Prescription drug addiction

This Page was last reviewed and changed on May 31st, 2022

Prescription medications are different from illicit drugs in that they have legitimate medical purposes. Yet this clear benefit of prescription drugs is also its biggest trap. The fact that the drugs are prescribed for real medical problems does not make them any less addictive than their illicit counterparts. And unfortunately, prescription drug addiction is every bit as real as addictions to alcohol and illegal drugs.

Are you concerned someone you care about is suffering from prescription drug addiction? Are you worried you might have a problem with prescription drugs? If so, UKAT is here to help. Our range of services includes full support and treatment for prescription drug abusers and their families. We have the ability and resources to help you overcome and go on to live a life free of prescription drug problems.


Benzo addiction

Benzodiazepines are prescribed for medical purposes and can lead to Benzo abuse when it’s taken recreationally or more frequently over time without medical approval. Benzodiazepine is highly addictive, so it’s vital to spot the symptoms straight away.


Opiate addiction

Opiates are usually prescribed to those who are in pain. They are extremely addictive and can cause devastating consequences to those reliant. Therefore, it’s important to know the warning signs.


Prescription drugs are addictive

People often make the mistake of assuming that prescription drugs are less addictive than illegal drugs or alcohol. This may be true with more benign drugs such as antivirals and antibiotics, but it is not true for prescription medications that have psychoactive effects. The reality is that any psychoactive substance, regardless of how it is obtained or used, has the potential to become addictive.



In the UK, the most commonly abused prescription medications include those in the following categories:

Some prescription drug addicts start with legitimate prescriptions given to them by their doctors. A patient needing pain medication after surgery is a good example. When patients take their medications in ways that go beyond their doctors’ instructions, tolerance and eventual addiction can be the result.

Others become addicted to prescription drugs without ever legally obtaining a prescription. They either buy the drugs on the street, purchase them online, or steal them. Unfortunately, the black market for prescription medications is now growing at an alarming rate. People use them because they are cheap and easy to get.

There is now a huge black market for the drug,” he says. “Some people may sell their prescription, but people also buy it on the internet and from dealers. ( Dr Mateen Durrani )


Public Health England (PHE) Report

Public Health England have released a prescribed medicines review to identify the scale, distribution and causes of prescription drug dependence, and what might be done to address it.

PHE’s analysis shows that, in 2017 to 2018, 11.5 million adults in England (26% of the adult population) received, and had dispensed, one or more prescriptions for any of the medicines within the scope of the review. The totals for each medicine were:

  • Antidepressants 7.3 million people (17% of the adult population)
  • Opioid pain medicines 5.6 million (13%)
  • Gabapentinoids 1.5 million (3%)
  • Benzodiazepines 1.4 million (3%)
  • Z-drugs 1.0 million (2%)


Signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction

Prescription drug addiction is not necessarily harder to treat than other kinds of addictions. What makes it more difficult is the task of recognising that it exists. For example, consider the alcoholic as opposed to a patient who is dependent on prescription opioids.

Prescription drug addicts tend to be a lot better at hiding their behaviours. Some may even be able to cover up what they are doing based on a previous medical need that was legitimate. Having said that, there are definitive signs that go along with prescription drug addiction. These are:

  • A tendency to visit doctors frequently
  • A tendency to shop online for prescription drugs
  • Regular complaints about medical conditions that would justify drug use
  • A gradual drop-off in school or work performance
  • And increasing disinterest in personal appearance
  • A tendency toward defensiveness when talking about prescription medications.



Certain prescription drugs also have physical side effects that are noticeable if you know what to look for. For example, a prescription sedative addiction will manifest itself in confusion, poor judgement and decision-making, memory problems, drowsiness, unsteady movements, and rapid eye movement.

Some additional physical symptoms are more general in nature. These tend to occur with the majority of prescription medications:

  • Noticeable mood swings based on the availability of drug supplies
  • Increasing irritability and anxiousness – also based on drug availability
  • Interrupted sleep patterns – can include long-term insomnia
  • Increased alcohol consumption between episodes of drug use.

If you are a regular user of prescription medications and you notice any of these signs, there is a good chance you are either addicted or well on your way to being so. Likewise, if you notice the signs in the life of someone you care about, they are sufficient motivation to contact us for more information and advice.


Dangers of prescription drug addiction

The dangers that go along with prescription drug addiction are very similar to other addictions. First and foremost, addictive prescription medications have adverse effects on the physical body that directly correlate with the kind of drug being used. The damage can reach everything from the heart to the liver to the brain itself. You should be aware that some of the damage could be permanent if drug use continues for an extended amount of time.

Psychoactive prescription drugs can also harm the mind. Because of the way the drugs interact with the brain, certain chemical changes occur with every use. Those changes can lead to depression, anxiety, and a whole range of psychoses including paranoia and schizophrenia.

A hidden danger inherent to prescription drugs is the misplaced belief that they are completely safe because doctors prescribe them. What must be understood is that these drugs are classified as prescription only specifically because they are addictive and/or dangerous. The very fact that they are only obtainable through prescription should tell you something. Do not believe the myth that they are less harmful or less powerful.



Prescription drug addiction treatment

Prescription drug addiction treatment follows the same general course as treatment for other addictions. It starts with a 7-to-10-day detox period that enables the body to cleanse itself from the toxins within. That is followed by 3 to 12 weeks of psychotherapeutic treatments that help patients get to the root causes of addictive behaviour. Finally, aftercare services are offered on a follow-up basis to prevent future relapse.


UKAT – Leading providers of prescription drug addiction treatment

UKAT is one of the UK’s leading providers of addiction treatment services. We are here to assist you or a loved one struggling with prescription medications. Please contact us so we can provide you with an individualised assessment followed by a list of treatment recommendations. You can get well with the right treatment and ongoing support.


On 3 August 2020, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated their guidelines on the treatment of chronic primary pain, recognising that prescription medication contributes to addiction. The new guidelines state that GPs should not prescribe opioids or other medicines like paracetamol to patients because they could be ‘harmful’ and cause addiction.

Although paracetamol itself is not addictive, the new guidelines recognise that prescribing it for chronic primary pain encourages the reliance on pills.

Here is an extract from the guidelines:

Do not offer any of the following, by any route, to people aged 16 years and over to manage chronic primary pain:

  • Opioids
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Anti-epileptic drugs including gabapentinoids
  • Paracetamol
  • Ketamine
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antipsychotics

Full details of the guide can be found in this document.

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