Prescription Drug Addiction | A Guide To Abuse Signs & Symptoms

Prescription Drug Abuse & Prescription Drug Addiction

Addiction to medication and prescription drug abuse has now reached epidemic levels in the UK. Over the last ten years prescriptions for opiate painkillers, gabapentinoids and benzodiazepines have substantially risen, causing drug-related deaths in the UK to spiral out of control.

Opiates and opioids are a particular cause for concern and are widely prescribed for a vast range of pain-related conditions. Over the last decade, prescriptions for opiates and opioid painkillers have increased by a staggering 60% in the UK.

Many people don’t realise just how dangerously addictive some prescriptions drugs are. Warning labels on packaging carry little weight when one is in pain, and most think that addiction is something that happens to someone who takes street drugs or drinks alcohol excessively. The truth is that addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, profession, class or upbringing.

Prescription drug abuse and addiction can become life-threatening if left untreated. As with any addiction, there are many risk factors involved. Recovery from addiction to medication starts with a full drug detox followed by therapeutic rehabilitation. This helps to heal the individual on a physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual level and provides a valuable foundation for ongoing recovery.

Addiction to any drugs, including those that are prescribed cannot be cured as such. Addiction can, however, be arrested and successfully treated provided the correct professional help and treatment is undertaken.

Call Detox Plus UK today for free no-obligation addiction treatment recommendations and advice on how to overcome addiction to medication.

Commonly prescribed drugs that can lead to addiction

There are numerous prescription-only drugs that can lead to drug dependence and drug addiction. Prescription drugs are generally regarded as safe if a prescription is adhered to. Even then, those with long term chronic pain conditions are prone to developing drug tolerance and drug dependence.

The most addictive and commonly abused prescribed drugs come under three main drug classifications – opiate analgesics, anti-anxiety medications including hypnotics and sedatives, and stimulant medications. Addiction to medication can cause drug tolerance and drug dependence quickly. They also have euphoric effects and produce a false sense of well being. This makes these particular types of prescribed medications prone to being abused, and this can lead to addiction.

List of abused prescription drugs that can lead to drug abuse and drug addiction include:

Opiate/opioid prescription painkiller medications, including:

Anti-anxiety/hypnotics and sedative prescription medications, including:

Stimulant prescription medications, including:

It is also possible to abuse many psychiatric drugs. Psychiatric drugs are prescribed for a wide variety of mental health conditions, and they tend to have sedative properties and promote feelings of well-being. Some antidepressants also have calming properties and can be abused for this purpose.

Many people addicted to opioids later transition to heroin use.

If you or a loved one are abusing a prescribed medication or have an addiction to prescribed medication, it is crucial to seek professional help and treatment without delay.

prescription drugs

Detox Plus UK provide confidential expert advice on all manner of drug addictions. We can facilitate an immediate private detox for all prescribed drug dependencies. Call us today for more information on our residential detox clinics and rehab centres.

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction and abuse

Recognising the signs and symptoms of addiction to medication can help you to determine if you or a loved one need professional help. Addiction is a chronic and progressive illness that requires specific evidence-based treatments to help overcome.

Signs and symptoms of overuse of prescription drugs include:

  • Taking prescribed medication that does not belong to you
  • Taking a prescribed medication specifically for the purpose of getting high
  • Taking prescribed medication solely for the reason of avoiding withdrawal symptoms
  • Mixing a prescribed medication with alcohol or other drugs in order to enhance the feelings of euphoria
  • Taking more medication than is prescribed or taking it more often than is prescribed
  • Lying to your GP about your pain levels in order to receive a repeat prescription or obtain more powerful drugs
  • Using more than one doctor in order to gain extra prescription medication
  • Buying prescribed medications from the internet
  • Suffering withdrawal symptoms if you miss a dose or run out of prescription medication
  • Buying prescription medication off another person
  • Stockpiling prescription medications for a drug binge
  • Self-administering the drug in a way other than prescribed, i.e., crushing and snorting or injecting the drug for a more powerful high

Signs and symptoms of overuse of prescription drugs in another include:

  • Frequent drug intoxication (symptoms will vary depending on the prescribed medication being abused)
  • Notable increase or decrease in appetite
  • Notable Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Always “losing” prescriptions or requesting prescriptions early
  • Stealing medications or prescriptions that do not belong to them
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Become defensive or hostile when challenged
  • They have become secretive and withdrawn
  • Poor decision making and decrease in productivity
  • Forged prescription pads, evidence of purchasing prescribed medications from the internet, evidence of using more than one doctor
  • Appearing unusually energetic and high or drowsy and sedated

If you spot these signs and symptoms or abuse in a family member or someone you care for, please do not ignore them. It is crucial to speak to them about your concerns and encourage them to get help.

Effects of commonly prescribed addictive drugs

Many individuals who become addicted to prescriptions drugs do so by abusing them for their effects. These effects show as symptoms and can be helpful in identifying if a family member or loved one is suffering from prescription drug addiction.

When prescribed for a short term period, anyone who is new to a particular prescription drug can display some symptoms of being mildly intoxicated. It is when this does not wear off that there should be cause for concern. Continuing to appear intoxicated or appearing more than mildly intoxicated from prescription drugs is a red flag that should not be ignored.

Depending on the type of prescription drug, the effects of abusing them can vary. The following should provide a helpful guide to anyone who is concerned about a loved one who may be abusing the prescribed medication.

Effects and symptoms of prescription opiate/opioid abuse:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Sleepiness and drowsiness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Severe constipation
  • Lack of motivation or interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Delayed, slowed or slurred speech
  • Slowed reactions
  • Excessive mood swings from elation and contentment to anxiety and depression
  • Unusual bouts of elation
  • Slowed breathing
  • Poor decision making and uncharacteristic risk-taking

Effects and symptoms of prescription anti-anxiety/hypnotic and sedative abuse:

  • Excessively sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of motivation
  • Drowsy and sleepy
  • Delayed, slowed or slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Delayed and slowed reactions
  • Poor decision making and uncharacteristic risk-taking
  • Excessive mood swings from elation and contentment to anxiety and depression
  • Unsteady on their feet and poor coordination
  • Confusion and memory problems

Effects and symptoms of prescription stimulant abuse:

  • Unusually fast and energetic
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Long periods without sleep then excessively sleeping
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Unusually chatty and talkative
  • Uncharacteristic risky behaviour
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • High body temperature
  • Excessive mood swings from elation to anxiety and depression

Painkiller addiction symptoms

painkiller addiction symptoms

Not everyone who becomes addicted to prescribed medications abuses them. Drug dependence can occur inadvertently by taking an addictive prescribed drug for a prolonged period of time. This commonly happens in the management of long term chronic pain conditions where opiates/opioids are prescribed.

Opiate and opioid medications quickly cause drug tolerance and dependence. After a period of time of taking a certain dosage of prescribed opiate medication, an individual will no longer receive the same pain-relieving effects. This happens when the brain and body become tolerant to the drug.

In order to receive adequate pain relief where a drug tolerance is present, the dosage of the opiate medication will need to be increased or alternatively swapped for a more powerful opiate analgesic.

Once opiate addiction has occurred, taking any less than the body and brain have become accustomed to results in withdrawal symptoms. Opiate withdrawal symptoms can also occur when the individual is taking the same dosage for a prolonged period of time.

Treatment for long term pain management and addiction

Tackling a drug dependence where a chronic pain condition remains is often complex and can become a case of weighing up the pros and cons. If the individual has become depressed, anxious and/or suicidal through their opiate dependence, then without a doubt, professional drug addiction treatment is strongly recommended.

Detox Plus UK use specialist doctors, nurses and psychiatrists who will assess physical dependence levels and mental health on admission to any one of our CQC registered drug detox facilities. We will assist the individual in medically detoxing from their drug dependence and look at alternative ways of managing their pain.

In many cases, opiate addiction and dependence increase pain levels. Each case is assessed individually and comprehensively. Please call us for further information and to find out if we can assist in your individual situation.

Addiction to medication – who it affects and who is at risk

Addiction can affect anyone who is prescribed addictive medications for a prolonged period of time. It can also affect those who are more likely to abuse medications for purposes other than they are prescribed for.

Addiction usually starts whilst the human brain is still developing and therefore, more susceptible to chemical damage and change. Teenagers and young adults who take study drugs are at high risk of becoming addicted to a drug.

Risk factors for developing a drug addiction also include the following:

codeine alcohol

  • Those who currently have or have previously suffered from alcoholism or drug addiction
  • Those with certain mental health conditions
  • Those who have a history of drug abuse or alcoholism in the family
  • Those exposed to peer pressure or a social environment that encourages drug abuse
  • A lack of knowledge around the dangers associated with prescription drugs
  • Those who have easy access to prescription drugs. For example, a family member who has medications around the house that are unlocked
  • Those who have suffered trauma and are seeking an escape from their emotions

Being aware if you are at risk of developing a drug addiction can help prevent it from happening. If you do have any of the above risk factors, please speak to your doctor about your concerns before taking any medications that have addictive properties.

Consequences of overuse of prescription drugs

As with any addiction, prescription drug addiction carries many physical and mental health risks to the sufferer’s wellbeing. It can also bring severe financial and social consequences and cause personal relationships to break down.

If you are suffering negative consequences as a result of your prescription drug-taking, you may well be suffering from an addiction. Addiction isn’t a phase, and it doesn’t just go away on its own; it is a recognised mental health condition that requires particular treatment tailored to the individual.

Left untreated drug addiction can become extremely painful, debilitating and distressing. It can also impact on those around you in a way that no other illness does. Prescription drug addiction is a life-threatening condition, but it is preventable, and it is treatable.

Call Detox Plus UK today to find out more about private treatment options 

Statistics on codeine addiction

Codeine is only available on prescription, when not in combination with another substance. Codeine is a Class B substance controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. A Class B substance is illegal to buy or supply.  Being in possession of codeine, if not prescribed, can result in 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine.  Supplying codeine illegally can result in a prison sentence of 14 years and an unlimited fine.

From 2011 to 2018 codeine related drug deaths have more than doubled in England and Wales – with 150 individuals dying as a result of overdosing on the popularly prescribed and over the counter opiate painkiller.

Codeine is extracted directly from the opium poppy plant. It can be purchased from any chemist in lower strengths under various brand names including co-codamol, Nurofen Plus and Solpadeine Max. It is also the active ingredient in many over the counter cough suppressants.

Stronger forms of codeine can be obtained on prescription from your GP. Codeine tends to be the first in line of the opiate medications that individuals are prescribed for effective pain relief. Due to it being sold in chemists, it is also the prescribed drug that is most easily abused.

Whether purchased from a chemist or dispensed on prescription, all forms of codeine are addictive, regardless of their strength or other analgesics they are combined with. An individual taking daily codeine can develop a physical codeine dependence within as little as 5 days.

Prescribed codeine commonly comes in the form of codeine phosphate, co-codamol (codeine and paracetamol) and dihydrocodeine (a powerful semi-synthetic opiate). When taken as prescribed, codeine is generally very safe. Codeine becomes dangerous when it is mixed with alcohol or other depressant drugs – such as heroin, methadone, benzodiazepines or sleeping medications. Taking more than the prescribed dose is also extremely dangerous. Abuse of this drug can have effects on the body and can lead to respiratory depression and death.

Stopping codeine where there is a physical dependence present produces opiate withdrawal symptoms which are notoriously unpleasant. It is these symptoms that can lead an individual to continue taking codeine even when there is no longer a genuine need for the drug.

For any individual that has a codeine dependence or addiction, a medically assisted or medically managed opiate detox is recommended. Clinically, a medically managed codeine detox is proven to be the safest and most effective way of stopping this commonly abused medication.

Treatment options for prescription drug addiction and abuse

There are various treatment options available in the UK for someone who is suffering from prescription drug addiction or abuse problem. The most important thing to remember when looking for a treatment method that will work is that everyone has treatment requirements individual to them.

Detox Plus UK specialises in private inpatient drug detox and rehab. We recognise that there is no one size fits all when it comes to effective and lasting addiction treatment. We tailor our prescription drug detox and rehab programmes to each patient’s individual treatment needs.

Ensuring that no stone is left unturned, our patients are treated on a physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual level. It is essential that drug rehabilitation treats the person as a whole and treats all aspects that have been affected by their addiction to medication.

Whilst we do provide prescription drug detox as a stand-alone treatment, we always recommend that this is immediately followed by a comprehensive drug rehabilitation programme. A full drug rehab programme teaches our patients how to live a life without the need or want for drugs and instils in them essential relapse prevention techniques.

Detoxing from prescription drugs where there is an addiction is only a very temporary solution to a very complicated illness. Most individuals sadly relapse within a very short space of time.

For an individual to stay clean from addictive prescription drugs following a detox, the mindset that drove the physical addiction must be changed. This is an ongoing process, but a firm foundation for lasting recovery can be achieved through an intensive therapeutic rehab programme.

For those that do not have the funds to access private inpatient rehab, we strongly recommend that you speak to your GP and family honestly about your addiction. Your GP will discuss weaning you off of the medications in the community and can refer you to community-based sources of support. It is vital that you have support from family/friends and/or mutual aid groups whilst attempting to detox.

If you are physically dependent on any prescription drug, please do not stop taking the medication without seeking medical or professional advice first. Some prescription medications can be dangerous to stop suddenly.

Rehab for prescription drug addiction

opiate addiction treatment

If you or a loved one need rehab for a prescription drug addiction Detox Plus, UK could help.

We provide immediate, effective inpatient detox and rehab for anyone suffering from an addiction to, or abuse of prescriptions pills.

Our private prescription drug rehabs deliver evidence-based treatments proven to be effective in overcoming prescription drug addiction. Furthermore, all of our detox clinics and rehab centres are CQC registered, adhere to strict medical policies and procedures and employ fully qualified and experienced addiction treatment professionals.

We deliver bespoke prescription drug detoxes and addiction treatment programmes within our exemplary rehab centres located all over the UK.

We also provide free aftercare for all patients that complete their inpatient treatment programme. It is important to us that you or your loved one recover fully from the disease of addiction. We will only, therefore, make treatment recommendations that are in your interest and give you the best opportunity to get well.

How long does prescription drug detox and rehab take?

How long you need to stay in a detox clinic or rehab centre for your prescription drug addiction will depend on a number of factors personal to you. Prescription drug detoxes can be complex and carry significant risks to the individual, so we have to ensure that they are conducted safely and over an appropriate period of time.

Whilst detoxing within one of our prescription drug detox clinics, you will be monitored and supervised by caring and compassionate staff around the clock. They will ensure your comfort and safety at all times.

Generally, the heavier your prescription drug dependence and the longer you have had it for impacts on the recommended treatment time. We also have to take into account any other addictions present and any additional mental health illnesses that require stabilisation and treatment.

As a guideline, we recommend a minimum of 28 days of inpatient treatment to include a medical detox. However, this really is dependent on your addiction and how well you respond to treatment as an individual.

Prescription drug detoxes can sometimes be completed within a shorter space of time but really are only the tip of the iceberg. Just as important as removing the prescription drug safely, is addressing the underlying causes and conditions of the drug abuse and addiction. This we do using evidence-based treatments and therapies whilst you are in a safe environment in one of our rehabs.

To find out more about our inpatient prescription drug detoxes and rehab programmes, please call and speak to one of our friendly addiction treatment experts today.





Sources and references:



NHS Digital

Office for National Statistics

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