Prescription Drug Abuse

Research-based Brain Science

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

Though prescription drugs can provide much-needed relief and healing when prescribed under the care of a doctor, many of these medications are also habit-forming and addictive. If you are currently taking a prescription medication, it’s essential to consult with your medical provider to ensure your dosage is appropriate for your needs. If you’re using prescription medication recreationally, please consult a medical or addiction treatment professional right away.

When we discuss prescription drugs as a class of medications, we are referring to any drug or medication prescribed by a doctor for medical use. However, there are several prescription drugs that are particularly addictive and worrisome. These include: 

  • Pain reducing or pain-killing medications, typically opioids
  • Medications for anxiety, stress management, or sleep-related challenges, typically depressants
  • Drugs to manage attention-deficit or breathing conditions, typically stimulants

We’ve included a brief summary of each drug and its addictive properties below:

Opioids are commonly prescribed by doctors for their pain-killing properties, particularly for patients dealing with moderate to severe pain from surgery, cancer, or chronic health conditions. Unfortunately, because they interact with receptors inside the nervous system and brain, they are highly addictive. As a result, doctors must carefully monitor patients’ usage of opioid drugs and their withdrawal process.

Depressants are typically prescribed by doctors to manage stress, anxiety, and sleep disorders because they slow down the body’s release of activity-producing neurotransmitter chemicals. However, as with other drugs that interact with the brain, they pose a risk of dependence and addiction, and should only be used for short periods of time while being overseen by a doctor.

Stimulants are often used by doctors to help patients with attention-deficit challenges, breathing-related issues such as asthma, or excessive sleep conditions. These drugs promote the release of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain and body that increase activity in the nervous system, boosting energy and focus. Unfortunately, stimulants can be addictive, and their use requires medical supervision.


Opioids, depressants, and stimulants are not the only prescription medications that can lead to addiction. However, they are the most common and are likely to be closely monitored by medical professionals.

When medications enter the bloodstream, they typically interact with chemicals and receptors found within the brain. For the three most commonly used addictive medications, this process can be broken down as follows:

  • Opioid drugs bond with opioid receptors found in the brain and body. This action helps to reduce pain signals throughout the body while also releasing the chemical dopamine, which produces a sense of calm and pleasure, reinforcing the use of the drug in the future. Repeated use of opioids can also produce dependence, in which the brain and body become reliant on the drug to manage pain and promote wellbeing.
  • Depressants cause the brain to slow down and send lower amounts of neurotransmitters into the nervous system, causing the user to feel calm, sedated, and sleepy. This temporary “dulling” of the brain and body can be useful to stem anxiety and stress or promote sleep but can also pose severe health risks if used outside of a doctor’s care.
  • Stimulants increase brain and body activity, particularly the production of key neurotransmitters that cause the heart rate to increase, the brain to increase its focus and learning ability, and breathing to become easier. Yet these same properties can also be used recreationally or abused, posing a high risk for addiction and misuse.

Over time, if an individual consumes prescription drugs regularly, even under the care of a doctor, they can develop a condition known as tolerance. This occurs when the brain and body become accustomed to the presence of the drug in their system, meaning the individual must take higher doses of the drug to experience the same effect. This is one reason why it is critical for individuals taking prescription drugs to do so under the care of a medical professional.

Tolerance does not indicate addiction, but it can be a precursor to developing addictive behaviors. If tolerance to prescription medication increases without appropriate medical supervision, an individual can develop a physical dependence to the drug, which can lead to addiction, when they are willing to undergo severe personal, professional, and mental hardships to continue their consumption of the drug.

If you or a loved one are currently taking prescription medication, it’s critical to know the warning signs of addiction, particularly because they can be subtle and may be denied or minimized by the individual struggling with addiction.

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction are typically physical and behavioral. Because every drug is different, we’ve put together a general list of symptoms below.

Common Physical Signs of Prescription drug addiction include:

Common Physical Signs of Prescription drug addiction include:

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the listed signs and symptoms while taking prescription medications, please consult a medical or addiction treatment professional as soon as possible.

When an individual stops taking a drug, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms as the brain and body “reset” back to baseline functioning in the absence of the drug. This may occur because an individual has run out of prescription medications or is trying to quit by going “cold turkey,” or ceasing their drug consumption altogether.

Unfortunately, because prescription medications vary in intensity and impact, it’s important to work with a medical or addiction treatment professional before stopping drug use altogether. Though it may seem counterintuitive, gradual tapering of prescription drug use may be safer in many cases and should be overseen by a medical professional.

Prior to beginning treatment for prescription drug addiction, it’s vital that individuals undergoing withdrawal do so under the supervision of medical and addiction treatment experts. This period is known as detoxification, in which the brain and body purge themselves of the addictive substance and can be very dangerous and even life-threatening depending on the drug. Medically supervised detoxification can help keep an individual safer and more comfortable than trying to manage the withdrawal process alone.

At StoneRidge Centers, we prioritize the healing of the brain as a catalyst for long-term recovery from addiction and substance abuse. That’s why we’ve created an addiction treatment program that incorporates the best of evidence-based treatment, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), with innovative brain-focused therapies, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and qEEG/Brain Mapping.

If you or a loved one are struggling with prescription drug addiction, we invite you to find out how we can help you better understand, manage, and overcome addiction through a brain-focused approach. Contact Us.

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