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Prescription Medicine Addiction

close up image of a prescription bottle spilled out on top of an RX pad of paper.

People take prescription medicines for many reasons. They may use them to ease pain, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder. Most of these people use such possibly addictive medicines correctly. But some people end up abusing them.

Prescription medicine abuse or misuse is when the medicine is used in a way other than prescribed by a healthcare provider. The goal of using the medicine becomes about the experience or feeling that it causes.

In some cases, people may abuse medicines that aren’t prescribed to them. They may get them from friends or family. Or they may buy them illegally from someone else. The number of teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 who abuse prescription painkillers has more than tripled since the mid-1990s.

Here is a Q and A about prescription medicine addiction. It can help you or a loved one seek help, if needed.

Q. What medicines are likely to be abused?

A. These 3 kinds of prescription medicines are most often abused without a prescription:

  • Opioids. These are for pain relief. They include morphine, codeine, and medicines that contain hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

  • Tranquilizers. These are for anxiety and sleep disorders. A few examples are alprazolam and diazepam.

  • Stimulants. These are for narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Examples are amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate.

Q. What are the symptoms of prescription addiction?

A. Signs of addiction include:

  • Loss of control over taking a medicine

  • Hiding pills

  • Obsessively counting pills

  • Finding ways to get more of a medicine by making unneeded visits to the emergency room or a healthcare provider's office

  • Taking a medicine more often than directed

  • Taking higher doses than instructed because the previous dose did not provide the same effect

  • Taking a medicine with other medicines or alcohol

  • Crushing and snorting a pill instead of swallowing it

  • Stealing prescription medicines from family or friends

Q. Who’s at risk for prescription addiction?

A. Both women and men abuse prescription medicines at about the same rate. Women are twice as likely to become addicted as men. People at the highest risk for addiction are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription medicines in the past.

Q. What steps can be taken to prevent addiction?

A. Take medicines only as prescribed. Get possibly addictive medicines only from a single licensed healthcare provider at one pharmacy.

If you have opioids, tranquilizers, or stimulant prescription medicines, keep them in a safe place. Lock them up to keep them secure. Don’t share them with anyone else. The prescription is for only you. If you no longer need a prescription, dispose of the pills correctly. Many local law enforcement agencies will help with this. Many communities participate in National Take Back Day on October 27th of each year. The goal of this event is to reduce the amount of unused and possibly addictive medicines in the community.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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