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Children's Health

Prescription Drug Addiction

People take prescription medications for many reasons. They may use them to ease pain, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder. Most of these people use such potentially addictive drugs correctly. But some people end up abusing them.

In some cases, people may abuse drugs that aren’t prescribed to them. They may get them from friends or family members. Or they may buy them from drug dealers on the street. The number of teens and young adults ages 12 to 25 who abuse prescription painkillers has more than tripled since the mid 1990s.

Here is a Q and A about prescription medication addiction. It can help you or a loved one seek help, if necessary.

Young woman taking prescription meds from a medicine cabinet

Q. What drugs are likely to be abused?

A. Three kinds of prescription drugs are most often abused without a prescription:

  • Opioids. These are for pain relief. They include morphine, codeine, and drugs that contain hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

  • Tranquilizers. These are for anxiety and sleep disorders. A few examples are alprazolam and diazepam.

  • Stimulants. These are for narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Examples are amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate.

Q. What are the symptoms of prescription addiction?

A. Signs of addiction include the following:

  • Loss of control over taking a medication

  • Hiding pills

  • Obsessively counting pills

  • Finding ways to get more of a drug by making unnecessary emergency room or licensed health care provider visits

  • Taking a drug or medication more often than directed

  • Taking higher doses than instructed because the previous dose did not provide the same effect

  • Taking a drug with other drugs or alcohol

  • Crushing and snorting a pill instead of swallowing it

Q. Who’s at risk for prescription addiction?

A. Both women and men abuse prescription drugs at about the same rate. Women are twice as likely to become addicted as men. People at the highest risk for addiction are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription drugs in the past.

Q. What steps can be taken to avoid addiction?

A. Take medications only as prescribed. Get possibly addictive medications only from one licensed health care provider and one pharmacy.

If you have opioids, tranquilizers, or stimulant prescription medications, keep them in a safe place. Lock them up to keep them secure. Don’t share them with anyone else. The prescription is for only you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/3/2015
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