Prescription Drug Addiction

Suddenly stopping the intake of any of the medications mentioned below can result in a range of unpleasant and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Prescription Drug Rehab

Prescription drug rehab is highly recommended if you have developed a prescription drug addiction.

Prescription drug treatment typically consists of a combination of detox, medication, and counselling to increase the chances of a full recovery. During a medically assisted detox, you will usually be given a controlled dose of benzodiazepines or sedatives to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Ultimately, your addiction treatment will depend on which prescription medications you have been abusing and for what period.

As well as overcoming the physical aspects of addiction, behavioural treatments such as therapy and counselling are also a critical part of prescription drug treatment. This is important to help you recognise and keep problematic behaviours under control, cope with cravings and avoid situations that might lead to relapse.

What is Prescription Drug Addiction?

Addiction to prescription medications continues to be a growing problem in the UK. The misinformation surrounding the potential dangers associated with these drugs and their accessibility has contributed to a substantial increase in addiction figures. 

Addiction to prescription drugs is typically characterised by the ongoing and compulsive need to take a substance despite any adverse outcomes. Abuse includes anything from recreational use to getting ‘high’ by taking more than the recommended dose — to taking a painkiller more often than prescribed.

There has long been the misconception that prescription medications are less harmful because they have a legitimate use, with less stigma associated with their misuse than illicit drugs. However, the UK has seen a subsequent rise in the need for prescription drug treatment and related deaths.

How do People Become Addicted to Prescription Medications?

When talking about prescription drug addiction, it’s not uncommon for people to assume that prescription medications are abused intentionally for their effects. However, the unfortunate reality is that you can develop an addiction despite taking your medication precisely as prescribed. 

Taking any psychoactive substance for prolonged periods can cause physical dependence, leading to addiction. Suddenly stopping taking these medications can be dangerous, and it’s always recommended that your dose is slowly tapered to avoid any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

In other cases, people obtain medications without a prescription to experiment with the mental effects of these drugs. The growing demand has increased their availability on places like the dark web, making them more readily available. Prescription drug rehab is widely recognised as the most effective way to beat an addiction to prescription medication, regardless of how your addiction developed.

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Most Abused Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs are often considered safer, and you may only associate the term ‘addiction’ with illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin. However, prescribed medications carry an equally high potential for abuse and addiction, with side effects that can be just as detrimental to your health.

Due to the capacity in which they are so widely prescribed, medications can affect people of any age, gender, and background. Some of the most abused prescription drugs include:

Opioids – Prescribed for managing pain due to injury, surgery, or chronic illness.

Benzodiazepines – Used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizures.

Stimulants – Prescribed to help treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain sleep disorders

Prescription drug addiction is also linked to other types of drugs, such as pregabalin (lycra), an anticonvulsant drug and Fluoxetine (Prozac), a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant.

Opioids are strong painkillers and the most abused prescription medication, with many people requiring prescription drug treatment to overcome addiction. Taking opioids in high doses can induce a sense of euphoria and relaxation. When paired with its painkilling properties, addiction can develop very quickly.

The most abused opioid medications include:

  • Oxycodone (brand name Oxycontin)
  • Hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin)
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Co-codamol
  • Tramadol
  • Xanax
  • Methadone

Typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain after surgery or because of an injury, opioids are also used to alleviate symptoms of chronic pain. Subsequently, in many cases, this means they are taken on a long-term basis, increasing the risk of prescription drug addiction. When you take opioids over a long period, your body eventually starts to build up a tolerance in response to its effects, and you need a higher dose to achieve the same high you once did.

The dangers of opioids are often overlooked because they’re legal, with drugs like co-codamol easily available over the counter. However, the strength of these medications should not be ignored, and the potential to overdose is very high.

Prescription Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos’, are another widely-abused prescription drug. Benzos act as sedatives and tranquillisers and are often prescribed to people who suffer from seizures, anxiety, panic attacks, and other similar conditions. 

What makes them highly addictive is their ability to produce a sense of calm and relaxation, which can eventually lead to physical and psychological dependence.

The most commonly misused benzos include:

  • Diazepam (brand name, Valium)
  • Alprazolam (brand name, Xanax)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (brand name, Librium)
  • Zolpidem (brand name, Ambien)

Prescription Stimulants

Certain stimulants are prescribed in controlled doses to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.  Because they boost alertness and concentration, they are ideal for managing symptoms of these disorders. Stimulants work by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for the brain’s reward centre, which is why taking stimulant medication can result in highly addictive, pleasurable, and euphoric sensations. Different types of prescription stimulants include:

  • Methylphenidate (brand names Ritalin and Concerta)
  • Dextroamphetamine (brand names Adderall and Dexedrine)

Prescription medications can contain a huge variety of chemicals, so determining their dangers can be somewhat challenging. Side effects of abuse can range from mild to extremely dangerous, the intensity of which will depend on the method of use. Pills are sometimes crushed, snorted, or injected, producing a far more heightened experience.

The effects produced by prescription drugs make it hard for family members to identify misuse, simply mistaking any potential signs as symptoms of the medication itself. This means the option of prescription drug rehab is not even considered, as prescription drug addiction is difficult to identify.

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Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

Prescription drug treatment for addiction is critical; however, identifying symptoms of prescription drug abuse can be challenging. Someone misusing their medication will often go to great lengths to conceal the true nature of their habit. Similarly, if you have been using medication in ways not intended, you are likely to have developed an addiction to your medication. 

There are some common signs to look out for if you are concerned you or someone you care about may have developed a prescription drug addiction. These include – but are not limited to:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Stealing prescriptions that don’t belong to you
  • Defensiveness when questioned
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Impaired judgement and decision-making
  • Appearing drowsy, high or energetic
  • Lying to your doctor to get more prescriptions
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Buying medication illegally
  • Increasing the dose of your medication or taking it more often than recommended
  • Mixing prescribed medication with alcohol or other substances to intensify the effects
  • Taking more prescribed medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms
  • Administering the drug in a way other than prescribed, i.e., crushing and snorting or injecting the drug for a more potent high.

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At Step-by-Step Recovery, we are dedicated to providing the very best quality of care for every one of our clients. Our ultimate goal is to provide the tools you need to maintain a clean and sober life free from prescription drug addiction.

Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

Unfortunately, the legality of a drug doesn’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t have serious side effects. It’s crucial to consider the possibilities of long-term damage that can arise as a result of prescription drug addiction. Each medication category comes with potential dangers, and mixing medications only increases the risk of overdose or death.

Long-Term Effects of Prescription Opioid Addiction

The long-term effects of opioid addiction can vary and range from mild to life-threatening. Common side effects include:

  • Paralysis as a result of lost neural connections
  • Respiratory issues
  • Heart problems
  • Joint pain
  • Decreased sensory feelings like taste, touch, sound, sight, etc.
  • Slow reflexes
  • Compromised immune system
  • Constipation leading to an intestinal infection
  • Sleep disorders
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating

Long-Term Effects of Benzodiazepine Addiction

Benzodiazepine addiction has various associated side effects and long-term effects that can cause death. Common side effects include: 

  • Dry and corrosive eyes, which can lead to sight loss
  • Dry mouth, low levels of saliva, and tooth decay
  • Kidney and liver failure
  • Deterioration of arteries restricting blood flow
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of inhibitions and poor judgement
  • Inability to focus

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Long-Term Effects of Stimulant Addiction

Stimulants are popular among professionals and for recreational use as they help you to focus for extended periods and reduce fatigue. However, they do have some severe side effects that can cause fatality. Common side effects include:

  • Kidney and liver failure
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Muscle spasms
  • Jaw-clenching and teeth grinding
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Low oxygen intake resulting in fatigue
  • Lack of motivation and low energy levels
  • Impaired judgement
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Why Choose Step-by-Step Recovery Residential Rehab in Essex?

At Step-by-Step Recovery, our counsellors have extensive experience treating all types of drug addictions, including prescription medication addiction. Most of our staff have overcome addiction, and everyone who works at our residential rehab facility in Essex is wholly committed to helping you. 

In addition to a medically assisted detox programme, we offer a range of traditional and holistic therapies to heal the mind, body, and spirit, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) — talking therapy that focuses on your current challenges. To help you recognise and develop new ways of coping with destructive thought patterns.
  • One-to-one counselling — involves one-to-one sessions with a therapist to explore your thoughts and feelings. This can help you to find new coping skills when dealing with emotional and personal issues.
  • Process therapy — focuses on multiple thoughts, feelings, and behaviours to increase personal awareness and develop effective processes to build resilience to stress triggers.
  • Psychotherapy — a structured talking therapy to help identify deep-rooted issues and address related emotions, thoughts, and behaviour.
  • Person-centred therapy approach — is non-directive, meaning the therapist will not guide the session. The focus is on your self-perceptions and inner feelings to allow you to build a positive concept of yourself.

Research shows that therapy in addiction treatment helps reduce the risk of relapse after drug rehab

Next Steps

We are here to offer advice and support to help you decide to go to residential prescription drug rehab and overcome addiction. We can arrange same-day admissions if a bed is available at our drug rehab centre in Essex and on evenings or weekends. If you cannot call today, save our number on your mobile; that way, when you want to speak with us, you have our number at hand. 

At Step by Step Recovery, we offer free advice on treating alcohol, drug and prescription drug addiction. We exist to provide non-judgemental support to help individuals beat addiction permanently and for their friends and family. Please complete our online assessment form or call our understanding team on 0800 170 1222 for free, confidential advice to help you or a loved one.


Yes. Prescription opioids, stimulants, and benzos carry with them the potential of overdose. Unfortunately, symptoms of overdose are not always obvious and are often ignored. It is essential to familiarise yourself with the signs to prevent the risk of further harm.

There are several signs you should look out for if you think you have an addiction to prescription medication. Lying about your dose or engaging in deception to obtain prescriptions are two major signs of addiction to medicines. If you take higher doses than recommended, you should seek help to avoid developing physical dependence.

Many options are effective in treating prescription medication addictions. Ultimately, you will benefit from a medically supervised detox, followed by behavioural therapy. Your GP can help you to access addiction treatment, or you can speak with FRANK for help finding your local NHS addiction treatment centre.

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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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