Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment in Orange County, California

Almost 70% of Americans are prescribed at least one medication, and more than half of American adults take at least two prescriptions. Prescription drugs save lives–there is no question about it. However, when they are abused, they can be extremely dangerous and habit-forming.

If you or someone you love is struggling with prescription drug abuse or addiction, the best time to seek treatment is now. Speak with a compassionate admissions counselor at Sheer Recovery today to learn which of our evidence-based treatment programs are right for you.

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drugs are pharmaceutical medications that have been studied in clinical trials, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are prescribed by licensed healthcare providers. These are different from over-the-counter drugs, which are sold in grocery stores or pharmacies and do not require a prescription. They are also different from illicit drugs which have no medicinal uses.

Prescription drug abuse refers to any use of a prescription medication that is outside of the scope of what is directed on the medication label or by the prescribing physician. Examples of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Getting pills from a family member or friend who has a prescription for them, but using them for yourself
  • Taking a higher dose of your medication than what you are prescribed
  • Taking your medication more frequently than you are supposed to
  • Injecting, crushing, or snorting a medication that is supposed to be swallowed orally
  • Buying someone else’s prescription on the street with the intention of getting high

Prescription drug misuse can lead to increased side effects, physical dependence, overdose, and substance use disorder.

prescription drug abuse

Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), up to 52 million, or 18.4% of Americans over the age of 12, have purposefully misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, and nearly 16.3 million people misuse prescription drugs each year.

Despite how common prescription drug abuse is, it is often misunderstood. People tend to underestimate the risk of prescription medications because they are given to them by a doctor–not a drug dealer. However, taking any prescription drug longer than you are supposed to or in a higher dose than directed by your physician is considered misuse and can result in physical or psychological dependence.

People may abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is self-medication. People who self-medicate abuse substances to try and alleviate distressing symptoms like physical or emotional pain, depression, or anxiety. Drugs may be able to temporarily relieve someone’s symptoms, but they aren’t a long-term solution and can actually make things worse in the long run.

Teens may abuse prescription drugs that are accessible in their parent’s medicine cabinet out of curiosity. Young adults may abuse prescription drugs with the direct intent of getting intoxicated. Ultimately, there are many reasons for drug abuse, and anyone can become addicted to a prescription drug if they abuse it for long enough.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

There are prescription drugs designed to treat all kinds of physical and mental health ailments. Some medications are more dangerous than others in terms of their abuse potential. For example, people rarely abuse antibiotics or antidepressants because these medications will not cause mood or mind-altering effects. However, people will abuse opioids, stimulants, and depressants because they produce psychoactive effects.

The most widely abused prescription drugs include:

Opioid Painkillers

Opioid painkillers are the most frequently abused type of prescription drug. The NCDAS reports that 43.3% of people who abuse prescription drugs for the first time abuse opioid painkillers.

Opioids like hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lortab), oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin), morphine, and codeine are prescribed to treat pain, but they are also highly addictive. When abused, opioids can produce feelings of well-being and euphoria, but they are extremely dangerous due to their high overdose potential.

In 2020, 3.3% (or about 9.3 million people) reported misusing prescription pain relievers in the past 12 months. Among people aged 12 or older, nearly 2.3 million people had a prescription opioid addiction in 2020.

Prescription opioid abuse has become an epidemic in the United States. The CDC reports that nearly 44 people died each day in 2020 from an overdose involving a prescription opioid. The same year, prescription opioids were involved in nearly 18% of all opioid overdose deaths.

Many counterfeit opioid pills are sold on the streets today, but they are often laced with fentanyl, an extremely powerful and addictive opioid with a high risk for overdose. Fentanyl is more than 50-100 times stronger than morphine and heroin.


Benzodiazepines are a class of medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and certain muscular disorders. Popular benzodiazepine medications include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Temazepam (Restoril)

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that, when abused, produce feelings of anxiety relief, sedation, and relaxation. However, in high doses, they can cause irritability, confusion, overdose, and other adverse side effects. People often abuse these drugs to self-medicate anxiety or stress.

In 2020, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that 1.7% (or about 4.8 million people) reported misusing benzodiazepines and approximately 12,290 people died as a result of an overdose involving benzodiazepine drugs.

Stimulant Medications

Stimulant medications such as Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) are primarily used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Stimulants may also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy and binge eating disorder. These medications increase activity in the central nervous system to promote concentration, alertness and focus.

Stimulants are abused recreationally because they give people more energy. As a result, they are often abused at clubs or parties by attendees who want to stay awake longer or dance as well as by students who are trying to study longer or complete a last-minute project.

In 2020, 1.8% (or about 5.1 million people) reported misusing prescription stimulants and an estimated 0.3% (or about 758,000 people) had a prescription stimulant use disorder.

Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug abuse may be difficult to spot, especially if you are getting your drugs from licensed healthcare providers. People who misuse prescription drugs may exhibit changes in eating or sleeping patterns, mood swings, or frequent intoxication. They may also run out of their prescription early or get anxious when they have difficulty filling their prescription.

Abusing any drug over a period of time can lead to an addiction or substance use disorder. Signs of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Having symptoms of withdrawal when not using the substance and only being able to alleviate the symptoms by taking more of the substance
  • Developing a tolerance which makes you have to increase your dose of the same substance over time to feel the desired effects
  • Experiencing intense drug cravings
  • Wanting to stop taking the substance or trying to stop taking the substance but being unable to do so
  • Making multiple failed attempts to stop taking the substance
  • Spending too much time using and recovering from the effects of the substance
  • Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors in an attempt to get multiple prescriptions)
  • Continuing to use the substance after it has begun harming your mental or physical health
  • Isolating from friends, family, and loved ones
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feeling unable to function normally without taking the substance

Recreational prescription drug misuse can result in life-altering health consequences, so it’s important to get treatment sooner rather than later.

treatment for prescription drug addiction

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Comprehensive treatment consisting of an individually-tailored care plan, medically-assisted detox, and behavioral therapy can help anyone recover. The first step is assessment and detox.

At Sheer Recovery, our goal is to keep you as safe and comfortable as possible during this time, while also creating a medically supervised detox plan that is customized for you. After the initial intake process, you will go through medical stabilization during which doctors will prescribe medication to help reduce symptoms of withdrawal, stabilize your appetite, and promote restful sleep.

The exact symptoms of withdrawal you experience will vary based on which substance you are detoxing from. However, common symptoms of prescription drug withdrawal include:

  • Drug cravings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Body and muscle aches
  • Gastrointestinal upset

Nurses will monitor your symptoms throughout the detoxification period.

After you finish detoxing, you will transition to an inpatient or outpatient rehab program. During rehab, our licensed therapists will guide you through various group and individual therapy sessions. With a focus on mental health, our therapies will help heal the underlying psychological and emotional ailments that are contributing to your substance abuse.

In addition to inner healing, you will learn how to effectively prevent relapse and engage in a sober lifestyle. Throughout every step of your recovery, we’ll be by your side, helping you achieve long-term sobriety.

Start Your Recovery Today

Sheer Recovery stands apart from other California addiction treatment centers by providing a safe, private, and comforting residential recovery environment. Our luxury residences paired with semi-private and private rooms, peaceful ocean views, and therapeutic amenities are guaranteed to make you feel supported during treatment. After working with our excellent therapists, you will feel fully prepared to return to your daily routine clean and sober.

If you or a loved one are struggling with prescription drug abuse and addiction, please call us today. Our dedicated admissions team is available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have and help you start your recovery journey.

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