Prescription Drug Abuse and Treatment

In recent years, the most dramatic increases in drug abuse haven’t involved street substances such as marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Instead, many young people and adults are turning to their local pharmacy or their own medicine cabinet for illicit highs that often lead to long-term abuse.

The majority of people who use prescription or over-the-counter medications do so in accordance with the manufacturers’ guidance or their doctor’s instructions. However, the prevalence of improper use of these substances continues to rise, as does the risk of addiction, dependence, and a wide range of negative health effects.

If you are using prescription pills in a manner that is not consistent with the purpose for which they were described, you may be putting yourself in considerable danger. Before this problem progresses further, stop for a moment and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever felt that you should reduce your use of (or reliance upon) prescription medications?
  • Have you ever found yourself getting annoyed, angry, or otherwise upset with friends or family members who question your use of prescription pills?
  • Has your use of prescription medications – or something that you have done while under the influence of these drugs – ever caused you to feel shame, guilt, or remorse?
  • Have you ever taken prescription medications in order to calm down or to ease your response to external stresses or pressures?

Answering “yes” to any of these questions could indicate that you are developing an unhealthy reliance upon prescription pills. Read on to learn more about this problem, and how you can get the help you need.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs and Their Risks

  • Opioids – Often prescribed to treat pain, the opioid category includes morphine, codeine, and oxycodone (the primary active ingredient in the popular – and oft-abused – drug OxyContin). Opioids are addictive substances whose abuse can result in diarrhea, respiratory problems, and nausea. Ironically, as the drugs are primarily prescribed to relieve pain, abusing opioids can actually cause muscle pain – thus, those who misuse the drugs may create a cycle of pain in which the drugs they are using for relief may actually be exacerbating their suffering.
  • Depressants – Drugs that depress the central nervous system (CNS) are often prescribed to treat sleep problems and anxiety disorders. Popular CNS depressants include diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide HCl (Librium), and alprazolam (Xanax). Most depressants work by acting upon the neurotransmitter gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA), which decreases brain activity. Consequences include lethargy, dependence, tolerance, and the presence of dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Stimulants – Prescription stimulants have been used for decades to treat disorders such as asthma and obesity – and in recent years, stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall have become popular options for treating children and young adults who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and related conditions. Because so many children are taking ADHD drugs, many young people believe that the drugs are relatively harmless, and are thus prone to abuse the medications with little regard for their health and safety. Consequences of prescription stimulant abuse include elevated body temperature, irregular heartbeat, cardiovascular disorders, and seizure. Stimulant abuse has also been associated with feelings of paranoia and hostility.


Treatment for abuse of or addiction to prescription medications needs to be tailored to the type of medication that has been misused, the duration and severity of the behaviors, and the presence of co-occurring conditions. In general, though, treatment methodologies for the abuse of or addiction to prescription medications involves the following two components:

  1. Behavioral treatments – Behavioral approaches involve working with people to modify their thoughts and actions in order to pursue a drug-free life. Issues addressed in behavioral therapy include how to deal with cravings, how to avoid situations where drugs may be present, and how to handle stresses and other triggers that may lead to relapse. Clients who receive behavioral treatment will likely participate in individual, group, and family therapy.
  2. Pharmacological treatments – Though medications are at the center of the abuse of prescription pills, that doesn’t mean that all drugs are necessarily bad, or need to remain off-limits. In fact, some medications have been developed to help wean individuals from the objects of their abuse or addiction, and can ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms, thus allowing recovering individuals to make more effective progress toward recovery.

Many effective treatment programs for individuals who are addicted to or are abusing prescription medications utilize a combination of these two approaches.

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to prescription medications – or is abusing these types of drugs -- call 866-323-5608 to learn more about the many treatment options that are available.