Prescription Drugs of Abuse

You may have experienced an illness or health condition that required the use of a prescription drug. Many people take these medications and have no problems stopping use once their doctor instructs them to do so or they run out. But why do some people abuse prescription medication? The answer lies in the dangers of how addictive these substances are. Several types of medications are considered some of the most addictive in healthcare today. Below, we examine some of these and their relationship to addiction.

To clarify, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines misuse of prescription medication as taking it in a way other than prescribed, taking someone else’s medication even if you try to justify it (such as to treat illness or pain), or using medication recreationally for its desired effects.

prescription for detox symptoms

What is an Addiction to Prescription Drugs?

Drug addiction is a complex disease that affects an individual’s mind, body, and spirit. It is described as a brain disease because drugs alter the structure of the brain and how it works. Without treatment, these brain changes can cause long-term damaging effects and cause chaos in a person’s life. 

Addiction is a chronic disease that often ends up being fatal if left untreated.Individuals struggling with prescription drug addiction feel like they cannot function normally daily without using. This consequently impacts the individual’s professional goals, personal relationships, and overall well-being. 

Physical Symptoms

Some of the most noticeable symptoms of prescription drug addiction are those that affect certain processes within your body, such as tolerance. For example, a tolerance to drugs develops after extended use. When tolerance increases over continued use, increased quantities of the drug are required to achieve the previous effects. Individuals abusing prescription drugs may begin to take such large doses to overcome their tolerance that they risk a potentially fatal overdose.

Changes in physical appearance can also be tell-tale signs of prescription drug addiction. These signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Bloodshot or glazed eyes
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Significant weight changes
  • Changes in hygiene
  • Dental issues
  • Skin changes
  • Trouble sleeping

Behavioral Symptoms

An addiction to prescription drugs can severely change a person’s behavior and habits. Some drugs can alter the brain’s ability to concentrate and think clearly.

Changes in behavior, include but are not limited to:

  • Increased aggression or irritability
  • Abnormal changes in attitude/personality
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sudden changes in friend groups
  • Involvement in criminal activity

prescription tranquilizers

Battling the Nationwide Epidemic: Covering the Types of Prescription Drugs


Opioids have a high potential for abuse. They are currently fueling the prescription drug overdose epidemic in the U.S. NIDA reports that opioid overdoses cause about 130 deaths in the United States per day. Heroin is the most widely used illicit opioid today, but many opioids are available for legitimate medical use.

More About Prescription Opiods

Commonly prescribed opioids are:

  • Morphine, known by the brands Arymo ER, Kadian, MS Contin, and Morphabond. This is most commonly prescribed to patients who have pain that is constant and cannot be relieved with other medication.
  • Fentanyl, sold under the names Abstral, Actiq, and Fentora. Its transdermal patch is known as Duragesic. This is most often used for pain in people who have a high tolerance to weaker opioid medication. It also treats pain that appears in spurts even when another medication is prescribed to treat it.
  • Codeine, sold as Tuzistra XR. Many cough medications contain codeine as an active ingredient, such as Robitussin AC. Codeine is also sold along with acetaminophen in products such as Tylenol with Codeine. It is available with other medications and under many names. Codeine can be used for mild to moderate pain, but it treats cough when used in combination with other medications.
  • Hydrocodone, which is sold alone under the brand names Hysingla and Zohydro ER. Combination forms of the medication are known by the commercial names Lortab, Norco, and Ceta Plus, though it is available under various name brands. Medication containing hydrocodone is used for pain, but it can also treat coughs.

Prescription opioids are meant to relieve pain in moderate to severe cases. They work by communicating with chemical messengers in the brain that signal pain and provide comfort by causing an increase in the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone that is associated with pleasure. This boost in pleasure could fuel misuse in people who feel that prescription opioids have given them a new lease on life.

In November 2018, U.S. News & World Report compiled a list of alternatives to opioids. These include:

  • Topical analgesics. These are creams or lotions applied to parts of the body that are in pain. They usually contain capsaicin, menthol, or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that relieve pain once applied to the skin.
  • Oral analgesics. These medications are taken by mouth and consist of NSAIDs. Common examples are ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen sodium (Aleve), and acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin). However, they are not recommended for people who have kidney issues.
  • Physical therapy and exercise. These are also known to improve outcomes in those who experience long-term pain.


These medications can be helpful for people who are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prescription stimulants are sometimes known as study drugs. They are commonly abused by high school and college students who are looking to stay up all night cramming for tests or writing papers. Studies have found that students who abuse prescription stimulants have lower grade point averages (GPAs) than those who don’t, suggesting that they don’t improve academic performance.


Well-known stimulants include:

  • Adderall. Per Healthline, Adderall’s main ingredients are amphetamine sulfate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and dextroamphetamine saccharate. Adderall improves concentration by releasing norepinephrine into the brain.
  • Concerta. This drug consists of methylphenidate. It is formulated as an extended-release version of the medication so children can take it only once daily.
  • Ritalin. Like Concerta, this drug consists of methylphenidate, but it must be taken two to three times per day.
  • Vyvanse. Used to treat ADHD and binge eating disorder, the main ingredient in Vyvanse is lisdexamfetamine. The body converts this into dextroamphetamine once you take the medication. This drug is normally taken once per day.

Alternatives to stimulants for ADHD are:

  • Wellbutrin. This antidepressant is known to be effective in those with ADHD.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants. This medication is used for patients who do not respond well to stimulants. These antidepressants are known to increase levels of norepinephrine in the brain. Well-known brands are Pamelor, Tofranil, and Elavil.
  • Strattera. Its primary ingredient is atomoxetine. This allows the brain to maintain norepinephrine levels to improve focus.


These are sedatives that relax the central nervous system. They are formulated from barbituric acid. Their use in the United States is far less common today, but you may have heard of them in a historical context. Benzodiazepines largely replaced barbiturates, primarily due to barbiturates’ high potential for abuse.

Examples of barbiturates are:

  • Butalbital, which is used for headaches and migraines.
  • Phenobarbital, a medication that was once used for seizures in children.
  • Amobarbital, known in popular culture as “truth serum.” This makes it hard for a person to focus, making it more difficult to conjure a lie.
  • Secobarbital. Once used to help people with sleep issues, it is now most commonly used in physician-assisted suicides where the practice is legal.
  • Pentobarbital, which is a sedative approved for use in animals. States where lethal injection is legal often use this as part of their cocktail.

Barbiturates are known to have a high misuse potential because it’s easy to become tolerant of their effects. Once you require higher doses of the medication, it becomes more difficult to understand what safe dosage is. People can become psychologically dependent on barbiturates very quickly. There are no known treatments that can help if you overdose on barbiturates.

More About Prescription Barbiturates More About Prescription Sedatives & Tranquilizers


These drugs are often seen as a modern alternative to barbiturates, but they pose their own set of problems. Benzodiazepines are controlled substances that must be prescribed by a physician. They are known in popular culture as benzos or “downers” because they depress the central nervous systems.

Benzodiazepines are controlled substances that must be prescribed by a physician. They are known in popular culture as downers or benzos because they depress the central nervous system.

They are commonly prescribed to people who suffer from insomnia, seizures, or panic disorders, and they can assist with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Common benzodiazepines are:

  • Clonazepam (Klonopin), which is usually prescribed for seizures and panic attacks.
  • Diazepam (Valium). This medication is customarily prescribed for panic attacks, anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome, seizures, muscle spasms, and to assist with alcohol withdrawal.
  • Alprazolam (Xanax), which is used for depression, agoraphobia, panic disorder, and anxiety.
  • Lorazepam (Ativan). This drug treats anxiety but is also used for those experiencing symptoms of withdrawal form alcohol and cancer patients who need assistance coping with nausea and vomiting.

Experts explain that benzodiazepines are dangerous because they quickly cause dependency. This does not cause a person to misuse these medications, but it can cause uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal. You cannot stop using benzodiazepines suddenly because of this. Doing so is dangerous.

Alternatives to benzodiazepines might include:

  • Antidepressants. Zoloft is an antidepressant that can work in those who have panic or anxiety disorders. It is especially beneficial to those who deal with concurrent depression and anxiety, per Harvard Medical School.
  • Holistic treatments. These can include art therapy, yoga, and cognitive behavioral therapy. There are many modern-day methods used in holistic care that can help alleviate stress and promote positive well-being. Addiction must be treated from the inside out, thus factoring in mental and emotional health.

Benzodiazepines were implicated in 64,000 deaths in the United States in 2016. Finding alternatives may save the lives of those who are prone to dependency or addiction.

More About Prescription Benzodiazepines More About Prescription Nonbenzodiazepines

Muscle Relaxants

Muscle relaxants are usually prescribed for those who deal with spasms. These drugs can assist during recovery so you can get through the day and use your muscles correctly during rehabilitation exercises. They also prevent muscles from seizing up during certain moments.

Examples of these medications are:

  • Cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), which is used to treat injuries or physical conditions that involve the muscle and skeletons. It must be used along with physical therapy and exercise to be successful.
  • Carisoprodol (Vanadom, Soma, or Rela), which is prescribed to control muscle spasms or relieve pain relating to musculoskeletal injuries or conditions. This medication is used along with physical therapy.
  • Metaxalone (Skelaxin), which is a muscle relaxant that should be used along with physical therapy. It works by blocking certain nerve impulses to control muscles that become tense.

These medications are known to make you feel sleepy, and this relaxation is appealing to many who abuse the drugs. A 2014 paper published by Pharmacy and Therapeutics said that about 53,000 patients visited the emergency room in 2011 because they misused muscle relaxants. 

An estimated 18 percent of these cases involved the use of alcohol while on these medications. About 4.8 percent of suicide attempts were found to have involved muscle relaxants. Most alternatives to muscle relaxants are natural.

If you’re struggling with muscle pain, you can ask your doctor if these tips may help instead:

  • Rest is crucial to helping your muscles recover. It is important to avoid overworking your injured muscle.
  • Sunlight and vitamin D could prevent muscle spasms. A vitamin D deficiency is known to cause pain or spasms in the muscles.
  • Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin. You can add this to a recipe, or use it as a topical remedy on muscles that require extra attention.


Antidepressants are traditionally used for those who are diagnosed with clinical depression. They are best used along with therapy. They are not common drugs of abuse.

Antidepressants are also commonly prescribed to manage the following conditions:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Bulimia
  • Social phobia or agoraphobia

There are different kinds of antidepressants.

  • Tricyclic antidepressants: These are usually prescribed to those who do not respond to other types of antidepressants, most often due to side effects.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): This includes medication such as Cymbalta. SNRIs ensure that serotonin and norepinephrine stay in the brain at elevated levels to improve mood.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): This category of antidepressants limits the reuptake of serotonin, but they are known to cause rapid changes in mood.
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These tend to be a last-resort solution to problems in people with depression. MAOIs are known for their many side effects, and they require that users stay on a stringent diet. They are mostly prescribed when other medications don’t work.


A 2014 report from Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation found that people with substance use disorders are more likely to abuse antidepressants. The report found that people misuse antidepressants by snorting or injecting them. That being said, this practice is not common.

Since antidepressants do not lead to the euphoria or sedation associated with most forms of drug abuse, they are not generally primary drugs of abuse. A mild level of physical dependence does form with prolonged antidepressant use, and people may experience antidepressant discontinuation syndrome when they stop use. Doctors often advise patients to gradually reduce their dosage when they want to stop taking the medication.

The Mayo Clinic states that some people opt for natural alternatives to antidepressants. It’s crucial to consult with your doctor before trying these alternatives.

These possible alternatives may include: 

  • 5-HTTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan is said to improve the mood of people who take it. More data is needed, but you shouldn’t take this supplement if you are already taking a prescription antidepressant.
  • St. John’s wort: This herbal remedy has not been approved to treat depression, but it is easy to find. Do not take it while on antidepressants, birth control medications, and medications that treat HIV, as St. John’s wort may interact with these.
  • DHEA: Your body already makes the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone. More studies need to be conducted to show how effective it is when taken as a supplement. It has shown to improve mood in people with depression.

More About Antidepressants
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Avoid Prescription Medication Abuse

Abuse of prescription medications carries significant risks to virtually every area of life. Avoid all prescription misuse and abuse by only taking medications as prescribed. Never take someone else’s prescription medication, and never mix your medication with other substances, including alcohol.

If you find yourself struggling with prescription drug use, we highly encourage you to seek help. If addiction is left alone, it will only worsen over time. Seeking help allows you to take the right steps towards recovery and a much healthier, happier life.

Prescription Drugs Withdrawal and Detox

Withdrawal symptoms are a result of your body’s way of learning to function without a substance it’s grown dependent on. Prescription drugs become absorbed and remain active in the body for differing amounts of time. Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person depending on multiple factors.

The severity and duration of withdrawal is affected by the degree of dependency on the substance and as well as:

  • Length of time abusing prescription drugs
  • Type of substance abused
  • Method of abuse (such as snorting, smoking, injecting, or swallowing)
  • Amount taken each time
  • Family history and genetic makeup
  • Co-occurring disorders, such as mental illnesses

Prescription Drugs Withdrawal Symptoms

The precise symptoms of prescription drug withdrawal, and the length of that withdrawal, vary based on the drug and severity of addiction. Withdrawal symptoms range from physical changes such as fatigue and headaches, to mental symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Examples of withdrawal symptoms are listed below:

  • Depression
  • Irritability and aggression
  • A hard time sleeping
  • Unusual tiredness (fatigue)
  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches or cramping
  • Vomiting

Detox for Prescription Drug Addiction 

Detoxification, also known as detox, is the process your body undergoes to rid itself of harmful toxins accumulated through substance use. Detox from addiction can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on your needs. During the detox process, withdrawal symptoms will arise. That is why it’s crucial to undergo detox in a medically supervised setting. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction  

A dual diagnosis is given when an individual suffers from both addiction, as well as a mental health disorder. This is also referred to as co-occurring disorders. For example, an individual may have an opioid addiction while simultaneously having major depressive disorder. Addiction generally has mental and emotional underlying roots that require dual diagnosis treatment. Treatment will include a combination of evidence-based methods and therapies.

Inpatient Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction 

Inpatient treatment, also referred to as residential treatment, offers the most intensive level of care for members. Inpatient treatment requires the patient to live at our recovery center during treatment. There are many advantages to a residential program. For one, all of our members receive full access to all amenities, as well as a structured daily routine. Residential treatment also offers around-the-clock medical supervision and care. This form of treatment generally lasts anywhere from 28 to 90 days.

Outpatient Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Outpatient treatment for prescription drug addiction is highly beneficial for those with obligations such as a child at home or going to work. We’ll create a personalized treatment plan and schedule that fits your needs so you can attend treatment while still taking care of your responsibilities. 

There are three main types of outpatient programs: partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and standard outpatient programs. The three programs vary based on the commitment required by the recovering individual. Following scheduled treatment sessions at our center, the individual will be able to return home. 

Seek Help With Footprints Recovery and Break Free From Addiction Today

At Footprints Recovery, we’re here to guide you throughout the entire addiction recovery process. We believe in the personalization of each treatment plan and ongoing support throughout the recovery journey. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re waiting for your call.

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