The Rise of Prescription Drug Addictions in the US

prescription drug addictions

The rise of prescription drug addictions is a complex issue that has garnered significant attention over the past few decades. It involves the misuse and dependence on prescription medications, intended to treat specific medical conditions.

Several factors have contributed to the increase in prescription drug addictions, including changes in medical practices, pharmaceutical marketing strategies, and individual vulnerability to substance abuse.

can prescription drugs be addictive
Source: Roots Through Recovery

Can Prescription Drugs Be Addictive?

Prescription drugs can be addictive due to their chemical properties and impact on the brain’s reward system. Addiction happens when an individual develops a compulsive need to use a drug despite experiencing negative consequences.

While addiction can develop with various prescription medications, some types are commonly associated with a higher risk of dependence. This includes the following:


Opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, are highly effective in relieving pain. They work by connecting to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals and producing feelings of euphoria.

Prolonged use can lead to tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. 

Opioid addiction is particularly prevalent due to its powerful euphoric effects. Examples of opioid misuse include using higher doses than prescribed or using them without a medical need.


Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They boost the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that helps calm the brain. While they are effective for short-term use, long-term use can lead to dependence.

Abruptly stopping benzodiazepines after prolonged use can result in withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, and seizures. Misuse occurs when individuals take higher doses, combine them with other substances, or use them recreationally for their soothing effects.


Medications such as Adderall and Ritalin treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These drugs increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, improving focus and attention. 

When used as prescribed, they are safe and effective. However, misuse occurs when individuals without ADHD use these medications to enhance cognitive performance or experience a euphoric high. Misuse can lead to tolerance, dependence, and various adverse effects.

prescription drug abuse signs

Understanding Prescription Drug Addictions Signs

Prescription drug abuse can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health, relationships, and overall well-being. It is important to recognize the signs of abuse is crucial to intervene and provide appropriate support. Healthcare workers play a vital role in identifying these signs and facilitating early intervention.

Here is a detailed overview of the signs of prescription drug abuse and how they can be recognized:

Physical Symptoms

Prescription drug abuse can lead to various physical symptoms. These may include drowsiness, sedation, impaired coordination, slurred speech, bloodshot or glazed eyes, frequent headaches, changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, and unexplained bruises or marks on the body.

Behavioral Changes

Individuals abusing prescription drugs may exhibit significant changes in their behavior. They may become increasingly secretive, isolated, or withdrawn. They might show sudden mood swings, irritability, agitation, or hostility. Drastic changes in social activities, hobbies, or personal appearance can also indicate a problem.

Psychological Signs

Prescription drug abuse can affect an individual’s mental health. Look for signs such as increased anxiety, paranoia, confusion, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, or impaired judgment. Mood disorders, including depression or sudden euphoria, may also be observed.

Doctor Shopping or Prescription Forgery

People engaged in prescription drug abuse often resort to doctor shopping, which involves visiting multiple doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions. They may also forge prescriptions or manipulate healthcare providers to get medications. Look for patterns of frequent doctor visits or numerous prescriptions from different healthcare providers.

Increased Tolerance and Withdrawal Symptoms

Over time, individuals misusing prescription drugs may experience tolerance, requiring higher dosage to achieve the desired effects. This can cause withdrawal symptoms when the medication is discontinued or unavailable. Withdrawal symptoms may include restlessness, insomnia, nausea, sweating, tremors, and cravings for the drug.

Neglected responsibilities

One of the hallmark signs of prescription drug abuse is neglecting important responsibilities at work, school, or home.  Frequent absences, declining job or academic performance, financial problems, or strained relationships may be observed.

Healthcare workers, due to their frequent interactions with patients, play a crucial role in identifying signs of prescription drug abuse. They can actively look for these signs during patient assessments, examinations, and consultations. Maintaining a non-judgmental and empathetic approach when addressing the issue is essential.

treatment for prescription drug abuse
Source: Roots Through Recovery

The Impact of Prescription Drug Addictions

Prescription drug addictions have wide-ranging effects on individuals, society, and the economy. Here is an analysis of how prescription drug addictions affect various sectors.

Personal Impact

  • Physical and mental health deterioration: Prescription drug addictions can lead to severe health problems. Prolonged misuse or abuse of medications can cause organ damage, overdose, or even death. Mental health disorders can also arise or worsen.
  • Impaired relationships and social isolation: Individuals often experience strained relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Trust issues, conflicts, and social isolation can result from behavioral changes, dishonesty, or neglect of personal and professional responsibilities.
  • Financial struggles: The costs of obtaining medications, doctor visits, and potential legal issues can deplete financial resources. Individuals may experience job loss, bankruptcy, or other financial hardships.

Social Impact

  • Increased healthcare utilization: It contributes to increased healthcare utilization, including emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and rehabilitation services. This places a strain on the healthcare system, affecting resource allocation and patient care.
  • Criminal involvement: Some individuals may resort to illegal activities, such as theft or forging prescriptions, to sustain their addiction. This can result in legal consequences, further impacting individuals and society.
  • Stigma and discrimination: Those struggling with addiction often face stigma and discrimination, which can hinder their ability to seek help. Social stigma may prevent individuals from disclosing their condition or accessing appropriate treatment for prescription drug abuse.

Economic Impact

  • Lost productivity: Drug misuse can lead to decreased productivity and absenteeism in the workplace. Individuals may struggle to maintain employment or experience reduced job performance, resulting in economic losses for both individuals and employers.
  • Healthcare costs: The healthcare system bears a significant financial burden due to prescription drug addictions. Costs include emergency medical care, treatment for overdose or related health complications, rehabilitation programs, and mental health services.
  • Burden on public resources: Drug dependence contributes to the demand for public resources, such as law enforcement, legal services, and social welfare programs. These resources must be allocated to address the consequences of addiction, diverting funding from other areas.
solutions to prescription drug abuse

In conclusion, the rise of prescription drug addictions has had a profound impact on individuals, society, and the economy. The addictive properties of certain prescription drugs, such as opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants, coupled with changes in medical practices and pharmaceutical marketing, have contributed to the growing problem.

Individuals with addiction and their loved ones need to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and actively seek appropriate avenues for treatment. By taking this important step, they can embark on a path towards long-term recovery and prevent further harm to themselves and their families.

If you know someone grappling with prescription drug addiction, LA treatment centers like Roots Through Recovery can be a valuable resource to find balance and achieve lasting sobriety. Call us today to schedule an appointment.

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