Prescription pill abuse involves more than opioids and other pain medications. Three large classes of prescription pills that are commonly abused include benzodiazepines, sedatives and stimulants. In a rapid response society, prescription medication has become the ultimate quick fix, from stressed out students cramming for exams, to ambitious professionals looking for an edge, to recovering soldiers returning from battle. And despite the death toll and the recurring headlines of Hollywood stars getting themselves into trouble, the rates of prescription drug abuse and addiction continue to steadily grow. The biggest area of concern however, may be in the misconceptions regarding the safety of prescription medicine. According to studies performed at the Mayo Clinic and US Department of Health and Human Services, many people, including parents, are often unaware of the dangers in providing prescribed medication to those who are not the intended patient. Signs and symptoms of intoxication and withdrawal vary depending on the specific class of prescription pills that are abused.

Opioids: Prescription painkillers that are used to treat chronic severe pain and are one of the most overprescribed medication classes among healthcare providers. Common opioids include Lortab, morphine, and Percocet.

Stimulants: Adderall is a pill that contains a combination of mood altering stimulants (dextroamphetamine and amphetamine) and is considered a central nervous system stimulant used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Other medications that are similar to Adderall and are used to treat ADHD include Concerta (methylphenidate) and Ritalin (methylphenidate).

Sedatives/tranquilizers: Sedative and tranquilizers are similar in nature and produce the same intoxication effects. Sleeping pills fall into a category of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics. This category also includes barbiturates and benzodiazepines like Xanax. Unlike other drugs in this category, sleeping pills are non-benzodiazepine hypnotics. They are commonly known as “z-drugs” since they induce sleep.

Prescription Pills Addiction Statistics

  • Most abused prescription drugs fall under four categories, based on the number of individuals who misuse the drug:
  • Painkillers: 3.3 million users
  • Stimulants: 1.7 million users
  • Sedatives/tranquilizers: 5 million users
  • More people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. That puts prescription drugs second behind marijuana when it comes to illicit drug use.
  • Prescription opioid drugs contribute to 40 percent of all US opioid overdose deaths
  • Many teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor.

Prescription drugs can lead to addiction

Opioids, stimulants and sedatives can be helpful for some individuals who have been diagnosed with certain disorders or who are in chronic pain, however many of these medications have a high addiction potential and as a result, these medications are heavily abused and sold on the streets. Signs and symptoms associated with prescription pill abuse depend on the specific prescription pill being used and abuse.

Behavioral patterns associated with prescription drug addiction

  • Acting isolated, silent, withdrawn, engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviors
  • Doctor shopping (going to different doctors in order to fill multiple prescriptions)
  • “Losing’ prescriptions and requesting replacements
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Needing prescription refills more often than necessary
  • Ordering prescriptions online or ordering prescriptions from other countries
  • Sudden change in relationships, friends, favorite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Frequently getting into trouble (arguments, fights, accidents, illegal activities).
  • Clashes with family values and beliefs.
  • Demanding more privacy, locking doors and avoiding eye contact.
  • Sudden mood changes, irritability, and angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation.
  • Lack of motivation; inability to focus, appears lethargic or “spaced out.”
  • Appears fearful, withdrawn, anxious, or paranoid, with no apparent reason.
  • Engaging in dangerous activities, like driving, while under the influence of the drug
  • Needing more of the drug to produce the same level of pain relief or symptom control

What causes prescription drug addiction?

Not everyone who is prescribed opioids, stimulants or sedatives for acute pain becomes addicted. Why is that? Some individuals have a genetic predisposition for addiction in general which is due to their genetic makeup in their DNA. Individuals with a first-degree relative who suffered from a substance abuse disorder are significantly more likely to develop the same problem compared to others without such a family history. Individuals with certain personality traits and temperaments that are more prone to novelty and impulsivity are more likely to acquire an addiction. Environmental factors such as peer influences also play a role in the development of prescription pill substance abuse and dependence. In fact, experts believe that a necessary function related to emotion is the ability to regulate extreme mood states. When children are not taught adaptive coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and the associated negative mood states, they grow up searching for other ways to decrease their distress. If they encounter prescription pills through peers or other means, the discovery of the resulting pleasure or sense of elation often results in the adoption of prescription pills use as their main means of coping. This also applies for individuals who have untreated mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder who are trying to cope with their feelings and will use prescription pills as their coping mechanism.

Numbing emotional pain

Our emotions are regulated by structures in the limbic system known as the amygdala. As human, we tend to thrive on positive emotions and try to hide or numb our negative emotions. Our brains are all processing a low level of stress and anxiety however we do not recognize them until they heighten and come into our conscious awareness. For many, it is difficult to face and work through negative emotions and many individuals use alcohol, painkillers and unhealthy behaviors to cope. Many prescription pills, in particular, create a sense of euphoria and therefore allow individuals to feel comfortably numb and overtime this can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction.

Effects of prescription pill abuse

Aside from the devastating signs and symptoms associated with prescription pill intoxication, long-term effects from prescription pill abuse include overdose, broken or strained relationships, incarceration, legal complications, poor physical health, developing co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, employment difficulties, financial strain and job loss.

Discovery Behavioral Health is a leading treatment center that specializes in substance abuse disorders, mental health illnesses and eating disorders with locations across the United States. Discovery behavioral health offers all levels of care including medical detoxification for individuals who are battling a prescription pill addiction and provides treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Discovery Behavioral Health works on treating the individual rather than the prescription pill addiction itself, since each addiction has its own unique set of underlying triggers and can vary in severity from person to person.