Most Insurances Accepted!
Call Ardu Recovery Center Today

Prescription drugs addiction

Mina Draskovic, B.Psy., reviewed this content for accuracy on May 14, 2024

Prescription drug addiction is a growing problem that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the NCDAS, 12% of prescription drug abusers in America become addicted. That’s more than two million people, on average.

Many of these people are prescribed opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines for managing pain or treating anxiety. The misuse of these drugs can quickly spiral out of control, leading to devastating consequences.

Table of Contents

Addiction to prescription drugs may not always be easy to kick. If you find yourself struggling to overcome this challenge, our prescription drug addiction program provides the support and guidance you need.

Types of prescription drugs

Prescription drugs are medications that require a medical prescription from a licensed healthcare provider. They are regulated by the government and intended to treat specific health conditions or manage symptoms. 

Several types of prescription drugs that are commonly prescribed by doctors include:

  1. Opioids: powerful painkillers that work by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain and body to reduce pain sensations. They are used to treat severe pain, manage pain after surgery, and control chronic pain in cancer patients. Opioid drugs carry a high potential for abuse and addiction. 
    1. Oxycodone (OxyContin)
    2. Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
    3. Codeine
    4. Morphine
    5. Fentanyl
  2. Benzodiazepines: sedative medications that work by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. This reduces anxiety and increases relaxation. They are used for treating anxiety disorders, panic attacks, insomnia, and seizures. 
    1. Alprazolam (Xanax)
    2. Diazepam (Valium)
    3. Clonazepam (Klonopin)
    4. Lorazepam (Ativan)
  3. Stimulants: medications that increase alertness, attention, and energy. They enhance the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which helps in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. 
    1. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
    2. Amphetamine (Adderall)
    3. Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  4. Depressants: medications that slow down brain activity and induce relaxation and drowsiness. They are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.
    1. Barbiturates (Seconal, Nembutal)
    2. Sleep medications (Ambien, Lunesta)
  5. Antidepressants: medications that help to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mood disorders by altering the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Its effects help treat depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
    1. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Zoloft), Paroxetine (Paxil)
    2. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Venlafaxine (Effexor) and Duloxetine (Cymbalta)

Nearly all prescription drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction, especially if they are not used as directed. Even when a medication is prescribed to you, if you take more than the recommended dose and use it more frequently than advised, you may develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug.

What are the signs of prescription drug addiction?

Prescription medicine includes many types of drugs, but there are some general physical and behavioral indicators that point to abuse and addiction. 

Physical signs of prescription drug addiction may include:

  1. Changes in appearance: sudden weight loss or gain, bloodshot eyes, or poor hygiene
  2. Unusual sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia
  3. Slurred speech
  4. Impaired coordination
  5. Tremors
  6. Nausea, vomiting, or constipation
  7. Sweating
  8. Itching
  9. Cold, clammy skin

People often show symptoms of prescription drug addiction in behavior. They:

  • Take prescription medications in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed
  • Go “doctor shopping” or visit healthcare providers to obtain more prescriptions
  • Lie about or exaggerate symptoms to get more medication
  • Experience mood swings, irritability, or uncharacteristic outbursts
  • Withdraw from friends, family, or usual activities
  • Neglect responsibilities at work, school, or home
  • Continue to use prescription drugs despite negative consequences
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the medication

If you notice these signs in someone you care about, encourage them to seek help. It can be hard to break free from addiction, but there is hope. Our Utah rehab center welcomes anyone struggling with drug or alcohol addiction who’s ready to start healing. Nestled in the heart of Utah Valley’s mountains, our facility provides a serene and ideal environment for healing the mind, body, and spirit.

Contact Ardu today and reclaim your health and happiness. 

Why do people develop addiction to prescription drugs?

Prescription drugs can be highly addictive, but not everyone who takes them will develop an addiction. Addiction is a complex brain disorder influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors such as genetics, environment, and personal history.

A chart depicting reasons why people abuse prescription drugs
Source: https://drugabusestatistics.org/prescription-drug-abuse-statistics/

Here are the main reasons why people become addicted to prescription medications:

  1. Prescription drugs can produce euphoria, relaxation, or increased alertness. These often sought-after effects reinforce the desire to use them repeatedly.
  2. Prescription drugs such as opioids and stimulants alter the brain’s reward system, particularly by increasing dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens, which reinforces drug-taking behavior. Volkow, et. al. explain that chronic drug exposure leads to changes in the brain’s reward, emotional, and decision-making circuits, resulting in compulsive drug-seeking and impaired self-control.
  3. When you abuse prescription drugs, your brain gets flooded with way more dopamine than normal rewards such as food or hanging out with friends. Researchers at the University of Utah explain that the brain cuts back on dopamine receptors and increases the dopamine transporters that remove dopamine to level things out. In order to get that same intense high, you need to take higher doses of the drug, which just digs you deeper into addiction.
  4. Prescription drugs are available via legitimate medical channels, unlike illicit drugs.
  5. Some people may not fully understand the addictive potential of prescription medications or may believe that because a doctor prescribed them, they are safe to use long-term or in higher doses. This lack of understanding about the risks of prescription drug abuse can lead down a slippery slope toward addiction.
  6. People with chronic pain or certain medical conditions may be prescribed opioids or other addictive medications for extended periods, increasing the risk of developing an addiction over time.
  7. A person’s genetic makeup and environmental influences can increase their vulnerability to developing a prescription drug addiction. These may include:
    • Peer pressure or social circles that normalize drug use
    • Easy access to prescription drugs (e.g., family members’ prescriptions)
    • Stressful life events or traumatic experiences
    • Specific genetic variations affecting dopamine receptors or neurotransmitter systems
    • Co-occurring mental health disorders with genetic links (e.g., depression, anxiety)
  8. Some people resort to prescription drugs to self-medicate underlying mental health issues such as trauma, stress, depression, or anxiety. Drazdowski, et. al. found that “those misusing prescription opioids and tranquilizers to help with emotions and misusing sedatives to “relax or relieve tension” were more likely to have all categories of mental health problems.” 

A lot of people hooked on prescription medications are also dealing with mental health issues. Addiction and mental illness feed off each other in an endless loop. Left untreated, the two issues can make recovery extremely difficult. 

At Ardu, we don’t treat just the substance abuse—we look at the whole person. Our specialized dual diagnosis treatment programs tackle addiction and mental health simultaneously, giving you the complete care you need to get your life back on track.

Learn more about our co-occurring disorder treatments and what they entail.

How many people in the U.S. are addicted to prescription drugs?

The National Center on Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) points to the severity of the prescription drug addiction problem as one of the major public health crises in America. In 2019, 16.3 million Americans (5.76%) aged 12 and older misused prescription drugs. 

  • 9.7 million people abused prescription painkillers
  • 9.3 million abused prescription opioids
  • 5.9 million abused sedatives and tranquilizers
  • 4.9 million abused prescription stimulants

Nearly 2 million of those who misused prescriptions developed an addiction. Only 12.7% of them acknowledged their addiction. 

A graph showing prescription drug abuse trends in Americans over the age of 12 from 2015 to 2019
Source: https://drugabusestatistics.org/prescription-drug-abuse-statistics/

There is some good news, though: prescription drug abuse has declined in recent years. In 2015, nearly 19 million people misused prescriptions, so the numbers have dropped by 13.8%. The rates of first-time abuse remain high: 22.6%.

While the decline in overall misuse is a positive step, the staggering numbers of those abusing opioid painkillers and other prescription meds are concerning. Prescription drug addiction can rapidly spiral out of control, ravaging lives, families, and communities.

What consequences can prescription drug addiction have?

Prescription drug addiction can be devastating to every aspect of a person’s life. consequences ripple out from the addict, impacting their loved ones, communities, and society at large. 

Here are some of the major fallouts of prescription drug abuse and addiction.

Prescription drug addiction ruins physical health

Prescription drug addiction wreaks havoc on the body. The toxic effects of misusing opioids and stimulants can damage vital organs such as the liver, kidneys, and heart. The risk of contracting infections from sharing needles or engaging in other hazardous behaviors is high. Stimulant abuse can cause cardiovascular issues such as irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and increased risk of stroke. Long-term prescription drug abuse takes an immense toll, causing physical deterioration, hormonal imbalances, and dramatically shortened life expectancy.

The most dangerous consequence of prescription drug abuse is the ever-present threat of overdose. 

The increased risk of overdose on prescription drugs

Many prescription drugs are a significant risk factor for overdose. Oxycodone and hydrocodone can cause life-threatening respiratory depression in overdose. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium can cause severe sedation and coma. Even medications not typically associated with overdoses (e.g. antidepressants or anti-seizure drugs) can potentially be fatal if taken in excess. 

Not all prescription drugs have the same signs of overdose, but here are some signs of a prescription drug overdose: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bluish tint to lips/nails
  • Erratic behavior
  • Loss of consciousness

If you suspect someone has overdosed, call 911 right away.

Addiction to prescription meds has negative mental health consequences

Addiction to prescription medications inflicts severe damage on mental health and cognitive functioning. For those already struggling with depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, prescription drug abuse only intensifies and destabilizes these mental health disorders. 

Substance abuse can also trigger the onset of terrifying new psychological disorders such as paranoid delusions, hallucinations, and psychotic breaks with reality. Basic cognitive abilities start to deteriorate: thought processes become muddled, concentration lapses, and normal daily functioning grows increasingly difficult. People addicted to prescription drugs have trouble regulating emotions, while their decision-making skills become impaired. 

The negative impact of prescription drug addiction on relationships

Prescription drug addiction erodes relationships and severs social connections. As the disease takes hold, addicts become increasingly unreliable—they miss important events, lash out at loved ones, lie, and exhibit volatile mood swings. This erratic behavior puts a strain on familial and platonic bonds. 

Addiction can also impact job performance through absenteeism, negligence, and impaired cognitive abilities, often resulting in termination and financial ruin. The stigma surrounding addiction alienates many from their support systems, as loved ones who cannot understand the disease recoil in judgment. 

Prescription drug addiction can have legal and financial consequences

Prescription drug addiction can quickly lead down a path of legal troubles and financial ruin. Addicts often resort to “doctor shopping” by fraudulently obtaining prescriptions from multiple providers, risking charges of fraud and drug possession. Some turn to forging prescriptions or theft to maintain their habit. 

The high cost of feeding an addiction drains finances rapidly, leading to debt from neglecting bills and responsibilities. Many people addicted to prescription meds lose their jobs because of their unreliable performance. The simultaneous legal consequences and financial devastation have a shattering impact on entire families, not only on the ones addicted. 

People often do not recognize or admit they need help until the addiction has already taken hold. You don’t have to go through this alone. The team at Ardu Recovery Center has the expertise and compassion to guide you through recovery.

How is prescription drug addiction treated?

We provide a safe, judgment-free environment to detox and break free from the grip prescription medications can have. With comprehensive, evidence-based rehab programs and a supportive community, Ardu equips you with all the tools you need to regain control of your life.

To help you kick addiction to prescription drugs, we employ:

  • Medication-assisted treatment where we use medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone to reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational interviewing to modify attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse.
  • Individual counseling includes one-on-one talk therapy sessions to help you explore the root causes of addiction and develop personalized coping strategies.
  • Group therapy involves peer support groups that facilitate sharing experiences and advice while building communal networks of encouragement and accountability.
  • The holistic approach to rehab is based on complementary therapies such as meditation, yoga, art therapy, nutritional counseling, and exercise can support overall mental and physical wellness during recovery.

You’ve already taken that first brave step by acknowledging the problem. We are here to walk alongside you, empowering you to overcome this challenge and achieve lasting recovery. The first step in getting you clean is detox.

Prescription drug detox at Ardu

Recovery from prescription drug addiction starts with a safe, medically supervised detox. The medical team at our drug detox program will first evaluate your situation and create an individualized detox plan tailored specifically for you. Then, around-the-clock care and medication assistance make withdrawal much more manageable by relieving those brutal symptoms.  

We combine the medical approach with holistic detox practices such as nutritional support, massage, and yoga therapy to help restore your mind and body’s balance. These natural methods promote healing as your system acclimates to being substance-free again.

With Ardu’s comprehensive prescription drug detox, you’ll have the medical oversight and therapeutic support you need to get through this challenging phase. Our goal is to set you up for success as you transition into an effective long-term treatment program after detox. 

Prescription drug rehab at Ardu

At our rehab facility, we provide comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment options to help you overcome prescription drug addiction.

  • Inpatient or residential treatment immerses you in a structured, therapeutic environment with 24/7 support. Through intensive daily counseling, behavioral therapies, and carefully monitored medical care, our inpatient program allows you to focus solely on your recovery. 
  • Outpatient treatment offers more flexibility to live at home while receiving treatment on a part-time yet regular schedule. This allows you to maintain work, family, or other obligations while still benefiting from our services.

No matter the treatment setting, our approach integrates evidence-based therapies tailored to prescription drug addiction:

  • Medication-assisted treatment to curb cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • CBT to help reframe negative thoughts and behaviors
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to teach you mindfulness and coping skills
  • Family behavior therapy to involve your loved ones to improve home environments
  • Expressive therapies such as art, music, or equine therapy to provide holistic healing

With a comprehensive range of therapies, we give you the best chance at achieving long-term sobriety. Contact Ardu and start your journey towards lasting recovery. If you want to verify your health insurance coverage, gather more payment information, and pursue the Medicaid redetermination process in Utah, visit our insurance verification page.

Prescription drug addiction FAQ

What is the most common prescription drug addiction?

The most common prescription drug addiction is to opioid painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. Their euphoric and sedative effects, combined with the potential for physical dependence and tolerance, make them highly addictive substances.

What is pharmacy addiction?  

Pharmacy addiction is the misuse, abuse, or addiction to prescription medications obtained from legitimate pharmacies, either through one’s own prescription or illegally obtaining medications. It includes addictions to opioid pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives, and other controlled psychotherapeutic drugs dispensed by pharmacies.

How does prescription drug abuse affect the brain?

Prescription drugs of abuse, especially opioids and stimulants, affect the brain’s dopamine system and reward pathways in powerful ways. Opioids flood the brain with dopamine, producing euphoria. Stimulants such as Adderall increase dopamine and norepinephrine activity, but with repeated abuse, the brain reduces dopamine receptors and increases reuptake to compensate, decreasing pleasure from natural rewards and driving compulsive drug use.

Who uses prescription drugs the most?

According to the data, prescription drug misuse is highest among young adults aged 18-25, with 14.4% reporting abuse annually. This age group is also more prone to stimulant abuse, with 40.8% of stimulant abusers falling in this range. Overall, 5.76% of Americans over age 12 misused prescription drugs.

Does addiction change the brain?

Addiction changes the brain in several ways. 

  • It disrupts the dopamine system and other neurotransmitter pathways critical for reward, motivation, and self-control. 
  • It causes physical changes in the brain’s structure and functioning. 
  • Environmental cues become strongly associated with cravings through conditioned responses. 

These brain changes drive the compulsive behavior pattern characteristic of addiction.

What drugs release dopamine in the brain?  

Many addictive drugs directly or indirectly increase dopamine levels in the brain’s reward pathways, producing euphoria. Opioids, stimulants, alcohol, nicotine, and many other drugs of abuse impact dopamine signaling. Even behaviors like gambling and binge eating affect dopamine. This contributes to their reinforcing effects and addictive potential.

Is addiction genetic?

Addiction has a genetic component. While environmental influences play a major role, genes affecting dopamine receptors, neurotransmitter systems, mental illness, and impulsivity can increase vulnerability to developing addictions. There seem to be specific gene variants that influence how the brain responds to addictive substances and behaviors. 

Genetic risk is just one piece. Environmental stressors, mental health conditions, social circles, and early exposure to drugs also shape addiction risk. Genetics loads the gun, but life circumstances often pull the trigger when it comes to developing a substance use disorder.


Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics – NCDAS. (2024, May 2). NCDAS. https://drugabusestatistics.org/prescription-drug-abuse-statistics/

Volkow, N. D., Michaelides, M., & Baler, R. (2019). The Neuroscience of Drug Reward and Addiction. Physiological Reviews, 99(4), 2115-2140. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00014.2018

Drug Use Changes the Brain Over Time. (n.d.). https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/brainchange

Drazdowski TK, Schulte M, Wolitzky-Taylor KB, Schaper H, Chapman JE. Motivations for Prescription Drug Misuse Related to Mental Health Problems in Adults. Subst Use Misuse. 2022;57(2):316-327. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2021.2012687. Epub 2021 Dec 14. PMID: 34903123; PMCID: PMC8842830.

Further reading

What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

What are the signs that your body is detoxifying?

What is cross addiction?

Why should you never detox alone?

What to look for in teen addiction

Is sugar a drug?

How to do an intervention for a loved one

How to recognize heroin addiction