When taking medication for reasons other than that directed by a physician, you misuse it. And certain medications with addictive properties may put you at risk of developing an addiction, called prescription drug abuse. Research  even stated that there were 807 fatal overdoses in 2013, which involved prescription drugs, a 16% increase since the previous five years. 

People misuse prescription drugs for multiple reasons, such as to overcome social pressure, relieve stress, feel high, and increase alertness at school or work. However, they can cause severe consequences by activating the brain’s reward centre. In addition, prescription drugs taken in high amounts affect your self-control and ability to make good decisions, increasing the urge to use more. However, prescription drug detox or addiction counselling can help solve the problem. Here’s how:

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The three most commonly abused prescription drugs include:


Because more people are affected by long-term pain due to long office hours, injury, etc., doctors have been prescribing more opioid painkillers, such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine. These medicines help relieves pain and boost the quality of your life. However, if they are taken in doses higher than prescribed by the doctors, they may lead to drug dependence, abuse, and addiction. Opioids use can be life-threatening. For example, suppose you take opioids with other medicines or substances like alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines; they can affect your central nervous system and cause breathing problems and even death. 

In addition, opioids often induce euphoric feelings in individuals. As a result, people start snorting or injecting opioids illegally to relieve stress or pain quickly. However, injecting opioids can increase your chances of contracting HIV and hepatitis C.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants used by millions worldwide to treat anxiety and sleep disorders like insomnia. Using CNS depressants help you stay calm or be tired, so you fall asleep quickly. It happens because CNS depressants affect GABA in your brain, which lowers its activity. For example, barbiturates, such as amobarbital (Amytal), secobarbital (Seconal), phenobarbital (Luminal), and pentobarbital (Nembutal) are CNS depressants that doctors use as anaesthesia to treat seizures.

However, taking CNS depressants frequently can make you addicted to them, and you will need higher doses to get the effect. As a result, they can cause a slow heartbeat, slow breathing, and eventually death. In addition, quitting CNS depressants suddenly can cause withdrawal seizures, which can be highly life-threatening.


While stimulants were originally used to treat asthma and obesity, doctors now started prescribing them for conditions such as narcolepsy, depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and attention deficit disorder (ADD). It is because these drugs give your body a jump-start. For example, stimulants increase alertness, energy, and attention but also raise heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar, narrow blood vessels, and open your airways if taken in higher doses. A few examples of stimulants used frequently are lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ProCentra). 

In addition, most people who misuse stimulants either take them by crushing pills or snorting them, which is a primary cause of addiction. Taking stimulants in high doses along with decongestants also causes an uneven heartbeat.

Risk Factors Associated with Prescription Drug Abuse

The most common reasons why someone develops prescription drug abuse include:

  • Age
  • Biology, or things in your genes
  • Mental health
  • Influence of colleagues or friends
  • Knowledge about prescription drugs and how they might hurt you

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Though signs of abuse depend on your drug of choice, someone who uses opioids might have:

  • Poor coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, or constipation
  • Slurred speech

CNS depressants abuse signs include:

  • Slow breathing
  • Poor judgment
  • Mood changes
  • Trouble walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Slow reflexes

Symptoms of stimulant abuse are:

  • Paranoia
  • Nervousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Uneven heart rate
  • Headache

How to Overcome Prescription Drug Addiction?

Opioid addiction treatment generally includes medications. For example, buprenorphine is often recommended by doctors to treat opiate dependence and withdrawal. Naloxone and buprenorphine together prevent relapse. Also, if buprenorphine is taken in pill form and you complete prescription drug detox, you might have been implanted with another form of buprenorphine under your skin, probuphine. It is implanted to provide a constant buprenorphine dose for six months. 

Other drug treatments for opiate withdrawal include equal doses of methadone and clonidine. Doctors also recommend keeping a dose of naloxone handy if they misuse opioids. Naloxone help reverse the overdose and is available in a shot (Evzio) and nasal spray (Narcan).

However, apart from medication-assisted treatment, addiction counselling has proven to be the most common and effective treatment for CNS depressants and stimulants. You might also need to detoxify your body in a drug rehabilitation centre

Prevention Measures for Prescription Drug Abuse

A few guidelines issued by FDA for safe use of prescription medications are as follows:

  • Don’t crush or break pills, especially if they are time-released.
  • Don’t raise or lower the doses without consulting your doctor.
  • Be honest with your doctor about your family history of substance abuse, if any.
  • Never stop taking a medication on your own.
  • Always follow the directions carefully.
  • Learn about the consequences of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol and other over-the-counter drugs.
  • Make sure you are aware of the drug effects on your daily life.
  • Never allow other people to use your prescription medications and never use theirs.

How Can You Help Someone Suffering from Prescription Drug Abuse?

Drug abuse is becoming common, and its prevalence in the UK needs no evidence. Hence, if you find anyone close to you abusing prescription drugs, talk them out of it or consult a doctor in the worst cases of denial. You can also contact government helpline numbers to get immediate help or reach out to a drug rehabilitation centre near you.

However, during the prescription drug detox journey, be available and tell them you are concerned about their drug abuse problem. Also, many people with addiction experience withdrawal and display resistance due to denial. Therefore, stand beside them as they move towards recovery. Attend addiction counselling sessions with them and show them your love and care.