What is prescription drug abuse?
If you take a medicine in a way that is different from what the doctor prescribed, it is called prescription drug abuse. It could be:
- Taking a medicine that was prescribed for someone else
- Taking a larger dose than you are supposed to
- Taking the medicine in a different way than you are supposed to. This might be crushing tablets and then snorting or injecting them.
- Using the medicine for another purpose, such as getting high
- Abusing some prescription drugs can lead to addiction. These include opioids, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants.
Every medicine has some risk of side effects. Doctors take this into account when prescribing medicines. People who abuse these drugs may not understand the risks. The medicines may not be safe for them, especially at higher doses or when taken with other medicines.
How common is prescription drug abuse?
Prescription drug abuse is quite common. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of prescription drug abuse?
Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug. Because of their mind-altering properties, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:
- Opioids, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone) and those containing hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco), used to treat pain
- Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
- Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorder
Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse
- Feeling high (euphoria)
- Slowed breathing rate
- Poor coordination
- Increased pain with higher doses
Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications:
- Unsteady walking
- Slurred speech
- Poor concentration
- Problems with memory
- Slowed breathing
- Reduced appetite
- High body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
Other signs include:
- Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Excessive mood swings or hostility
- Increase or decrease in sleep
- Poor decision-making
- Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
- Continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Talk with your doctor if you think you may have a problem with prescription drug use. You may feel embarrassed to talk about it — but remember that medical professionals are trained to help you, not judge you. It’s easier to tackle the problem early before it becomes an addiction and leads to more-serious problems.
What causes prescription drug abuse?
- To feel good or get high
- To relax or relieve tension
- To reduce appetite or increase alertness
- To experiment with the mental effects of the substance
- To maintain an addiction and prevent withdrawal
- To be accepted by peers or to be social
- To try to improve concentration and academic or work performance
What increases my risk for prescription drug abuse?
There are many risk factors for prescription drug abuse, such as:
- Past or present addictions to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco
- Family history of substance abuse problems
- Younger age, especially the teens or early 20s
- Certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions
- Exposure to peer pressure or a social environment where there’s drug use
- Easier access to prescription drugs, such as having prescription medications in the home medicine cabinet
- Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs and their potential harm
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is prescription drug abuse diagnosed?
Doctors generally base a diagnosis of prescription drug abuse on medical history and answers to other questions. In some cases, certain signs and symptoms also provide clues.
Blood or urine tests can detect many types of drugs. These tests can also help track the progress of a person who’s getting treatment.
How is prescription drug abuse treated?
Treatment options for prescription drug abuse vary, depending on the type of drug used and your needs. But counseling, or sometimes psychotherapy, is typically a key part of treatment. Treatment may also require withdrawal (detoxification), addiction medication and recovery support.
A licensed alcohol and drug counselor or other addiction specialist can provide individual, group or family counseling. This can help you:
- Determine what factors may have led to the prescription drug abuse, such as an underlying mental health problem or relationship problems
- Learn the skills needed to resist cravings, avoid abuse of drugs and help prevent recurrence of prescription drug problems
- Learn strategies for developing positive relationships
- Identify ways to become involved in healthy activities that aren’t related to drugs
- Learn the steps to take if a relapse happens
Depending on the prescription drug and usage, detoxification may be needed as part of treatment. Withdrawal can be dangerous and should be done under a doctor’s care.
- Opioid withdrawal. Opioid tapering involves gradually decreasing the dose of medication until it’s no longer used. Other medications — such as clonidine (Catapres), a drug mainly used for high blood pressure — can be used to help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms during this process. Buprenorphine, buprenorphine with naloxone (Suboxone) or methadone may be used by doctors under specific, legally regulated and monitored conditions to ease symptoms of withdrawal from opioid painkillers. Vivitrol, a version of the drug naltrexone, given by injection once a month by a health care provider may help people stay off opioids early in their recovery.
- Withdrawal from sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. If you’ve used prescription sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs for a long time, it may take weeks to slowly taper off them. Because of withdrawal symptoms, it can take that long for your body to adjust to low doses of the medication and then get used to taking none at all. You may need other types of medication to stabilize your mood, manage the final phases of tapering or help with anxiety, and you’ll need to work closely with your doctor.
- Stimulant withdrawal. There are no approved drugs used for treating stimulant withdrawal. Treatment typically focuses on tapering off the medication and relieving withdrawal symptoms — such as sleep, appetite and mood disturbances.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage prescription drug abuse?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you avoid prescription drug abuse:
- Make sure you’re getting the right medication. Make sure your doctor clearly understands your condition and the signs and symptoms. Tell your doctor about all your prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements, and alcohol and drug use. Ask your doctor whether there’s an alternative medication with ingredients that have less potential for addiction.
- Check in with your doctor. Talk with your doctor on a regular basis to make sure that the medication you’re taking is working and you’re taking the right dose.
- Follow directions carefully. Use your medication the way it was prescribed. Don’t stop or change the dose of a drug on your own if it doesn’t seem to be working without talking to your doctor. For example, if you’re taking a pain medication that isn’t adequately controlling your pain, don’t take more.
- Know what your medication does. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the effects of your medication, so you know what to expect. Also check if other drugs, over-the-counter products or alcohol should be avoided when taking this medication.
- Never use another person’s prescription. Everyone is different. Even if you have a similar medical condition, it may not be the right medication or dose for you.
- Don’t order prescriptions online unless they’re from a trustworthy pharmacy. Some websites sell counterfeit prescription and nonprescription drugs that could be dangerous.
- Discuss the dangers. Emphasize to your teen that just because drugs are prescribed by a doctor doesn’t make them safe — especially if they were prescribed to someone else or if your child is already taking other prescription medications.
- Set rules. Let your teen know that it’s not OK to share medications with others — or to take drugs prescribed for others. Emphasize the importance of taking the prescribed dose and talking with the doctor before making changes.
- Discuss the dangers of alcohol use. Using alcohol with medications can increase the risk of accidental overdose.
- Keep your prescription drugs safe. Keep track of quantities and keep them in a locked medicine cabinet.
- Make sure your child isn’t ordering drugs online. Some websites sell counterfeit and dangerous drugs that may not require a prescription.
- Properly dispose of medications. Don’t leave unused or expired drugs around. Check the label or patient information guide for disposal instructions, or ask your pharmacist for advice on disposal.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Prescription Drug Abuse. https://medlineplus.gov/prescriptiondrugabuse.html. Accessed December 4, 2017.
Prescription drug abuse. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20376813. Accessed December 4, 2017.
Review Date: December 4, 2017 | Last Modified: December 4, 2017