Perhaps one of the scariest forms of drug addiction is also one of the newest: prescription medication. Affecting the largest array and amount of people in the country, many communities feel powerless to stop it. The first step to understanding any substance of this magnitude is to know the drug itself, how addiction happens, and what you can do to get help.

People can and do recover from prescription drug abuse every day. Lasting Recovery’s Intensive Outpatient and Partial Hospitalization treatment programs for prescription drug abuse offer you or your loved ones the latest in addiction medicine combined with psychology and holistic healing to have a new beginning.

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

The simplest definition of prescription drug abuse is when a person uses their prescribed medication in a manner it was not intended by the prescribing physician. Although abuse does not always begin with an urge to “get high,” the aftereffect of the drug is usually what drives the addiction.

The most common form of prescription medication abuse is through ingestion. This way of consuming the drug is what “normalizes” it for many people – just as if they were taking aspirin.

As addiction progresses, however, many people switch to smoking their prescription drug of choice. Eventually, as a person seeks a greater high (sometimes called “chasing the dragon”) they will seek out more desperate ways of consuming prescription medication, like cooking and injecting it.

The Most Popular Abused Prescription Drugs

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people generally abuse three classes of prescription medications:

1. Opioidstypically prescribed for severe or chronic pain, opiates are abused to produce an extreme sense of well-being and euphoria

  • Hydrocodone – Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet
  • Oxycodone – Percodan, Percocet
  • Codeine – many cough and cold medicines
  • Fentanyl – analgesic patches
  • Demerol – also known as Isonipecaine and Pethidine
  • Hydromorphone – Dilaudid
  • Morphine

2. Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressantstranquilizers prescribed to treat sleep disorders and anxiety, depressants numb an abuser to anxiety or stress


  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)

3. Stimulantsusually prescribed to treat conditions like ADD and narcolepsy, addictions to these can often lead to abuse of cocaine and other “uppers.”

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Ritalin

Common Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

If a friend or a family member is abusing prescription medication, there are a variety of tell-tale signs. In order to get helped for yourself or a loved one, it is important to recognize the common symptoms of addiction to prescription drugs:

Behavioral and Social Symptoms

Prior to demonstrating physical signs of addiction, people will often engage in a series of strange behaviors. This can include things like:

  • Taking more medication than prescribed
  • Exaggerating and/or faking an illness/injury to get a prescription
  • “Doctor shopping,” i.e. going to different doctors to find routinely prescribed drugs
  • Seeing multiple doctors to acquire many prescriptions
  • Hiding and/or lying about medication
  • Family issues and disinterest in family activities
  • Disregard for rules and authority
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Work/School Problems – increased absence from work/truancy, sudden rapidly-declining job performance/grades, worsening attitude, a higher rate of calling in sick
  • Social Problems – new friends, particularly ones who use drugs
  • Problems with the law
  • Withdrawal from old friends, clubs, or sports

Emotional Symptoms

There are also signs someone is addicted to prescription medication when it begins to affect their emotions. This can often lead to their inability to function in a normal social setting. Emotional symptoms can include:

  • Fluctuating moods
  • Change in personality
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Lapses in judgment/poor judgment
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Withdrawal/apathy

Physical Symptoms

Some of the later stages of addiction involve a person’s body becoming physically addicted to the drug. So much so, to the point where they become physically ill without it. At this point, an individual’s body is physically dependent on the drug, and recovery will involve medical supervision. Some signs of physical addiction can include:

  • Chronic fatigue/tiredness
  • Changing in sleeping patterns
  • Red/unfocused/glazed eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Inattention to personal hygiene
  • Shaking

Do you have a prescription drug problem?

Click here to take this self-quiz to determine if prescription drugs are a problem for you.

The Importance of Seeking Help For Prescription Drug Addiction

doctor administering prescription drugsIn San Diego, drug treatment programs are full of people who combine prescription medications (opiates, benzodiazepines, stimulants, and/or alcohol.)

Clients and family members are suffering from the frightening experience of realizing these pills may seem perfectly harmless the first few weeks or months and now they have become the reason for living. Don’t stop these medications on your own; work out a treatment plan with a physician.

Here is the truth:

  • People become ‘dope sick’ from the opiate withdrawal symptoms, aches, pains in muscles and bones, muscle spasms, nausea, diarrhea, and unable to sleep, so most stay on the opiates, feeling overwhelmingly helpless – fearful, angry, hurt, betrayed and confused. One minute they (the pills) are your “best friend” and the next, your “worst enemy”.
  • Withdrawal from benzodiazepines (tranquilizers such as Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Soma) makes people feel extremely anxious, muscle spasms, and risk the possibility of a seizure and death if withdrawing too quickly.

Prescription Drug Abuse Facts and Statistics

  • In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids. This is more than enough to give every adult in America their own bottle of pills.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 48 million people (over the age of 12) have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. That figure represents approximately 20% of the U.S. population.
  • In 2015, of the 20.5 million Americans (over 12 years old) with substance abuse issues, 2 million people had an addiction involving prescription pain relievers.
  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 55,403 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers.
  • The sales of prescription drugs have increased by 500% in the past 15 years.
  • 4 out of 5 heroin users started by misusing prescription drugs and of those,
  • 94% state they did so because they could no longer afford their prescription.
  • Therefore, on top of the danger of the prescription drugs themselves, users are at an exceptionally high risk of transferring to one of the largest killers of all: heroin.

You can learn more about the prescription drug epidemic and how big of an issue it has become both nationally and throughout California in this helpful resource describing the scope of this issue.

Lasting Recovery’s Co-Founder knows from experience:

During the 1970’s she was over-prescribed large quantities of opiate pain pills plus benzodiazepines (Valium) for close to 10 years. Then she came to that day when she decided the prescribed drugs were running her now very low functioning life, and she tried to stop the medications.

What she didn’t know then is the same thing that millions of other people today don’t know…..How to get off and stay off of the medications!

Within 6 hours of her last use of the valium, she began experiencing extreme anxiety, tried to manage it, and nearly had a seizure. Then she began to feel sick, and severe body aches as the opiate pain pills were not replaced on schedule. She called her physician who told her she needed to wean herself off, slowly, very slowly. He said the only other answer was to ‘continue on the drugs’ which were being prescribed as unlimited prescriptions. Dying, or being part of the walking dead from prescribed drug dependence, was not an option.

There were no addiction treatment programs available in the ’70s so under the initial guidance of the doctors who had prescribed the pills, she slowly reduced the medications. Additionally, she sought out a leading holistic physician, learned meditation, breathing techniques, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, and how to use her mind to create healthy affirmations and thoughts. Slowly she titrated off of these very addictive medications which took several weeks to do. The tools she learned helped her to calm the anxiety, reduce the physical pain and muscle spasms that continued for the next several months.

The combination of skills she incorporated daily gave her hope and a new life. She became a licensed psychotherapist and for the past 35 years, she has helped others to heal their physical and emotional pain, with themselves and their families.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Clinical Director of Lasting Recovery, Judy Saalinger discusses the growing problem of prescription drug abuse, spotting common symptoms of dependence in a loved one as well as the importance of seeking treatment and help for addiction:

For more information about prescription drug abuse and starting down the path to recovery, we have put together this collection of Drug and Alcohol Abuse Videos and Resources.

Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment At Lasting Recovery

Don’t Stop On Your Own!

Seek the help of an addiction treatment professional or a consult with Lasting Recovery’s experienced co-founder, who has been guiding clients and their families through the early recovery process since 1981.

Lasting Recovery’s Outpatient integrative treatment programs offer you or your loved ones the latest in addiction medicine combined with psychology and holistic healing to have a new beginning.

We provide both Intensive Outpatient Programs and Partial Hospitalization Programs.

Call us today and we can schedule a free assessment to help you decide on a treatment program that will provide you with the greatest chance of recovery. Let us join you on your path to wellness.

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