Prescription Drug Addiction And Treatment

Would you know it if you or a loved one was affected by prescription drug addiction? 18 million Americans abused prescription drugs in 2017, so it’s more likely than you might think. 

Millions of Americans take dependency-causing prescription drugs each year. If you have an anxiety disorder, sleep disorder, attention disorder or pain disorder, then chances are you’re familiar with at least one of these controlled drugs. 

The most addictive prescription drugs include: 

  • Opioid medications that treat severe acute pain
  • Benzodiazepine medications that treat anxiety disorders and seizures
  • Stimulant medications that treat attention disorders and narcolepsy 
  • Hypnotic medications that treat sleeping disorders like severe insomnia 

The problem is, these medications can cause addiction and physical dependence even when you take them as directed. 

According to a 2017 survey: 

  • 3.3 million people abuse opioid painkillers like tramadol or Percocet
  • 2 million people abuse benzodiazepine anxiety medications like Ativan or Valium
  • 1.7 million people abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall or Vyvanse
  • 0.5 million people abuse hypnotic sleeping medications such as Ambien 

When you stop taking medication after you develop dependence, you might have withdrawal. This leads to a constant cycle of use, withdrawal and relapse. It can happen to anyone who uses dependency-causing medication long-term. 

What is Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug addiction happens when you develop a physical dependence or psychological addiction to medication. 

The most common drugs to cause addiction include opioids, stimulants, benzos, and hypnotics. These drugs are addictive enough to cause dependence with long-term use. That means you can still get addicted even if you take it as directed for more than a few days. 

All addictive prescription drugs have tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal as effects. 

Tolerance sets in when your body becomes used to the current dose of medication. You might find yourself taking bigger doses to get the same effect. 

Dependence develops after tolerance does. When you’re dependent on a drug, your body can’t function the same way without it. 

The result is withdrawal, a painful syndrome that can last a few days and make you feel very sick. Your risk of relapse is higher when you’re having withdrawal.  

Prescription Drugs and Polysubstance Use 

Many people who live with prescription drug addiction have a history of abusing other drugs. This is called polysubstance use, and it increases your risk of serious side effects, including overdose and death. 

You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before mixing any prescription drug with another substance. 

Prescription drugs can have serious interactions with alcohol, illicit drugs, over-the-counter drugs and other prescriptions. These interactions can be life-threatening. 

Do Prescription Drugs Interact with Alcohol?

Alcohol mixes badly with most medications because it affects the way your body absorbs substances. When you mix alcohol with prescription drugs, you are more likely to experience unpleasant side effects.

Alcohol can also increase your risk of overdose and death. This is true especially if you’re using a medication that affects your breathing or heart. 

You should never mix alcohol with prescription narcotics such as stimulants, opioids, benzos or sleeping medications. The risks include: 

  • Blood pressure problems, including syncope or blacking out
  • Coma and death in severe cases 
  • Slowed breathing
  • Severe dizziness
  • Migraines
  • Nausea and vomiting

Do not mix alcohol with medications unless your doctor directs you otherwise. The interaction between alcohol and most medications can be harmful at best and lethal at worst. 

Do Prescription Drugs Interact With Each Other?

Many prescription drugs interact with each other and can cause potentially life-threatening problems if you mix them. You should never combine prescription drugs with other medications without checking with your doctors first. 

For instance, opioids alone can interact with: 

  • Antibiotics like clarithromycin
  • Antipsychotic drugs like Lamictal 
  • Antiseizure drugs like Tegretol 
  • Anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax and Klonopin 
  • Muscle relaxers like Amrix or baclofen 
  • Nerve pain drugs like Neurontin or Lyrica 
  • Sleeping drugs like Ambien or Sonata 
  • Stimulant drugs like Adderall 
  • HIV drugs like Norvir or Crixivan 

Combining medications can lead to respiratory depression, overdose, and death. Hypnotics, benzos, stimulants, and opioids all interact with each other and increase the risk of death. You should avoid mixing them at all costs! 

Do Prescription Drugs Interact With Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Prescription drugs interact with some over-the-counter drugs, especially if they affect your blood pressure or make you sleepy. 

Talk to your doctor before you mix prescription drugs with anything over-the-counter. Even natural supplements like Valerian root can interact with narcotics. 

Do Prescription Drugs Interact With Illicit Drugs? 

It’s very common for people who abuse prescription drugs to use illicit drugs at the same time. But don’t underestimate how dangerous this is. 

Mixing illicit drugs with prescription drugs increases your risk of overdose and death. All prescription drugs that cause addiction have severe interactions with heroin, meth, cocaine and other common street drugs. 

When you mix prescription drugs with street drugs, the risks include: 

  • Severely high or low blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

One study found that 58% of all drug-related deaths include more than one substance. You can reduce your risk of overdose and death by not abusing multiple substances. The risk is similar whether you’re abusing prescription or street drugs. 

What Are the Statistics on Prescription Drug Addiction?

In 2017, 18 million people abused prescription drugs, such as stimulants, benzos, opioids and sleeping medications. 

That same year, 2 million people abused prescription opioids for the first time. This is over 5,000 people per day! 

Besides alcohol and cannabis, prescription drugs were the most popular abused drug in 12th-grade high school students that same year. Most prescription drugs abused by teens were opioids like Vicodin or stimulants like Adderall. 

Surprisingly, senior adults are the most vulnerable population to prescription drug addiction. 80% of seniors use prescription drugs on a daily basis, and 50% use more than 5 prescription drugs daily. This increases the risk of adverse effects, drug interactions, and narcotic abuse. 

Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction is a serious problem. If you or someone you love is struggling with prescription drug addiction, it is crucial to seek the help of an addiction treatment center to assist you in breaking your dependence. The right inpatient or outpatient program can give you the tools you’ll need to stop your addiction in its tracks and get you your life back.


  1. Prescription drug abuse – Symptoms and causes
  2. Prescription Drug Misuse
  3. How can prescription drug addiction be treated?
  4. Summary of Misuse of Prescription Drugs
  5. What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?