Prescription Drug Abuse Signs & Symptoms

Carolina House provides leading prescription drug addiction treatment to ensure long-lasting recovery for a healthier and more satisfying life.

Understanding Prescription Drug Addiction

Learn about prescription drug addiction treatment

The abuse of prescription drugs occurs when a person takes prescription medications in a manner that is contrary to the guidelines that were given by the prescribing physician. This type of behavior can include consuming more than the amount prescribed, taking another individual’s medications, or continuing the use of medications long after it is necessary to do so. In addition, some people might mix prescription medications with other substances to obtain a mind-altering effect. Many tend to have an incorrect perception that taking prescribed medication is always safe because it is provided by a medical healthcare professional. However, the abuse of prescription medications can cause the development of both addiction and dependence if one does not obtain treatment for his or her symptoms.

The most commonly abused prescription medications are opioids, stimulants, and depressants. Continual abuse of these medications can bring about a variety of dangerous effects for an individual that can put his or her life in jeopardy. When individuals are battling to defeat an addiction to prescription drugs while facing the challenges of an eating disorder like anorexia, binge-eating disorder, or bulimia, the damaging effects that they can be afflicted with can become even more upsetting.

Fortunately, there are effective treatment options available for those who desire to stop their prescription drug abuse and put an end to their eating disorders. By taking these steps, an individual can decrease his or her chances of suffering damage to his or her physical or psychological wellbeing, and begin living a life that is productive, happy, and healthy.


Prescription drug addiction statistics

Roughly 52 million Americans over the age of 12 have abused prescription medications within their lifetimes. Additionally, research has shown that tranquilizers, painkillers, and stimulants are the most frequently abused prescription medications. A study conducted on drug overdose rates in the country show that prescription drug overdoses take more lives than suicides, gunshot wounds, or accidents.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for prescription drug addiction

There are numerous causes and risk factors that can lend an individual to abuse prescription medications. Professionals in the field of addiction believe that specific genetic and environmental factors can influence one’s likelihood of abusing this type of substance. Consider the following:

Genetic: An extensive deal of research has been conducted that has shown that addiction can be heritable. Those who have a biological parent who has substance abuse problems is more likely to also struggle with this disease, including the abuse of prescription drugs.

Environmental: Specific environmental factors can cause an individual to develop an addiction to prescription drugs. If one’s home and/or work life is filled with extreme amounts or stress or discord, one might turn to the use of prescription drugs as a means of coping. In addition, those who have jobs where the chance of injury is higher, like a police officer or a construction worker, have a greater chance of prescription drug abuse should physical harm occur.

Risk Factors:

  • Working in an industry where injury is more likely to occur
  • Exposure to chronic stress or conflict
  • Easy access to prescription medications
  • Presence of a chronic pain condition
  • Family history of substance abuse, addiction, or dependence
  • Personal or family history of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The textbook signs and symptoms of a prescription drug abuse problem can be seen in one’s behaviors. There are a variety of physical, psychosocial, and cognitive symptoms that can persist that can show if an individual is abusing these types of substances, including:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to acquire multiple prescriptions
  • Lying
  • Poor attendance at work
  • Not fulfilling roles / responsibilities
  • Attempts to conceal drug use
  • Change in interests and/or friends
  • Increased conflict or physical aggression towards others
  • Stealing

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Slurred or incoherent speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Change in eating habits

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired judgment / decision-making
  • Delayed thinking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiousness
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Personality / temperament changes
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Declined motivation


Effects of prescription drug addiction

The continual abuse of prescription medications can cause an individual to become susceptible to developing a variety of harmful effects. The following examples all have potential to impact an individuals overall physical and mental wellbeing, as well as other areas of their lives:

  • Suicide attempts
  • Death as a result of suicide or overdose
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Divorce
  • Manifestation of a mental health condition
  • Social withdrawal or isolation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Prescription drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

When individuals abuse prescription drugs, it is likely that they are also battling simultaneously with other mental health illnesses. In fact, symptoms of a mental health condition might develop or become exacerbated when individuals abuse prescription drugs. It is not uncommon for those who battle with eating disorders to also partake in prescription medication abuse. In addition to eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, and binge-eating disorder, the mental health issues below can all co-occur with the abuse of prescription medications:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Prescription drug withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The long-term abuse of prescription medications can cause an individual to become dependent on them. When this occurs, an individual cannot stop his or her use without risking experiencing a number of dangerous effects, also known as withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Changes in appetite
  • Coma
  • Restlessness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Aching muscles
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Hallucinations

Effects of prescription drug overdose: When someone is abusing prescription drugs, the potential for drug overdose is always constant. Overdose happens when an individual consumes too much of a substance that his or her body is unable to metabolize it properly. Below are some of the many effects that can occur when someone overdoses on prescription drugs. Should any of the following occur, immediate medical attention should be sought:

  • Lips, fingers, or extremities turning blue
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness or lapsing into a coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Inability to communicate
  • Cramps in one’s muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heart beat
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of skin tone
  • Clammy skin

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I was abusing prescription pills and struggling with a bad eating disorder, but didn't know how to stop on my own. Thankfully, coming to Carolina House gave me help I needed to get better and get my life turned around.

– a former resident