Navigating Prescription Drug Addiction: Rehab, Signs, and Symptoms

Updated On: June 15, 2024
7 min read
Written by:

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Prescription drugs encompass various medications prescribed by healthcare providers for various medical conditions, including pain, attention disorders, anxiety, and more.[1] These drugs can include opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, and others.

Despite their intended therapeutic benefits, prescription drugs carry risks of dependence, addiction, and overdose—particularly when used outside of medical guidance. Some prescription drugs, especially opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines, can induce euphoria and alleviate symptoms, leading individuals to misuse them for non-medical purposes or to enhance the effects of other substances.

Prescription Drug Addiction

Key Points

  • Prescription drugs encompass various medications prescribed for medical conditions, but misuse can lead to addiction and overdose.
  • Misuse includes taking higher doses, using drugs for non-medical purposes, or combining them with other substances.
  • Misusing prescription drugs can have physical and psychological effects, including respiratory depression, mood swings, and psychosis.
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders, like anxiety or depression, can complicate prescription drug addiction rehab, but holistic, integrated treatment can help.
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    What Are Prescription Drugs?

    Prescription drugs encompass a wide array of medications, including opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, and more, prescribed by healthcare providers to treat various medical conditions.[2]

    Well-known prescription drugs like oxycodone, Adderall, and Xanax exert potent effects on the body’s central nervous system, influencing pain perception, attention, and mood regulation.[3]

    Millions of people report using prescription drugs, with a significant portion misusing them, particularly opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines.[4] While some individuals adhere to prescribed guidelines, others admit to using prescription drugs in ways not intended by healthcare professionals. Misuse of prescription drugs often involves taking higher doses than prescribed, using them for non-medical purposes or combining them with other substances like alcohol or opioids. Illicit trafficking of prescription drugs has surged in recent years, with these medications frequently sold on the black market.

    The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies many prescription drugs, such as opioids, stimulants, and benzodiazepines, as controlled substances, indicating their recognized medical utility but also acknowledging their potential for abuse and dependence.[5]

    Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse

    Addiction to prescription drugs can stem from their influence on various systems in the body, affecting mood, pain perception, and other functions. The accessibility of prescription drugs in various forms, including pills, tablets, patches, and liquids, contributes to the potential for misuse and abuse.

    Furthermore, the proliferation of counterfeit or illegally manufactured prescription drugs poses a significant risk, as individuals may inadvertently consume substances with unpredictable potency and composition, heightening the likelihood of adverse effects and overdose.

    Prescription Drug Quick Reference Chart

    Drug Category Anxiolytic, Sedative, Opioid, Stimulant, Tranquilizer
    Commercial & Street Names Several, depending on the type of medication
    DEA Schedule Several, depending on the type of medication
    Administration Ingested, snorted, injected


    Statistics on Prescription Drug Use, Misuse, and Addiction

    Prescription drug misuse and abuse remain significant public health concerns in the United States, affecting millions of individuals across various age groups. According to recent statistics, approximately 16 million Americans aged 12 and older engage in the abuse of prescription drugs annually, accounting for roughly 6% of the population in 2019.[6] Among those who misuse prescription drugs, an estimated 2 million individuals, or 12% of prescription drug abusers, develop addiction to these medications.[7]

    Approximately 5.1% of individuals aged 12 or older reported misusing any prescription psychotherapeutic drug in the past year in 2021, encompassing a wide range of medications used to treat mental health conditions. Additionally, misuse rates for specific classes of prescription drugs include 1.3% for stimulants, 1.7% for tranquilizers or sedatives, 1.4% for benzodiazepines, and 3.1% for prescription pain relievers.

    Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse

    Misusing prescription drugs poses serious risks to both physical and mental health.[8] Long-term misuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction, requiring higher doses for the same effects. Physical health problems such as disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, gastrointestinal issues, and cardiovascular complications can arise from prescription drug misuse.

    Physical health problems such as disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, gastrointestinal issues, and cardiovascular complications can arise from prescription drug misuse.

    Mental well-being can also be affected, with mood swings, anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment being common symptoms.

    The risk of overdose is significant, especially when combining prescription drugs with other substances like alcohol or illicit drugs, leading to respiratory depression and even death.

    Abruptly stopping the use of certain prescription medications can trigger severe withdrawal symptoms, including agitation, insomnia, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, seizures, or delirium tremens.

    Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

    Physical Health Effects

    Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs can have significant physical health effects, depending on the type of medication and dosage.[9] Some common physical consequences include:

    • Respiratory depression: Particularly with opioids, misuse can lead to slowed or shallow breathing, which can be life-threatening, especially when combined with other depressant substances like alcohol or benzodiazepines.
    • Drowsiness, sedation, and impaired coordination: Many prescription drugs, such as sedatives and tranquilizers, can cause drowsiness and impair motor skills, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.
    • Gastrointestinal disturbances: Nausea, vomiting, constipation, and stomach pain are common side effects of prescription drug misuse, particularly with opioids and certain psychotropic medications.
    • Cardiovascular complications: Stimulant medications, when misused, can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular issues.
    • Neurological effects: Prescription drug misuse can lead to cognitive impairments, memory problems, confusion, and even seizures in some cases, depending on the drug and dosage.

    Psychological Effects

    In addition to physical health effects, prescription drug misuse can also impact mental well-being. Some psychological consequences include:

    • Mood swings: Misusing certain prescription drugs, particularly those affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine, can lead to mood swings, irritability, or emotional instability.
    • Anxiety and depression: Some individuals may experience worsening symptoms of anxiety or depression with long-term prescription drug misuse, leading to a cycle of dependence and psychological distress.
    • Psychosis: In severe cases, misuse of certain prescription drugs, particularly stimulants or high doses of sedatives, can induce psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia.

    Risk of Dependence and Overdose

    One of the most significant risks of prescription drug misuse is the development of tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Over time, individuals may require higher doses to achieve the desired effects, leading to compulsive drug-seeking behavior and difficulty controlling use.

    Moreover, prescription drug overdose is a serious concern, especially when individuals consume doses exceeding therapeutic limits or combine multiple substances. Overdose can result in respiratory depression, coma, and death, underscoring the importance of responsible use and seeking help for substance use disorders.

    Prescription Drug Addiction and Mental Health

    Misuse of prescription drugs frequently intertwines with underlying mental health conditions, adding complexity to treatment approaches. Individuals who misuse prescription drugs often experience co-occurring mental health disorders or substance use disorders, complicating their overall clinical picture.[10]

    For instance, anxiety disorders commonly co-occur with prescription drug misuse. While medications like benzodiazepines are prescribed to alleviate anxiety symptoms, long-term use can paradoxically exacerbate anxiety and foster dependence. Untangling this dynamic between prescription drug use and underlying anxiety disorders is pivotal for crafting effective treatment strategies.

    Similarly, individuals grappling with mood disorders such as depression may resort to prescription drugs to alleviate symptoms like agitation or insomnia. However, prolonged use of these medications can potentially worsen depressive symptoms and dampen mood, perpetuating a cycle of deteriorating mental health.

    Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

    Prescription drug addiction rehab varies in cost, duration, and process based on your individual needs and circumstances. Costs can range widely, with inpatient programs typically being more expensive than outpatient options and may be influenced by insurance coverage or financing options.

    Treatment length varies from short-term detox programs lasting a few days to longer-term rehabilitation spanning several months, depending on the severity of addiction and treatment goals.

    The treatment process typically begins with an assessment to develop a personalized care plan. For severe addiction, medical detoxification may be necessary to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. Following detox, individuals may enter residential or outpatient rehabilitation programs, where they may participate in therapy, counseling, and support groups to address addiction’s psychological and behavioral aspects. Medication-assisted therapy may also be used to support recovery.

    Individuals receive support from professionals, including doctors, therapists, and counselors throughout treatment. After completing the initial phases of prescription drug addiction treatment, individuals may transition to aftercare programs, such as ongoing therapy or support groups, to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse.

    Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

    When facing prescription drug addiction, finding the right level of care is essential for effective treatment. Each individual’s journey to recovery is unique, requiring a personalized approach that addresses their specific needs and circumstances:

    • Medical Detoxification (Detox): Detoxification, commonly known as detox, is the systematic elimination of harmful substances like drugs or alcohol from the body. This process usually occurs under close supervision in a controlled environment, such as a medical facility or specialized detox center. The primary objective of detox is to safely and comfortably manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal while preparing individuals for ongoing prescription drug addiction rehab interventions.
    • Medically Managed Care: In medically managed care, medical professionals combine their expertise with therapy to improve patient outcomes and support recovery. They closely monitor progress, adjust treatment plans when necessary, and work with other team members to provide comprehensive support.
    • Inpatient Residential Treatment: Residential inpatient treatment provides a supportive environment for recovery, with clients staying full-time at the facility and receiving comprehensive care from a diverse team of professionals. Through scheduled therapy sessions, group activities, and support networks, individuals can focus entirely on their journey to recovery, free from external distractions or triggers.

    Therapies Used in Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

    Alpas offers several evidence-based approaches to treat addiction and dual diagnosis issues:

    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used therapeutic approach focused on identifying and addressing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction. During CBT sessions, individuals learn coping strategies, problem-solving skills, and techniques to manage cravings and triggers.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with practical strategies to help individuals regulate emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and develop distress tolerance skills. In addiction treatment, DBT focuses on addressing the emotional dysregulation often linked to substance abuse to tackle underlying issues.
    • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-focused approach to enhance intrinsic motivation for change. In addiction treatment, MI helps individuals explore their ambivalence towards substance use and recovery. Therapists engage in empathetic dialogue and collaborative discussions to assist clients in uncovering their core values, goals, and aspirations.
    • Contingency Management: Contingency management utilizes positive reinforcement within behavior therapy to encourage desired behaviors, such as abstaining from substance use. This approach rewards individuals for meeting treatment goals, such as attending therapy sessions, avoiding drug use, or achieving milestones in their recovery journey.
    • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET): MET is a focused therapeutic approach to enhancing individuals’ motivation and commitment to change. MET explores uncertainty regarding behavior modification through structured discussions and personalized feedback, identifies personal values and aspirations, and strengthens self-assurance. Unlike traditional therapies, MET doesn’t delve deeply into addiction origins but concentrates on nurturing the internal drive for positive transformation.
    • Experiential Therapy: Experiential therapy utilizes hands-on activities and immersive experiences to promote emotional processing and individual development. Instead of relying solely on verbal communication, it involves role-playing, art therapy, and outdoor excursions. These experiences allow individuals to explore and express their emotions, address challenges, and develop coping strategies in a supportive environment.
    • Relapse Prevention: Relapse prevention focuses on identifying and managing triggers, developing coping strategies, and establishing a structured plan to prevent relapse. Participants learn to recognize early warning signs like stress or negative emotions and acquire skills to manage these challenges effectively. By enhancing self-awareness and providing practical tools, relapse prevention therapy empowers individuals to navigate difficult circumstances and maintain long-term sobriety.
    • Twelve-Step Facilitation: Twelve-step facilitation involves active participation in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to support recovery from addiction. Individuals attend regular group meetings, work through the Twelve Steps, share their experiences, and receive encouragement and support from peers who have faced similar challenges. This process fosters a sense of community and accountability, providing individuals with a supportive network to navigate the journey to sobriety.
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    Frequently Asked Questions About Prescription Drugs and Prescription Drug Addiction Rehab


    Are there different types of prescription drug addiction rehab programs?


    Yes, there are various types of prescription drug addiction treatment programs available, including outpatient programs, residential treatment centers, detoxification (detox) programs, and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Each program offers different care and support tailored to the individual’s needs.


    How long does prescription drug addiction treatment usually last?


    The duration of prescription drug addiction treatment can vary depending on factors such as the severity of the addiction, the individual’s response to treatment, and the type of program. Generally, treatment can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, with some individuals requiring ongoing support and aftercare services for an extended period.


    Can prescription drug addiction be prevented?


    While prescription drug addiction cannot always be prevented, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk. These include only using prescription medications as directed by a healthcare professional, avoiding sharing medications with others, properly storing and disposing of medications, and seeking alternative pain management strategies when possible. Additionally, early intervention and seeking help at the first signs of addiction can help prevent the escalation of prescription drug abuse.


    [1] Abuse, N. I. on D. (n.d.). Prescription Medicines. National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 3, 2024

    [2] Prescription Drugs. (n.d.). Health Policy Institute. on April 3, 2024

    [3] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June). Summary of Misuse of Prescription Drugs. National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 3, 2024

    [4] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 3, 2024

    [5] Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018, July 10). Drug Scheduling.; United States Drug Enforcement Administration. on April 3, 2024

    [6] National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. (2022). Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics. NCDAS. on April 3, 2024

    [7] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. on April 3, 2024

    [8] Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 25). Prescription drug abuse – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. on April 4, 2024

    [9] Prescription Drug Misuse. (2011).; National Library of Medicine. on April 3, 2024

    [10] SAMHSA. (2023, July 26). Co-Occurring disorders and other health conditions. on April 4, 2024

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