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Medically Reviewed

Treatment For Prescription Drug Addiction

- 9 sections

Medically Verified: January 25, 2024

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

Many people seek help for prescription drug addiction because a lot of these medications have a high potential for abuse and addiction. In fact, a study conducted in 2017 reported that an estimated 18 million people abused prescription drugs that year.[1] Unfortunately, this number would rise substantially if the individuals, who did not report their drug abuse, were accounted for. Therefore, prescription drug addiction is extremely prevalent in today’s society. Additionally, attempting to cope with an addiction to prescription drugs is mentally, physically, and socially exhausting.

Many prescription drugs are easily accessed due to the overprescribing of medications and inadequate regulations. However, prescription drug addiction does not always begin with a prescription. These medications are sometimes bought and sold illicitly. Unfortunately, people who abuse these drugs typically experience mental, physical, social, and even legal repercussions. While many people addicted to substances attempt to hide the signs of their drug use, the altered behavior and the side-effects of addiction are easily recognizable.

Addiction to alcohol typically results in varying physical, psychological, and social effects. For example, individuals suffering from alcoholism might experience long-term effects such as weight gain and liver problems, as well as alcohol-related legal issues or the inability to hold a job. Therefore, if you or a loved one are currently suffering from alcoholism or alcohol abuse, it is recommended that you seek help for alcohol addiction immediately.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Doctors use prescription medications to treat many different ailments, from reoccurring migraines to mental disorders like anxiety or depression. However, in regard to prescription drug abuse, there are three types of medications that are misused more frequently than others. These medications are beneficial and effective when used according to a doctor’s advice. However, stimulants, central nervous system depressants, and opioids, in particular, have an extremely high potential for abuse and are the most common prescription drugs people seek help for.


Stimulants are substances that boost energy, as well as increase focus, alertness, and attention. However, stimulants come with an array of negative side effects, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. When used medicinally, stimulants are typically prescribed to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) and sometimes depression. While stimulants are proven beneficial when used medicinally, they still have a high potential for abuse.

  • Commonly abused prescription stimulants include:[2]
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)

Prescription stimulants cause a rush of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for feelings of reward, making this substance extremely addictive. On the other hand, norepinephrine affects blood vessels, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing. When these substances are abused, an individual might feel the need to continue using it in order to experience the rush of dopamine they are accustomed to. Unfortunately, they this is when people begin noticing negative side-effects as a result of the norepinephrine abuse.

Short term side effects of prescription stimulant abuse include:[2]

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional and mood instability
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Opened-up breathing passages

Central Nervous System Depressants

Central nervous system depressants (CNS depressants) work to decrease brain activity and provide a sedative effect. While stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure, CNS depressants have the opposite impact on the body. When used medicinally, central nervous system depressants are effective in treating anxiety and sleep disorders. There are three types of CNS depressants, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics, and barbiturates.

Commonly abused benzodiazepines:[3]

  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Estazolam (ProSom)

Frequently abused non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics:[3]

  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Eszopiclone (Lunesta)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)
  • Commonly abused barbiturates:[3]
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)
  • Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal)

Most central nervous system depressants work by increasing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a chemical that decreases brain activity. Individuals who abuse these medications become addicted to the calming and drowsy effect that these substances produce. However, there are many negative side-effects associated with the abuse of central nervous system depressants.

Short term side-effects of CNS depressant abuse include:[3]

Slurred speech

Poor concentration and confusion

Lightheadedness or headache


Dry mouth

Problems with movement and memory

Lowered blood pressure and slowed breathing


Opioids, the largest group of abused prescription drugs, are mostly used in the treatment of moderate to severe pain. However, this type of prescription medication has a high potential for abuse and addiction, claiming the lives of many Americans across the nation on a daily basis. In fact, our country is amid an epidemic, with opioid-related deaths tripling from 1999 to 2014.[4] Opioids are commonly abused due to the intense “high” that most users report experiencing.

Commonly abuse prescription opioids:[5]

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Morphine (Kadian, Avinza)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

Generally speaking, prescription opioids are safe and effective when used for the treatment of pain, as directed by a doctor. When abused, however, this drug has a high potential for abuse due to its effects on the brain. For example, opioids bind to opioid receptors, causing a rush of pleasure and releasing large amounts of dopamine. This rush alone motivates individuals to continue abusing their opioid medication. Although users receive pleasure from using opioids, they also experience negative side-effects down the line.

Short-term side effects associated with prescription opioid abuse include:[5]

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Extreme euphoria
  • Slowed breathing

Prescription Drug Addiction: Tolerance and Withdrawal

People who are addicted to prescription drugs will compulsively seek out and overuse the drug despite experiencing harmful consequences. To explain further, addiction to any substance becomes a severe physical dependence coupled with brain complications such as uncontrollable drug cravings. As a result, the individual’s personal relationships, daily responsibilities, and social interactions are negatively impacted. Prescription drug addiction is a mental condition that requires medical treatment and rehabilitation.

The most concerning aspects of prescription drug addiction include the development of tolerance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When someone develops a tolerance to a substance, this means the individual will have to continually increase their dosage in order to produce the desired effect. This happens because, over time, a person’s brain and body will become accustomed to the extra levels of a particular chemical that the drug provides. As a result, individuals increasing the dosage of a medication they are abusing may also experience increased health issues.

Prescription Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal is defined as the mental and physical effects that result from the sudden removal of a certain substance from an individual’s body. While each substance of abuse causes differing symptoms, overall, withdrawal is the act of the body attempting to acclimate in the absence of a substance. Those abusing prescription medications such as opioids, central nervous system depressants, or stimulants will eventually experience withdrawal symptoms to some degree.

Opioid withdrawal usually requires medical attention in order to safely stabilize an afflicted individual. While most cases of opioid withdrawal are not life-threatening, they are extremely uncomfortable. For example, symptoms of opioid withdrawal include anxiety, muscle aches, sweating, diarrhea, cramping, vomiting, and insomnia.

Central nervous system depressants also lead to an array of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Individuals attempting to come off of these medications may experience agitation, insomnia, nausea, and muscle aches. As a result, it is beneficial for individuals to seek out a professional medical detox program to help with prescription drug addiction.

In the case of stimulants, individuals experience symptoms of withdrawal such as lethargy, insomnia, depression, and low energy. One of the most concerning symptoms of stimulant withdrawal is the prevalence of suicidal ideation due to depression. Consequently, individuals affected by stimulant addiction should not attempt to quit without the help of a drug detox center.

Detox for Prescription Drug Addiction

Due to the development of dependence, individuals addicted to prescription drugs should attend a professional detox program. These programs are designed to aid patients throughout the process of detoxing their bodies of whichever substance they abused. During the initial phases of prescription drug detox, individuals begin experiencing physical and psychological side-effects. While the severity of these symptoms depends on how frequent an individual’s drug use was, any reputable detoxification program will provide medical care in order to alleviate negative symptoms.

Oftentimes, detox centers will provide their patients with medications that help to lessen withdrawal symptoms and stop drug cravings. In fact, opioids are often treated through medication-assisted detox methods. While there is controversy surrounding medication-assisted treatment, it is highly regarded and considered effective by the FDA.[6] This form of treatment is effective because, when a patient’s withdrawal symptoms become manageable, they are able to fully focus on healing other aspects of their addictions.

Get Help For Prescription Drug Addiction Today

After detox, it is recommended that individuals attend residential treatment for their prescription drug addiction. Detox programs are designed as a first step in the recovery of addiction, as they focus on making patients medically sound enough to begin treatment for the causes of their substance abuse. During residential addiction treatment, patients are provided with individual and group therapy, addiction support groups, and continued medical treatment for any underlying conditions or diseases. Additionally, residential treatment is vital for those addicted to prescription drugs who have a co-occurring mental disorder. This level of treatment allows for a full and comprehensive plan-of-action, providing patients with the best possible care.

If you or a loved one are addicted to a prescription drug, we can help you. Addiction to any substance can be a lonely and difficult battle. Due to this, our professional detox program incorporates medication-assisted treatment tactics as well as therapy and 24/7 support. Addiction is devastating and life-threatening when left untreated. Call us today for help with prescription drug addiction.