead to addiction. These drugs include:

  • Sedatives
  • Stimulants
  • Tranquilizers
  • Opioid pain killers

There are many side effects associated with every drug that is used by us to cure any ailment and it is kept in consideration by every doctor while prescribing the drugs. Abusers forget this fact and take high doses of medicines just for the sake of getting immediate relief, forgetting that they are putting their bodies in extreme danger. Eventually, it becomes an ongoing and compulsive phenomenon with a number of negative consequences associated with it.

Prescription drug abuse is increasingly becoming a common problem and can affect people in every age groups, but youngsters are more commonly affected.


If this problem gets detected in the early stages, it is possible to prevent this problem from becoming grave.

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

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What Makes Prescription Drugs Unsafe

Drugs that are prescribed are often strong in nature and therefore require a prescription for buying. Each medicine carries a risk in itself which can even be serious in nature. If the doctor’s concern of prescription is not considered and prescribed drugs are abused, it might lead to serious repercussions. A doctor is the best person to advise the use of any medicine as he looks into the following information and then decides the drug and the dosage.

  • Personal information

Before a doctor prescribes medicines, he considers the weight, height, medical condition and other factors. Someone who takes someone else’s medicines can overload his system and put himself at a grave risk of developing serious side effects like seizures, coma or even death.

  • Form and dose

The time taken by a pill to dissolve completely in stomach, its release time and several other information is known to your doctor and he keeps all that in mind while deciding the dose and form of your medicines. When it is abused by people, these factors are flushed down the drain which can increase their chances of developing some grave consequences from overdose.

  • Side effects

Prescription drugs are meant to cure or manage a specific illness or condition, but there are a number of ways in which they affect the body, which may be uncomfortable and, in some cases, even dangerous. Like, opioid pain killers can also result in sleepiness and constipation. Stimulants increase a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. These effects can be more pronounced in people who take these medicines for the sake of entertainment and pleasure.

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How Prescription Drugs are Misused

Here we give you a few ways in which people misuse prescription medicine:

  1. Taking someone else’s prescription medication

Even if someone else is taking the medicines, it is meant only to be used by them and no one else. If it is used by any other person for relieving pain, staying awake or falling asleep, it is considered misuse.

  1. Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed

If you are taking our medicines in ways other than that is prescribed by the doctor, it falls under the category of misuse. This includes crushing or breaking a pill and then snorting the powder.

  1. Taking a prescription medication to get high

There are some prescription drugs that can give pleasurable ‘highs’. If you take such medicines for the sole purpose of getting high, it is considered abuse.

  1. Mixing it with other drugs

In some cases, people mix prescription drugs with alcohol or other drugs for deriving a certain pleasure out of it. It is considered a misuse and should not be done.

How Prescription Drugs are Misused

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Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

Here are the commonly misused prescription drugs:

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Effect of Prescription drugs on our Brain

There are many neurotransmitters in the brain like dopamine that help the brain cells to communicate with one another. Prescription drugs alter the action of these neurotransmitters and cause their famous ‘high’. Every prescription drug has a different effect on the brain.

These drugs attach themselves to the opioid receptors that are help in the perception of pain and pleasure. These receptors are scattered throughout the body but are concentrated in the brain.

Their action is similar to that observed after consuming cocaine. They show their action by causing a buildup of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.

These drugs can make a person feel relaxed and calm in a manner similar to that done by club drugs rohypnol and GHB.

Effect of Prescription drugs on our Brain

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Effects of Prescription Drugs on the body?

Prescription drugs, wen used for the prescribed condition, cause the desired action and minimal side effects. However, whether they are used or misused, they can cause a number of side effects, such as:

By using opioids like codeine and oxycodone, you will feel sick to your stomach, sleepy and constipated. If they are sued at higher doses, opioids can make it difficult for you to breathe properly and an overdose can even drive you to your grave.

Stimulants such as amphetamine and methylphenidate can induce paranoia, increase your body temperature and heartbeat. This is especially observed when it is taken in ways other than a pill or in large doses.

Depressants such as barbiturates can result in shallow breathing, slurred speech, disorientation, sleepiness and lack of coordination. People who abuse depressants regularly and then stop abruptly can experience seizures. If they are taken in higher doses, it can even cause death, especially if it is taken along with alcohol.

Additionally, abusing over-the-counter drugs containing dextromethorphan which is usually found in cough and cold medicines can also produce very dangerous effects.

Effects of Prescription Drugs on the body?

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Can You Overdose or Die If You Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Yes, there is a possibility that you will die if you abuse prescription drugs. In the US, more than half of the drug overdose deaths are caused by prescription drug abuse, annually.  Since 1990s, the number of deaths resulting from overdoses of prescription drugs is escalating, mainly due to abuse of prescription opioid painkillers. IN 2015, more than 29,700 people died due to prescription drug abuse, most of whom were youngsters in the age group of 15- 24 years.

If you mix different types of prescription drugs and take this cocktail, you will be playing with your life. You will have no idea how these drugs will react to each other in your body and what effects it will have. For example, when benzodiazepines like diazepam are taken along with opioids, it results in the overdose of opioids. Similarly, opioids and alcohol make a dangerous combination that can compromise your breathing and cause death.

Can You Overdose or Die If You Abuse Prescription Drugs?

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Are Prescription Drugs Addictive?

Yes, prescription drugs that have an effect on your brain, including stimulants, opioid pain relievers and depressants, have a potential to cause physical dependence, ultimately leading to addiction. Medications affecting the brain can alter the way in which it works—especially when these medicines are taken for a long period of time, with or without an increase in dose. They also have an ability to change the reward system, thereby making it harder for the person to feel good in the absence of drugs. This also leads to intense cravings which further makes it difficult for the person to stop using these addictive drugs.

The brain as well as the body adapt to the drug which contributes to the development of dependence. With time, the person might need larger doses of the drug to feel the same effect as our bodies develop tolerance to the drugs that are abused. When the person stops taking drugs, the body feels uncomfortable and starts showing withdrawal symptoms.

But if a person continues to use a drug despite its several negative consequences in his life, he develops Drug addiction a condition which requires a lot of effort and support to come out of it.

If a person carefully follows the doctor’s instructions while taking a medication, his chances of developing dependence or addiction are greatly reduced. This happens due to the fact that the medicine is then prescribed keeping in mind the state of the person, his illness and other factors for a period of time that will be optimum for him to cure his condition, without developing dependence or addiction.

Are Prescription Drugs Addictive?

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Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise?

Most experts have no clear idea as to why prescription drug abuse is on rise. It is believed that since more and more people have better accessibility to drugs, their chances of abusing it are higher. Doctors can be blamed for writing more and more prescription drugs like opioids, stimulants and CNS depressants to patients than ever before.

Also, there is an increase in the trend of online pharmacies where all you have to do is upload a prescription and the drug will be delivered at your doorstep. Online pharmacies have really made it extremely easy for children and teens to lay their hands on addictive prescription drugs.

Teens can also steal their parent’s medicines from medicine cabinets which they can sell or abuse themselves.

Prescription parties are also on a rise in which teenagers gather in their friend’s house, make a cocktail of their parent’s prescription medicines and help themselves to any pill that appeals to them. This problem is much worse as then they have no idea which medicine they have consumed and what will be its side effects.

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Why Do Some People Become Addicted and Others Don’t?

Your biology, age, social environment and stage of growth are most likely to determine whether or not you will abuse drugs. The more risk factors you seem to check off in the risk factors list, the more likely you are to abuse drugs at some or the other times in your life. Genes can also be blamed for running addictions in families. There are some studies that say that the early you start abusing drugs, more are your chances of developing an addiction to it.

Why Do Some People Become Addicted and Others Don't?

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How Do I Know if I’m Abusing Prescription Drugs?

There are some clear signs that will tell you whether or not you are abusing prescription drugs.

    1. If you are taking larger doses of your prescribed drugs than what your doctor prescribed, or are using them for reasons other than what they were prescribed for
    2. Also, if you find yourself taking these medicines only because you are bored or feel out of sorts, then too, you are abusing prescription medicine.
    3. You keep on calling your doctor more often and asking him to refill your bottles with larger dose.
    4. Your pharmacist might also suspect that you have a drug problem if you are filling more bottles of prescribed medicines from different doctors.

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Are There Some Guidelines for Using Prescription Drugs Safely?

As per the US FDA, following are the guidelines for safe prescription medication use:

  • Always follow the prescription medication directions carefully.
  • Never stop taking medication on your own.

5. Do not lower or increase the dose of your medicines without consulting with your doctor first.

  • Have a clear idea about the drug’s effects on your concentration
  • Do not crush or break pills, especially if the pills have a coating
  1. Talk honestly with your doctor about any history of substance abuse.
  • Learn about the effects of prescription medicines when taken along with alcohol and other OTC and prescription drugs.

7. Never allow other people to use your prescription medications, and do not take theirs.

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Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse vary according to the specific drug abused.

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse

Opioids Sedatives and Anti-anxiety drugs Stimulants
Constipation Confusion Agitation
Nausea Drowsiness High body temperature
Euphoria Slurred speech Insomnia
Slow breathing rate Unsteady walking Hypertension
Confusion Poor coordination Anxiety
Drowsiness Dizziness Paranoia
Poor coordination Problems with memory Irregular heart beat
Increased pain with higher doses Slowed breathing rate Reduced appetite


Other behavioral changes that point to drug abuse are:

  • Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Poor decision-making
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor

Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

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Treatment of Prescription Drug Abuse

There are a number of prescription drug abuse treatment options depending on the type of drug used and the needs of the person. However, counseling, or sometimes psychotherapy, is typically the main part of treatment. The treatment plan might also require

  • Detoxification,
  • De-addiction medication
  • Recovery support.

1. Counseling

A licensed drug counselor and other addiction specialist are professionally competent to help people with addiction. Things which are very important to be kept in mind when seeking treatment for addiction:

  • Determine which factors might have led you to abusing prescription drugs like relationship problem or an underlying mental health problem
  • Learn strategies for developing positive relationships
  • Learn the skills required to resist cravings, prevent abuse of drugs and help prevent recurrence of prescription drug abuse
  • Learn about steps to be taken if a relapse happens
  • Identify ways to become involved in healthy activities that aren’t related to drugs

2. Withdrawal

Depending on the prescription drug and its usage, detoxification might be required as a part of treatment. Withdrawal can easily turn life threatening and should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.

  • Opioid withdrawal

Opioid withdrawal involves slowly decreasing the dose of drugs until it is no longer used. Clonidine, a drug meant for managing high blood pressure can be used for managing the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Buprenorphine, methadone and buprenorphine with naloxone can be used by doctors under strict situations for easing the withdrawal symptoms.

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  • Withdrawal from sedatives or anti-anxiety medications

If you have abused prescription anti-anxiety drugs or sedatives for a long time, you might have to struggle a bit before the drugs completely taper off. Your body might take longer amounts of time to adjust to low doses of these medicines and then eventually no longer require it. There might be a requirement of using other types of medicines for managing withdrawal symptoms.

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  • Stimulant withdrawal

Stimulant withdrawal has no approved drug regime and the treatment is aimed at tapering off the medicines and managing the withdrawal symptoms like appetite, sleep and mood fluctuations.

As per the experts, addiction treatment with medicines combined with cognitive behavior therapy is the best way of treating addiction patients.

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Are There any Warnings for Using Opioids, CNS Depressants, and Stimulants?

As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids should never be used with CNS depressants  like

  • Alcohol
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antihistamines
  • General anesthetics

CNS depressants should never be used with other substances that depress the CNS, like:

  • Alcohol
  • Some OTC cold and allergy medications
  • Prescription opioid pain medicines

Stimulants should always be used cautiously these are being combined with other CNS stimulating substances, such as:

    • Antidepressants, as supervised by a doctor
    • Some asthma medications
    • OTC decongestant medications

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How Can I Help a Loved One Who Is Addicted to Prescription Drugs?

If you think that a family member or friend is a prescription drugs abuser, try to raise the red flag and have a candid talk with your health care professional. Health care professionals will then refer your family member to drug treatment programs and save his life.

Most importantly, it is necessary you talk to that patient and make him feel safe and secure. There are chances that he will outright refuse to believe you but you have to find a way to reach him. Most of the people go through a lot of serious consequences before they admit their illness. It is equally important to stand beside the person throughout his treatment process and witness with him a new dawn of his life.

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