Prescription Drug Addiction Health Risk Factors

Learn more about the health risks involved with prescription drug addiction.

Prescription Drug Abuse & Addiction

Of the 16 million individuals over age twelve who abuse prescription drugs each year, as many as 12% will become addicted.1 As accessibility increases, prescription drug abuse is becoming more prevalent each year, especially for prescription opioids. While abuse can occur for many different reasons, any form of drug abuse can lead to various health risks, including the development of a substance use disorder or addiction.

Prescription drug addiction


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Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drug abuse can be intentional or accidental. While some instances of abuse may be caused by the desire to experience the non-medicinal effects, other times, abuse may result from miscommunication. This can be a simple mistake, such as accidentally mixing two medications or taking an extra dose.
Certain factors may also increase the likelihood of abuse and addiction.2

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Some of the most abused prescription drugs can be divided into three categories based on type: opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants.


Opioids are controlled substances most often prescribed for pain relief. They can be natural or synthetic and work by activating certain receptors in nerve cells, providing a method of controlling pain after major surgeries or injuries.

The most frequently abused prescription opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
Heroin is an opioid, but it isn’t available through a prescription, so it’s not on this list.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants are substances used to slow brain activity. As a result, they’re often used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, or sleep disorders. This type of substance includes:

  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers
  • Hypnotics


Stimulants typically impact the brain by increasing the speed at which it communicates. This can also impact brain chemistry, meaning stimulants generally are used to treat chemical imbalance disorders like ADHD and narcolepsy. The most frequently abused prescription stimulants include:

  • Amphetamine
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate

Like opioids, several illicit, non-prescription stimulants are abused, such as cocaine or methamphetamine.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Whenever a substance is used, prescription or not, there is a risk of side effects. However, prescription drug abuse and chronic substance use disorders can result in more severe signs and symptoms. These may vary based on the prescription drug abused.


There are many physical, behavioral, and emotional signs of prescription opioid abuse, including:

  • Constipation
  • Hyperalgesia
  • Euphoria

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

When taken as prescribed, many depressants may result in minor behavioral or emotional side effects. However, side effects of CNS depressant abuse include:
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration


Due to their chemical nature, when taken correctly, prescription stimulants have a higher risk for different side effects such as dry mouth or increased anxiety. However, with abuse, it’s more common to see severe side effects, including:
  • Aggressiveness
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia

What Are Health Risk Factors of Medicine Abuse?

While introducing a variety of side effects, prescription drug abuse can also increase health risk factors.
Health risk factors are controllable and non-controllable factors that may predispose an individual to additional health issues.3 This can be less severe, such as vomiting, or more severe, like cardiovascular effects.

Opioid Abuse

Opioid abuse is one of the leading causes of increased health risks in individuals with a substance abuse disorder. While prescription opioids pose fewer risks than illicit substances, there are still significant risks, including:
  • Vomiting
  • Mood changes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decrease in ability to think (cognitive function)
  • Slowed breathing rate

Opioid abuse, or abuse of any prescription drug, can also lead to overdose.4

CNS Depressant Abuse

Because CNS depressants impact the central nervous system, which includes the brain, several increased health risks may emerge from abuse, such as:
  • Memory problems
  • Seizures
  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Nervous system hyperactivity

Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants do more than impact the brain and the chemicals there; they also affect how the cardiovascular system functions. As a result, there are several heart health risks to be aware of.
  • Heart failure
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations

Prevention Tips for Prescription Drug Addiction

Whether prescription drug abuse is intentional or not, it can still pose a risk for addiction. Taking the proper preventive steps can help ensure correct medication use and prevent prescription drug addiction.

Prevention Tips for Prescription Drug Addiction

Make Sure You're Getting the Right Medication

When receiving a new medication, ensure that you receive a medication and dosage that matches what your doctor has prescribed. It’s also essential to ensure you take the right medicine, especially if you store multiple prescriptions or over-the-counter medications together.

Check In with Your Doctor

Also, inform your doctor of other medications you take before receiving any new prescriptions. If you’re worried about dosage, instructions, or side effects, always contact your health provider for more information on your prescription.

Follow Directions Carefully

While a health professional should provide adequate instructions both verbally and with packaging contained with a new prescription, it’s important to take the time to read all instructions and understand them. If any confusion occurs about directions, contact the prescribing health care provider for clarification.

Know What Your Medication Does

Never use someone else’s medication, even if you think it’s the same as your prescription. To avoid accidents in a home with multiple people, ensure all medication is clearly labeled and placed in separate areas to reduce confusion.

How to Treat Prescription Drug Addiction?

Depending on the type of addiction or substance use disorder, several different methods and forms of treatment are available.

One of the most variable forms of treatment is medicine. While medication can’t cure a substance use disorder, it can be beneficial in treating withdrawal and reducing the impact of substances on the body. Different substance use disorders and addictions require different medications to counteract the substance’s chemical properties.

Other beneficial forms of treatment for drug addiction include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Counseling
  • Rehabilitation
  • Peer support groups
  • Lifestyle changes

Contact Us To Learn More

The treatment process can feel like a daunting and lonely journey, but the truth is that it’s not something you have to face alone. Our staff at Concise Recovery will meet you along your healing journey and help you achieve long-lasting recovery. Our mission is to ensure that every client leaves feeling whole and in control of their lifestyle once again.

To learn more about our treatment programs, contact Concise Recovery today.