The Most Common Prescription Drug Addictions – The Signs Of Addiction & How To Help An Addict

Prescription drugs are something of a norm, with 11.5 million adults in England – which is approximately 26% of the population – receiving one or more prescriptions for medicine.

Source: Public Health England

In a recent review from Public Health England, they state that half the users of prescribed medicines have been taking them for a year or more, and more than a fifth have been taking them for over three years.

As long-term use can be a sign of dependence, there’s a need to tackle this dependence before addiction sets in and becomes damaging to the individual.

Usually, a medical professional would recommend drug treatments such as a detox program, which can be followed by therapy to avoid relapse in the future. When treating prescription drug addiction and abuse, it’s crucial to understand the most commonly used and abused substances, to then tailor treatment for the individual.

What are the most common prescription drug addictions?

The most commonly abused prescription drugs (as stated by The National Institute on Drug Abuse) fit into three main types of drug:

  • Opioids – used to treat pain.
  • Anti-anxiety medication – used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders & seizures.
  • Stimulants – used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

With all of these drugs, they have a history of why they are used to treat certain ailments and also why they can be very addictive by their nature.


Since the early ’90s, prescriptions for opioid medications (including codeine & morphine) have risen greatly. Mainly linked to the ageing population and more widespread chronic pain, they are used to manage pain, and can greatly improve quality of life to those with chronic pain. When used as a long-term treatment, opioids can lead to drug abuse, as the user can become dependent on this medicine. As opioids can provide a mild joyful feeling, users can be positively reinforced by this feeling to increase the dosage or disregard a doctor’s advice to reduce or abstain from taking the drug.

Anti-anxiety medication

One of the most common anti-anxiety drugs used is Benzodiazepines, more commonly known as “benzos”, which depress the CNS. The drug works by affecting the brain neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), lowering brain activity, making the user drowsy and calm. Benzos are commonly used in the long-term to treat seizures but have been used in the short-term to treat anxiety & insomnia. These are now less commonly used for short-term treatments due to the risk of overdosing, as larger doses are needed after a while to get the same effects, leading to tolerance and dependence.


Stimulants by their nature give your body a boost in alertness, energy and attention. Physical effects are an increase in heart rate, blood sugar and blood pressure. First used to treat asthma & obesity, stimulants are now prescribed to treat ADHD, ADD and narcolepsy, to name a few conditions. Due to the effects of stimulants, overdosing or crushing the pills to get high is a common occurrence and can be a sign of addiction and abuse.

How can you tell if someone is addicted to prescription drugs?

Substance abuse can show different symptoms for each user and will be different for the type of drug.


The main signs that you’ll see in someone misusing opioids are confusion, drowsiness, poor coordination, nausea and constipation. The user will usually increase the dosage to what was originally required, which is one of the tell signs that the user is addicted to the drug.

Anti-anxiety medication

With anti-anxiety medication and sedatives, there are some similar signs to opioids with the user feeling drowsy and being confused, but also you may notice unsteady walking, slurred speech, problems with remembering things and the user having poor concentration.


A lot of the symptoms will be opposite of what you find with anti-anxiety meds and opioids, as they may show signs of agitation or the user being more anxious. You may also notice that the user has a reduced appetite, or they may suffer from paranoia.

With all these drugs, some other signs are universal to all prescription drug addictions, which are: excessive mood swings or hostility, drastic change in sleeping habits (sleeping too much or too little), poor decision-making or appearing to be high (energic, revved up, or sedated).

How do I help someone with a prescription drug addiction?

As prescription drugs are so readily available, there’s no wonder that there’s a vast amount of cases of addiction to these drugs, which usually occurs due to building a tolerance to the drug, and then upping the dose, leading to dependency. This layered with a user experiencing withdrawal symptoms to prescription drugs once abstaining, it can be an extremely difficult addiction to treat.

At Charterhouse Clinic, we’re here to help, providing a recovery service for prescription drug addiction. We offer a medically supervised detox program to remove all residue of substances in a safe, controlled environment. An addict should not attempt self-detoxification, as this can potentially be dangerous and result in extremely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which may even be life-threatening.

For more information regarding prescription drug addiction treatment, contact our expert team today.


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