Prescription Drug Addiction: Signs and Symptoms


Some strong drugs that are usually only available with a prescription can pose a risk of addiction if misused. Prescription drug abuse involves using a drug in a way that was not intended by the person who prescribed it or using it without a prescription. Abuse becomes abuse when a person suffers the consequences of drug use.

This article discusses both the common and rare signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction and when to see a doctor.

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Types of prescription drug abuse

The most common types of prescription drugs that are misused include:

The way the medicine is taken can have an impact on the risk of addiction. Specifically, this includes:

  • Take a high dose of the drug
  • Take it for long periods
  • Use sustained-release formulas

In addition, some people are at greater risk of developing substance dependence.

Risk factors for addiction

People who have experienced the following may be at increased risk for addiction:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Drug use at an early age
  • Trauma or abuse
  • Living with mental illness
  • Have a more pronounced response to medications (increased euphoric feeling)
  • Chronic or severe pain

Common signs and symptoms

Addiction to prescription drugs can manifest itself in several ways depending on the type of drug used. In general, however, if you are concerned that you may be suffering from an addiction, certain signs may include:

  • Need to take more to feel the same effect over time (increased tolerance)
  • Using medicines to avoid withdrawal symptoms (which may include nausea, depression, insomnia, sweating, tremors, and anxiety)
  • Not being able to stop using despite wanting to stop
  • Prioritize medication use over other activities and obligations
  • Do not do the activities you liked
  • Knowingly using medication despite problems with its use

Noticing similar signs and symptoms may be an indicator of prescription drug abuse and addiction in others. Some additional signs (behavioral, physical and social) to watch out for may include:

  • If prescribed, run out of medication sooner than expected
  • Dilated or narrowed pupils
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Challenge with focus
  • Speech disorders
  • Changes in appetite and sleep
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Neglect relationships
  • Poor performance at school or at work

Rare signs and symptoms

High doses and misuse of the most commonly misused prescription drugs can lead to:


There are a few factors that make prescription drug abuse more complex and potentially fatal, including:

  • Use of other medications and drugs: The use of other street drugs or even over the counter medications can interact with the use of prescription drugs, sometimes causing increased blood pressure, slow breathing, or irregular heart rhythms.
  • Age: In general, older people are prescribed medication for longer periods of time. Coupled with changes in the way their bodies metabolize drugs, this could lead to more serious complications with prescription drug abuse.
  • Pre-existing health conditions: Breathing problems that affect breathing can be particularly affected by the abuse of prescription drugs such as opioids. People with wasting syndrome and other conditions that affect their strength and energy may be particularly affected by opioid abuse.

When to consult a doctor

If you or someone you know is concerned about prescription drug addiction, seeking help from a health care provider can help.

Stopping the use of certain prescription drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms. In the case of depressant drugs in particular, withdrawal symptoms can even be life threatening.

A provider or healthcare team knowledgeable about substance abuse treatment can help a person reduce prescription drug use, manage withdrawal symptoms, and provide treatment or behavior therapy.

Urgent medical care

If a person who consumes overdoses on prescription drugs, it is considered an emergency. Overdoses of prescription drugs can be fatal.

Signs and symptoms of overdose

If a person has any of the following signs or symptoms of an overdose, they need urgent medical attention:

  • For an opioid overdose: Small pupils, shallow breathing, unconsciousness, choking sounds, cold or clammy skin, or discoloration of the lips or nails
  • In case of overdose of CNS depressant drugs: Slow or shallow breathing, hypoxia or coma
  • In case of overdose of stimulants: Rapid breathing, confusion, high fever, tremors, restlessness, rapid breathing, seizures or heart problems (which may lead to a heart attack)

If you or someone you know begins to experience any of these signs of drug overdose, seek immediate medical attention by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room. Health care providers may administer medicines that can reverse the overdose for a short time (such as naloxone) and provide other life-saving treatments.


Some strong prescription drugs are used to treat legitimate health problems. However, their use may put some people at risk for addiction, depending on how they are used. The abuse of prescription drugs can impact daily life and have social, physical and behavioral consequences.

Some of these signs and symptoms, especially physical ones, may vary depending on the prescription drug. Knowing the signs can help determine if you or someone who knows it may be addicted to you. Health care providers can be a source of support for those seeking drug treatment. Overdose of medication requires urgent medical attention.

A word from Verywell

With the increase in potentially addictive prescription drugs, it is essential to take medications only as directed by a health care provider. Talk to your provider about any addiction concerns or history to lower your risk, or find alternative treatment methods. If you are worried about a loved one who may be suffering from a prescription drug addiction, knowing the signs can help you approach them with your worry and support them if they want to seek drug treatment. .


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