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Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse

causes of prescription drug abuse

If you’re aware of the opioid epidemic that has been ongoing since the late 1990s, then you may understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Opioids are one of the several medications that people have abused since they were discovered. Although prescription medications are heavily monitored, many still find their way to the streets where they're illegally sold, and patients themselves misuse others. Our drug rehabilitation center shares the causes of prescription drug abuse and the signs you should look out for.


What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse refers to using or taking prescription drugs in a way they were not directed or intended by the prescribing doctor. Common forms of prescription drug abuse include taking a friend’s medication and taking a higher dose of medicine than prescribed to get high. This problem affects all age groups, and the early identification of prescription drug abuse is crucial to early intervention and preventing the habit from becoming a legitimate addiction.


  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines (benzos)
  • Sleep medications
  • Opioids (codeine, methadone, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.)
  • Stimulants (amphetamines)
  • Cough and cold medications containing dextromethorphan (DXM)


Although specific mechanisms of action and side effects vary depending on the drug, the ones listed above each have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Many of these medications are often abused for the high they can produce or mixed with other substances like alcohol to intensify their effects. The misuse of prescription drugs usually necessitates prescription pill detox and treatment for physical and mental recovery.


Reasons for Prescription Drug Abuse

But what causes prescription drug abuse? Why do people abuse these substances if they can harm them? Despite the harmful effects of prescription drug abuse, many people still become hooked on their prescription medications and for various reasons.


Some common causes of prescription drug abuse include:

  • To feel good or get high.
  • To relax or ease stress.
  • To deal with the stress of a busy or demanding job or employer.
  • To cope with the stress of financial struggles.
  • To prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • To be accepted by peers.
  • To increase sociability and “loosen up” in social settings.
  • To increase or improve partying experiences at clubs, raves, musical festivals, and other events.
  • To try and enhance concentration or performance at work or school.


Risk Factors of Prescription Drug

You can avoid prescription drug abuse if you remain in constant contact with your doctor and take your medications as prescribed. However, in addition to the various causes of prescription drug misuse, there are also several risk factors for prescription drug abuse to keep in mind.


  • History of addiction or substance use disorders in your family
  • Past or present addiction to other substances
  • Pre-existing mental illness
  • Exposure to peer pressure or an environment where substance abuse is common
  • Easy access to prescription medications, such as having various medications at home
  • Lack of knowledge about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs


In addition to these risk factors, hundreds more contributing factors can push a person to misuse their medications. A common reason why people abuse prescription drugs is that they increase their doses to cope with the pain after surgery. Without prescription drug addiction treatment, individuals addicted to their medications increase their risks of organ failure, cardiovascular disease, overdose, and death.


Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Being addicted to prescription drugs isn’t easy to hide. Although it can be difficult to realize a person has a prescription drug problem at first, as their addiction progresses, the signs become more noticeable. Below are some common signs of prescription drug addiction you should look out for in yourself and your loved ones.


Physical signs and symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling high (euphoria or pleasure)
  • Slowed breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Requiring a higher dose for pain relief
  • Increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses (hyperalgesia)
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Increased alertness
  • High blood pressure and body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia


Behavioral signs include:

  • Stealing, forging, or selling their medications
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Poor decision-making
  • Impaired judgment
  • Appearing to be high (can include increased energy, lethargy, or sedation)
  • Constantly requesting early refills
  • Continually "losing" prescriptions in hopes of receiving more
  • Doctor shopping (seeking prescriptions from several doctors)


The signs of prescription drug addiction vary depending on the substance in question. For instance, while opioids produce sedation and target the respiratory system, cocaine increases alertness and attacks the cardiovascular system. Regardless, prescription medications should always only be taken if and as prescribed to you by your doctor.


Although there are many myths about prescription drug abuse, the truth is that even prescribed medications can be dangerous. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, we can help. Call Banyan Treatment Centers now at 888-280-4763 to learn how our residential drug treatment can help.


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse
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