Facts About Prescription Drug Addiction

Medically Reviewed by
Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC
April 16, 2024

Since 1999, more than 1 million people have died from drug overdose, according to the CDC. Prescription drugs continue to form a significant percentage of those overdose deaths. As many as 6% of Americans abuse prescription drugs each year, and around 12% of prescription drug users are addicted to those drugs. Painkillers see around 9.7 million annual abusers, while stimulant abuse is at around 4.9 million, or 1.73% of Americans.  18.4% of Americans over the age of 12 have deliberately misused prescription drugs at least once. 

Commonly “Misused” Prescription Drugs

Some prescription drugs are misused more commonly than others, typically due to their effects. 


Opioids are among the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Opioids, which may include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (Oxycontin), codeine, and fentanyl are often prescribed as pain relievers. However, they may also induce a pleasurable feeling or euphoria: a feeling of heightened well-being. This feeling can prove highly addictive. While taking opioids once or twice usually does not create the feeling of addiction, some people note that they feel an increased drive to use the medication after even the first dose. Many people start to take opioids more often to seek out that euphoric feeling. 

Within a few weeks of use, many people will experience a physical dependence on opioids. They may experience cravings, sweats, and changes in mood or personality when they attempt to stop using the medication. Some people who have received a prescription for opioids from their care providers will continue to use them after pain has subsided due to these feelings of physical dependence. 

The Dangers of Opioid Misuse

Opioid use can lead to a number of side effects, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, constipation, and respiratory depression. Abusing opioids can lead to addiction, drowsiness and disorientation, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, and, in some cases, death. 


Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are anti-anxiety medications that are often used to treat seizures. Some of the most common types of benzodiazepines are alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium). They are designed to induce a sense of calm within the brain by enhancing the effectiveness of neurotransmitters that calm the stress neurons in the brain. Doctors may also prescribe benzos to help treat seizures.

Benzodiazepine Misuse and Side Effects

When used according to their prescriptions, benzos are usually very safe. Side effects generally include drowsiness and depressed feelings, though some people may experience confusion when taking them. However, benzodiazepine abuse can lead to substantial side effects, including slurred speech, impaired coordination, drowsiness, or lethargy. Some people may also suffer from disorientation. Overdose can be fatal. 


Prescription stimulants are most commonly prescribed to treat ADHD. However, they can also be used to treat a wide range of other conditions, including multiple sclerosis. Stimulants increase the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, increasing focus and concentration. People may misuse them to improve self-esteem, reduce appetite, or to enjoy the enhanced physical performance that goes along with them. Prescription stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta). 

Stimulant Side Effects and the Dangers of Misuse

Stimulant use can lead to a number of potential side effects, including jitteriness, anxiety, headaches, weight loss, and insomnia. Using not as directed can lead to aggressive behavior, an increase in anxiety, risky or impulsive behaviors, restlessness, and hyperactivity. Some people may suffer from excess energy or racing thoughts. Stimulant use can also lead to elevated blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. 

Signs of a Prescription Drug Addiction

A prescription drug addiction may lead to a number of possible symptoms, including:

  • Using the substance more than intended or using it more than intended, including doctor shopping or seeking the medication outside of the recommended prescription
  • Trying to stop using the substance, but being unable to
  • Suffering from cravings for the substance
  • Increased tolerance, or need to use more of the substance in order to get the same effect
  • Spending more time using the substance, or needing to spend more time recovering from using the substance
  • Using the substance even when it interferes with home, school, work, or relationships
  • Giving up other activities, including social activities or hobbies, in order to spend more time using a substance

Prescription drug addiction can have a substantial impact on physical and mental health. It often leads to a decline in overall physical health, which may depend on the specific type of drug used, and can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, and depression. Many people start using a prescription medication as prescribed by the doctor, but go on to suffer from substance use disorder. Seeking treatment as soon as possible can help those individuals improve physical and mental health and overcome the symptoms of substance use disorder. 

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Treatment for prescription drug addiction often depends on the severity of the addiction and the type of drug being used. Both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment are available. Successful treatment will typically include:

  • Detoxing. During the detox process, the patient will stop taking the medication and remove it from their systems. Sometimes, this will be done in a step-down or controlled manner, rather than removing the medication all at once. 
  • Therapy. During the therapy process, patients will identify triggers for the addiction and work through coping mechanisms that can help prevent them from using those drugs in the future. 
  • Support from someone with lived experience. These are individuals who are in recovery and have been down this road, which allows them provide you with essential support.

In some cases, detox centers or treatment facilities may use medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms. 

Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction Near You

Treatment for prescription drug addiction is often a multifaceted process. SAMHSA’s National Hotline can help patients suffering from prescription drug addiction find the best option for treatment. It can also provide guidance for family members of people with prescription drug addiction. 

If you’re looking for a treatment option in Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, or Washington, Eleanor Health is here to help.  Contact us to learn more about our personalized treatment options and how we can help guide you through prescription drug addiction.

Get Started Today

Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC

Marisa Savic, PMHNP-BC is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner who received her nursing and master’s degrees at the University of Pennsylvania. Marisa has worked as a provider, clinical manager, director of clinical quality, and program manager of addiction treatment at numerous companies specializing in telepsychiatry as well as working in person at inpatient, outpatient, detoxification and crisis center facilities. She is currently the National Lead Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Eleanor Health and her clinical interests include therapeutic communication, evidence-based treatment and nonjudgmental care.

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