Prescription Medicine Addiction
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 its intended use as 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
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 directed because the previous dose did not provide the same
Taking a medicine with other medicines or alcohol
Crushing and snorting a pill instead of swallowing it
Stealing prescription medicines from family or friends
Risking employment, finances, and personal relationships in order to use or get pills
Q. Who’s at risk for prescription addiction?
A. Both women and men are at risk for prescription addiction. People at the highest
risk for addiction are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription
medicines in the past. Young people are also at risk. According to research done in
2019 by the CDC, about 7% reported the current use of prescription opioids.
Q. What steps can be taken to prevent addiction?
A. Steps to take include:
Take medicines only as prescribed.
Get possibly addictive medicines only from a single licensed healthcare provider at
one pharmacy. Most states have electronic databases that keep track of controlled
substances. Providers and pharmacies can see any prescription written and filled for
you regardless of where you got it or filled it.
If you have opioids, tranquilizers, or stimulant prescription medicines, keep them
in a safe place. Don't keep medicines in an easy-access area, such as a kitchen or
bathroom cabinet. Lock them up to keep them secure.
Don’t share them with anyone else. The prescription is for only you.
Keep track of the number of pills left in the bottle so you will know if any go missing.
If teenagers live in your home, educate them about the appropriate use of prescription
medicines and the dangers of misuse.
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 27 of each year. The goal of this event is to reduce the
amount of unused and possibly addictive medicines in the community.