Signs & Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals struggling with prescription drug addiction build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving the Chandler community, Oasis is the premier provider of mental health & co-occurring addiction treatment for adolescents and adults.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drugs and substance abuse

Most people who go to the doctor for treatment of a diagnosable medical condition and are prescribed certain classes of drugs take these drugs exactly as prescribed, for the appropriate length of time, and stop the drug when the course of the medication is over. However, there are several classes of prescription drugs that can lead to prescription drug abuse, a term used to describe any or all of the following behaviors:

  • Taking a medication prescribed for another person
  • Taking a larger dose than prescribed
  • Taking medication in a way other than intended, such as crushing tablets and snorting them
  • Using prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose, such as getting high

In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the abuse of prescription drugs, leading to a parallel increase in emergency department visits due to accidental overdoses in addition to an increase in admissions to drug rehab centers. The most commonly prescribed prescription medications that are diverted and abused include three main categories:

Opioids: also known as “narcotics” are powerful prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and codeine, which cause feelings of blissful euphoria.

CNS depressants: including benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, and barbiturates like Seconal or phenobarbital, are powerful drugs used to manage anxiety and induce sedation. Depressants are commonly abused with alcohol and other drugs.

Stimulants: cause an increase in alertness, energy, and attention and are used in the management of obesity, ADHD, depression, and other issues. Stimulants include Adderall, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimate 48 million people aged 12 and older have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes. That figure roughly equates to 20% of the population of the United States.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

Researchers in the field of addiction tend to agree that addiction is not the result of a single root cause, rather it is a combination of environmental, genetic, and physical risk factors working together. The most commonly cited causes and risk factors for prescription drug abuse include:

Genetic: Addiction is known to run in families, although not all family members may become addicted to the same substance. People who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, are at a higher risk for developing addiction than others without a similar history.

Physical: As drugs of abuse, including prescription drugs of abuse, stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, it’s understood that long-term drug use does lead to changes in the structure and function of the brain.

Environmental: Many environmental stressors have been linked to the development of addiction, including early exposure to drugs or alcohol, and chaotic family life.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Being between ages 18 and 25
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Additional mental health problems such as ADHD
  • Anxiety, depression, and loneliness
  • Use of a highly addictive drug, such as cocaine

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse will vary based upon the type of drug used, individual genetic makeup, use of more than one drug, and length of addiction. The most common signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse may include:

Symptoms of opioid abuse:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Hypotension
  • Decreased respirations
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Impaired coordination

Symptoms of CNS depressant abuse:

  • Drowsiness and sedation
  • Nystagmus
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Syncope
  • Unsteady gait

Symptoms of stimulant abuse:

  • Weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Restlessness
  • Increased impulsive behaviors

Other symptoms of prescription drug abuse:

  • Stealing, forging, selling prescriptions
  • Taking doses higher than prescribed
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Excessive hostility
  • Poor decision-making abilities
  • Increased or decreased need for sleep
  • Appearing to be unusually amped up, sedated, or intoxicated
  • Frequently “losing” prescriptions with the intent of obtaining more prescriptions
  • “Doctor shopping” or seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor


Effects of prescription drug addiction

With long-term usage, there are a host of unpleasant – sometimes deadly – consequences associated with prescription drug abuse. Effects of prescription drug abuse will vary based upon length of abuse, drug of choice, presence of more than one drug, and individual makeup. Consequences of long-term prescription drug abuse may include:

Effects of opiate abuse:

  • Increased risk for choking
  • Hypotension
  • Slowed or stopped respiration rate
  • Coma

Effects of CNS depressant abuse:

  • Impaired memory
  • Hypotension
  • Slowed breathing

Effects of stimulant abuse:

  • Dangerous hyperthermia
  • Cardiac problems
  • Hypertension
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Aggressiveness
  • Paranoia

Other effects of prescription drug abuse:

  • Addiction
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Poor judgment
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Involvement in car accidents
  • Increased crimes
  • Decreased performance at school or work
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Withdrawal from prescription medications should always be treated under the trained guidance of a physician as many of these drugs can cause dangerous withdrawal symptoms. If an overdose to any of these prescription drugs is suspected, do not hesitate to call 911 immediately.

Withdrawal from opiates:

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose and increased tearing
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils

Opiate overdose:

  • Decreased level of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slowed heart and respiration rate
  • Ceased respirations
  • Cyanosis of fingers and lips
  • Seizures
  • Muscle spasms
  • Inability to awaken

Withdrawal from CNS depressants:

  • Extreme sleep disturbances
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Suicide

CNS overdose:

  • Sluggishness
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Shallow breathing
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal from stimulants:

  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Mood swings

Stimulant overdose:

  • Confusion
  • Sudden aggressiveness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cardiac arrhythmias that can lead to cardiac arrest
  • Respiratory collapse
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

A number of mental health and related disorders have been linked to abuse and addiction of prescription drugs. These include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Other addictions
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