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Prescription Drug Abuse: What It Is, How It Happens, How To Prevent And Quit

Abuse and Misuse of Prescription Drugs

Prescription medications help millions of people each day in various ways. From relieving pain to minimizing side effects to recovering from illness or surgery, prescriptions can be quite beneficial, but prescription drug abuse is a big problem.

While most people take their prescriptions as directed, some misuse or abuse them. In fact, According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, in 2017, over 18 million people admitted that they misused prescribed medications within the last 12 months. Not using them as directed can certainly cause you to become dependent or addicted to them

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What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse occurs when you use prescription medication in ways your doctor did not prescribe. It also occurs when using pills form other people’s prescriptions or from prescription pills not prescribed to you.

For example, someone may enjoy the way pain pills make them feel, so they steal some of their relative’s pain medication. Another person may lie to their doctor about increased anxiety symptoms so they can get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication that they will abuse. The motivation to abuse comes from way the drugs can make you feel.

Prescription drug abuse has been on the rise, including opioids (pain medication), anti-anxiety pills, stimulants, and sedatives. Opioid medications include hydrocodone, OxyContin, and Percocet. Types of anti-anxiety medications and sedatives include Xanax, Valium, and Ambien. Stimulants include Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine.

This kind of drug abuse can turn into an addiction quite easily. Once you become addicted to the drug, it can be quite challenging to stop using it because of withdrawal symptoms. However, when you can identify the problem early, treatment can help you get free from the dependency without you having to experience years of addiction or harsh consequences.

What Are The Signs Of Prescription Abuse?

If you’re not sure if you’re abusing your medications, here are some telltale signs:

  • Increased Usage – When you take drugs, you grow tolerant to the effects. This causes you to want to increase the dosage to get the same effects or take them more often. If you’re using your medication more at higher dosages, you could become addicted
  • Continued use of the drug – If you’ve become dependent on the drug, you may continue to use or abuse it even when you experience negative consequences. This leads some to “Doctor Shop”, seeking additional doctors to prescribe them their medication because they’ve run out too soon.
  • You’re Stealing Or Buying Drugs – If you’re stealing medication from family or friends, or buying them illegally, you’re abusing the drug and could be dependent on it.
  • You Experience Withdrawal Symptoms – You may begin to experience various withdrawal symptoms if you go a certain amount of time without taking the medication.

Other symptoms of drug abuse include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling euphoric
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Seeking early refills

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How Does Prescription Drug Abuse Happen?

Most people that become addicted to prescription medications aren’t abusing the drugs intentionally. Addiction is a process that can happen over the course of time. You may be taking your prescription as directed, however, over time your body becomes dependent on that medication. If you miss a dose or try to come off it, you experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Some people may have needed to take more of the medication to get relief. Others take the medication recreationally because they like the way it makes them feel. Either way, it’s not easy to know when you go from recreational use to dependence or addiction. You may try to cut back and experience withdrawal symptoms, which is a sign that you’re addicted to the drug.

How To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

The best way to prevent prescription drug abuse is to educate yourself about the particular drug you’re using and take it exactly as prescribed. Ask your doctor about the potential for addiction. Let them know your concerns about becoming dependent on it.

Also, if you feel you’re headed in the direction of addiction, have a heart-to-heart with your doctor. If you have a history of addiction, it’s helpful to let your doctor know. They may be able to prescribe you a less addictive drug, lower your dosage, refer you to an addiction specialist, or provide you with other options that will prevent you from becoming addicted.

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How To Quit Using Prescription Medications

Recognizing that you’ve become addicted to your medication is the first step toward getting free from prescription drug abuse. The next step is to consult with an addiction specialist to discuss your plan for getting off the drug.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment: Everything You Need to Know

Some drugs you shouldn’t stop using cold turkey because there could be serious, or even deadly withdrawal symptoms. For example, opioids and benzodiazepines will require a gradual taper to help minimize symptoms and provide a safe detox.

Other drugs aren’t meant for long-term use, as they can damage your body. This is especially true if you’re taking more of the medication than prescribed.

Quitting prescription medications is a process. There are various treatment phases and resources to assist you in overcoming prescription drug addiction, such as:


When you regularly take prescription meds, your body becomes used to them. When you want to stop using them, your body will go into detox. This means that your body works at getting back to homeostasis without that particular drug in its system.

Detoxing typically causes mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. The best way to get through the detox stage is to have supervision by addiction specialists. You can get this at a detox facility or undergo a medical detox at an inpatient treatment center. Some out­patient centers do offer detox care as well.

The detox phase usually lasts about one week. From there, you’re encouraged to continue treatment at a residential or outpatient facility.

Residential or Outpatient Treatment

It’s helpful to continue treatment at a residential or outpatient treatment center. At SOBA you’ll receive individual counseling, addiction recovery education, group counseling and we’ll encourage you to attend meetings outside of treatment such as Narcotics Anonymous.

The time you spend in treatment is a solid investment, as you become strong in your recovery. You can learn how to navigate life without allowing addiction to control you. You’ll also have the opportunity to work on any other emotional or mental issues you may be struggling with.

Support Groups

Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery offer support to stay free from prescription drug abuse. There you can have accountability, learn more about recovery, and connect with peers that may understand what you’ve been going through. 

Help For Prescription Drug Abuse

Becoming addicted to a prescription drug is nothing to be ashamed of. Regardless of how you’ve become addicted, know that effective treatment is available. The time you put into recovery now will pay off with a lifetime of freedom from the grip of addictive medications.

Give us a call today, we’ll help you get free from addiction long-term. Our Admissions coordinators are available 24/7 to discuss any questions or concerns you have.

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