What It Is

While many people rely on prescription medications to help them manage physical or mental health conditions, it’s possible to become addicted to prescription drugs. In fact, prescription drug addicts often become hooked by taking pills that may not even be prescribed to them.

Commonly abused prescription drugs include painkillers, like Percocet or morphine, or stimulants like Ritalin or Dexedrine. Teenagers, especially, are at risk for prescription drug addictions, as pills are often easily accessible in a parent’s medicine cabinet. Although prescription drug addiction may not seem as serious as alcohol or illegal drug abuse, it can develop and progress to a dangerous stage just as rapidly. In many cases, taking prescription drugs that the body doesn’t need can be life-threatening.

Symptoms and Signs

A prescription drug addiction may not be immediately noticeable to an outsider. Moreover, a person who is actually prescribed a necessary drug could be abusing the substance by taking more than is necessary or using it for a longer period of time than is appropriate. Also, symptoms will vary depending on the type of drug being abused. If an addiction is present, some or all of the following behaviors may be noticeable:

  • Inability to function in daily life without the drug
  • Lying or stealing in order to maintain a supply of the drug
  • Attempting to hide the behavior, such as going to the bathroom to take a pill or hiding the drug in secret places
  • Faking symptoms to doctors or other health professionals in order to get a prescription
  • Gradual or rapid increase in frequency of use or dosage
  • Sudden changes in behavior or mood swings as a result of taking or not taking the drug
  • Relying on the drug to deal with emotional problems or feeling that it is the “cure” to life’s challenges

Treatment Options

Treating a prescription drug addiction can be challenging: it requires the addict to want help. Many addicts are embarrassed to admit to their doctors or other health professionals that they have been lying or stealing to get the drug. Also, it’s not uncommon for a prescription drug addict to justify behavior with the excuse that the drugs are legal. However, all manifestations of addiction—regardless of the drug of choice—tend to necessitate similar types of treatments:

Inpatient Rehabilitation Program

An inpatient program is often helpful for a prescription drug addict. In this setting, he or she will be monitored for potential withdrawal symptoms and will typically have access to both individual and group therapy sessions.

Outpatient Rehabilitation Program

An outpatient program may work for a prescription drug addict as well. In this setting, patients attend weekly or daily classes at a treatment facility but continue to live at home.

12-Step Programs

Programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Drug Addicts Anonymous (DAA) provide a recovery program method that follows the same 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Psychotherapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

An addict may also benefit from individual therapy. Drug addiction can often stem from deeper emotional issues that need to be dealt with in order to change self-destructive patterns.


In some cases, medication is necessary to reset chemical imbalances caused by prescription drug abuse or to help manage coexisting mental health disorders.


Outcomes for prescription drug addicts will vary, depending on a variety of factors. Treated early, this kind of addiction can typically be managed and produce less severe consequences. A long-term addict may have more challenges, especially if the drug abuse has altered brain functions or created significant health problems for the user. If addiction is present, the user may also need to exercise caution with other substances, such as alcohol. One “drug” may trigger a craving for another and, consequently, cause a relapse. If addiction runs in the family, it’s important to communicate this to a doctor before accepting prescriptions for any type of condition. It is easy to become dependent on certain drugs, even if they appear safe or are commonly used.


Since prescription drug abuse is a fairly common problem, there are many resources for people seeking information and treatment. The following organizations may be helpful:

  • PrescriptionDrugAbuse.org
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • DrugFree.org
  • Narcotics Anonymous