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This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Niall Campbell (MBBS, MRCPsych), Consultant at Priory Hospital Roehampton in June 2020.

What is a prescription drug addiction?

Prescription drug addiction is a severe condition that is characterised by taking or administering prescription drugs in an excessive and repeated manner, until you become dependent on these substances in order to function on a daily basis. Addictive prescription drugs include prescription painkillers, or ‘opioids’, as well as classifications known as benzodiazepines and stimulants.

It is important to recognise that taking prescription drugs is not risk-free; if they are not used as directed, they can cause a whole host of significant problems and can even be fatal. Many people fall into the destructive habit of prescription drug misuse after being given the medication for a legitimate medical concern, whilst others misuse the substances for purely recreational purposes.

In addition, prescription drug addiction may be difficult to spot due to the fact that individuals sometimes function quite well for longer periods of time when using prescription drugs, and only realise that there is a problem when they can no longer function without taking the drug.

However, with effective care as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment programme, you can overcome the compulsion to abuse prescription drugs and can learn how to live a healthy, drug-free life once again.

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Priory deliver expert addiction treatment and rehabilitation. To find out how we can help you to get your life back on track, call us today on 0800 144 8969 or enquire online. Book your FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT.

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What are the signs of prescription drug addiction?

The symptoms of prescription drug addiction can vary from person to person and depend upon the type of prescription drug that you have been misusing, the frequency of your prescription drug use, and the amount of the prescription drug that you are consuming.

The following are signs that you, or someone that you know, may have a problem with prescription drug use:

Psychological symptoms of prescription drug addiction:

  • Depression, mood swings and hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Chronic low mood or flat affect (reduced emotional reactivity)
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Consuming prescription drugs in order to relax or relieve stress
  • Exacerbation of any existing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or stress

Behavioural and social symptoms of prescription drug addiction:

  • Visiting multiple doctors for the same condition, to try and obtain multiple prescriptions
  • Consuming prescription medication faster than indicated
  • Ordering prescription medication over the internet
  • ‘Losing’ prescriptions and frequently requesting replacements
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Prioritising obtaining and taking prescription drugs over activities that you once enjoyed
  • Feeling as though you want to stop taking prescription drugs, but finding that you are unable to
  • Inability to stop thinking about when, where and how you will obtain prescription drugs, and feeling as though this is taking over your life
  • Being secretive and defensive about your prescription drug use
  • Avoiding contact with loved ones, leading to social isolation
  • Neglecting your responsibilities
  • Poor performance and/or attendance at work
  • Continuing to take prescription drugs even after suffering negative consequences as a result e.g. social isolation, impaired work performance

Physical symptoms of prescription drug addiction:

  • Intense cravings for the prescription drug
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Slowed breathing
  • High body temperature
  • Heart palpitations
  • Coordination problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Catatonia (periods of immobility and unresponsiveness)
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, including insomnia
  • Diminished or increased appetite, leading to weight changes
  • Finding that you have built a tolerance to the prescription drug, meaning that you need to consume this more frequently and in higher doses, in order to experience the desired ‘high’
  • The appearance of prescription drug withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking or are unable to obtain the prescription drug
Commonly abused prescription drugs

The addiction symptoms someone may experience depends on which prescription drug they're addicted to. 

Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Prescription opioids - including oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, codeine, tramadol and co-codamol
  • Prescription benzodiazepines (also known as tranquilizers/sedatives) - including diazepam, alprazolam, chlordiazepoxide and zolpidem
  • Prescription stimulants - including methylphenidate and dextroamphetamines

What are the long-term effects of prescription drug addiction?

Prescription drug misuse can result in a wide range of long-term problems that can have a devastating impact on all areas of your life. These may include:

  • Strained or ruined relationships
  • Family breakdowns
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems, including arrest and imprisonment

Prescription drug addiction withdrawal symptoms

One of the most difficult aspects of prescription drug addiction is the series of uncomfortable drug withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when you stop taking, or do not have access to the drug in question. Some of the most common prescription drug addiction withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia or fatigue
  • Strong drug cravings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating, shaking, fever and chills
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Loss of appetite

Getting help for prescription drug addiction

If you think that you have developed a problem with prescription drug addiction, it is essential that you seek expert support in a timely manner. At Priory, we can provide expert prescription drug addiction treatment to help you get your life back on track and overcome addiction. 

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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