Signs and Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse: What to Know of This Worrying Trend

Prescription drugs are medications prescribed by a medical doctor, yet we are seeing an exponential increase in people showing the signs and effects of prescription drug abuse.

Prescriptions are provided with strict instructions that should be followed for patient safety. Not everyone follows the instructions given, however.

Common prescribed drugs fall into categories of opioid, stimulants and sedatives.

  • Opioids include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, Percocet, Demerol, methadone and fentanyl.
  • Prescribed stimulants include Adderall and Ritalin.
  • Prescribed sedating medicines include Xanax, Ativan, valium, and sleeping pills.

These are only a few examples of prescribed medicines. Abuse of prescriptions drugs can mean you take more than the recommended dose, taking someone else’s drugs, changing how the drug is supposed to be taken (oral vs. snorting or injecting), and using the medicine to get high.

Abusing prescription medications is a crisis in America. The National Institute on Drug Abuse report 18 million people over the age of 12 have abused prescription drugs in the past year. The most abused prescription drugs include opiates, stimulants, and sedatives.Many of these same prescription drug abusers are abusing more than one drug at a time. And the reasons for the abuse can range from ease of access to tolerance to avoiding withdrawal symptoms.

The National Safety Council states the top reason for unintentional deaths is drug poisoning and overdoses. There are well over 60,000 drug related deaths each year and most of these are due to abusing prescription drugs. Even more frightening is that there are millions of people abusing prescription drugs who don’t even have a medical need.

How Drug Abuse Happens

It would be rare to find someone who intentionally started abusing prescription drugs. Many times, the use of drugs begins innocently. A doctor prescribes a medicine to treat a problem. Others may begin their relationship with prescription drugs by taking someone else’s medicine or being introduced to it by a family member or friend.

They take the prescription and quickly realizes most prescription drugs affect their tolerance.

Tolerance is the number of drugs you need to take in order to feel the effects of the medication. Within a week or two, a person’s tolerance to a prescription drug increases. Doctors do not often increase a prescription’s dose, leaving the patients with a choice: continue taking the lower dose or increasing the amount they take on their own.

Most choose the latter to continue to feel good. What they don’t realize currently is that they are becoming addicted to the prescription drugs.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a brain disorder. Prescription drugs trigger the neurotransmitters in the brain to release “feel-good” chemicals. The more drugs you take, the more chemicals are released, much more than what the brain can do without the drugs. The brain then begins to crave more and more of the drugs that caused it to feel so good, so high.

It is extremely hard to battle your own brain. That is why so many people continue to use, despite negative consequences. This can lead to a vicious cycle for the addict, evading responsibility to chase a high.

The effects of prescription drug abuse can vary depending on the prescription drug of choice.

Effects of Prescription Opioid Abuse

Everyone can have a different reaction to a prescribed medicine. Many factors such as weight, tolerance, and drug mixture come into play. However, there are some common effects among opioid users.

Reports of feeling drowsy, nauseas, being in a mental fog and slowed breathing are a few of the effects. Constipation, feeling euphoric, chest pain and confusion are others. Some of these are like sedative abuse.

Effects of Prescription Sedative Abuse

With prescription sedatives, a person can feel drowsy and sleepy, confused, suppressed breathing, clumsiness due to slowed movements, impaired judgment, worsening depression, and inappropriate behaviors.

Effects of Prescription Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants can cause a person to lose interest in eating. Their heart rate is consistently beating at a higher rate than normal, which elevates blood sugar and body temperature. Stimulants also:

  • Interfere with sleep
  • Causes irritability when they start to wear off
  • Can lead to panic and hallucinations

Over time the addict is no longer getting high from the prescription drug, no matter what drug is being abused. Instead, they are using the drug simply to avoid the terrible withdrawal symptoms that appear when the drug begins leaving your system.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Prescription drugs like opioids derive from the same poppy plant that heroin is made. Withdrawing from such drugs can be brutal.

Stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, excessive sweating and aggression are a few examples of withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms lead to others like dehydration and flu like symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are one way you can know someone is struggling with prescription drug abuse. It is not the only way, however.

There are common signs you may notice in someone abusing drugs.

Signs and Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs of prescription drug abuse are similar. If someone continues using a drug even though they no longer need it, this is a sign of abuse. Other signs include:

  • Finding ways or excuses to get more medications
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Using someone else’s prescription pills

Someone may also have a change in their behaviors or moods. Many people become more irritable and more aggressive. Isolating from friends and family members, hanging out with a new group of friends that appear to be drug users, poor decision and financial problems are additional signs.

Some drug abusers may even resort to illegal behaviors such as stealing to help them continue purchasing their drug of choice.

If you see any of these signs in someone, they need help.

Getting Help

Addiction to any drug, especially prescription drugs, are treatable. Understanding the signs and effects of prescription drug abuse, and that treatment is a process is key to success.

The first step, finding an addiction treatment center that offers services at every level, from detox to aftercare. This gives a person abusing prescription drugs the best chances for a successful recovery. Help someone start this journey today.


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