Prescription Drug Addiction Health Conditions

Prescription drugs are a silent crisis in our communities. We don’t see the problem because it doesn’t involve the dramatic illegal drugs we’re used to. Still, the effects of prescription drug abuse are as severe as any other.

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The list of health conditions that prescription drugs can cause is long and scary. Luckily, with help and treatment, they can be avoided.

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drugs are given to you by a doctor. Sometimes this makes it hard to know what is abuse and what isn’t. Prescription drug abuse is taking a prescription drug outside of a doctor’s orders.

Often, this means taking a drug you don’t have a prescription for. People sometimes get prescription drugs illegally. Other times, they steal them from friends or family who have a real prescription. Without a doctor’s orders, this is still abused even if it’s for a real problem like pain. These drugs are powerful and require supervision.

Sometimes, though, people actually have a prescription but still abuse these drugs. This could be taking the prescription in higher doses or more often than prescribed. It could also involve lying to doctors about symptoms to get a prescription.

What Are the Most Abused Prescription Drugs?

There are three kinds of prescription drugs that people abuse. These are opioids, stimulants, and sedatives.

Opioids are a powerful class of pain-killing drugs. They work very well at relieving the pain of severe injuries. Unfortunately, they are also very addictive. People often get these drugs for real needs, but then they get addicted and start to abuse them.

Stimulant prescription drugs give you energy and help you focus. Prescriptions in this group include Ritalin and Adderall. These are usually given for problems like ADHD and sleep disorders.

Prescription drug sedatives relax you. People abuse three different kinds of sedatives. Benzodiazepines, or benzos, like Xanax and Valium, treat anxiety. Sleep aids like Ambien help those with shift work or insomnia fall asleep. Barbiturates are another anxiety drug. They’ve mostly been replaced by benzos, but people still abuse them.

Aside from these three main categories, people abuse many other kinds of prescription drugs as well. These may include anabolic steroids and even antidepressants.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

Sometimes we don’t realize how bad the problem is because we assume that prescription drugs prescribed by a doctor must be safe.

To better understand, take a look at these prescription drug abuse facts:

  • In the US, there were five times as many overdose deaths involving prescription opioids in 2016 than 1999.
  • Prescription opioids account for over 10% of Massachusetts opioid overdose deaths.
  • Over 3% of the Massachusetts population receives an opioid prescription.

The Negative Health Effects of Prescription Drugs

Brain Damage

Brain damage from prescription drug abuse is very common. Opioids are a major culprit. Along with relieving pain, opioids slow down the heart and lungs. At high doses like those outside of a doctor’s orders, they can slow down too much. The brain might not get enough oxygen. This can lead to permanent brain damage.

Sleep aids may also cause brain damage. They can cause chemical imbalances and lead to memory loss.

Heart Disease

The stimulant class of drugs comes with a risk of heart disease. They increase heart rate and cause abnormal heart rhythms. Over long periods, this could lead to things like heart attacks or strokes.

Anabolic steroids also cause certain parts of the heart to enlarge. Taken long enough, this can start to cause big problems. Eventually, it could mean heart failure.

Liver Damage

The liver is a filter for the body. It removes toxins. That makes all drugs hard on it, and prescriptions are no exception. Doctors prescribe drugs within a safe range for your liver. They also make sure not to mix drugs that when combined can make it harder on the liver to process. If you abuse these drugs, you leave that safe range.

Liver damage from prescription drugs can come in many forms. Cirrhosis is a disease in which the liver cannot function well anymore. Cirrhosis is damage to the liver often when scar tissue begins to replace normal tissues of the liver. Toxins build up in the body, and the skin and eyes turn yellow. Fatty liver disease is another common condition.


The repeated use of any drug increases your risk of cancer. Stimulants are the main prescription drugs that cause cancer. Studies suggest that children who take Ritalin for long periods have a higher risk of cancer. This is because the drug can cause changes to the chromosomes.

Anabolic steroids can also cause cancer. They change the body’s hormones which could mean testicular or prostate cancer.

Mental Illness

Depression and prescription drug abuse go hand in hand. Drug abuse in general causes a lot of stress. It also strains relationships. This can lead to depression and anxiety. Stimulants like Adderall are especially known for leading to these mental illnesses.

Dependence and Addiction

Addiction is always a risk of drug abuse. Opioids specifically are very addictive. They build a physical dependence. The body gets used to them and can’t work right without them. If you quit taking them, you have withdrawals. For opioids these are really bad and can even be deadly.

You don’t need physical dependence to become addicted, though. Taking prescription drugs outside of a doctor’s orders and not being able to quit means addiction.

Overdose and Death

The worst health condition that any prescription drug can cause is death. An overdose occurs when you take so much of the drug that it causes acute poisoning. This can happen with any drug.

The overdoses from opioids and barbiturates are especially dangerous, though. They can cause respiratory failure making it difficult to breathe, which in turn leads to death. Fortunately, due to the availability of Naloxone, overdoses can be reversed if administered on time. In the case of barbiturates, there is no antidote.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment

Many people think that because prescription drugs come from doctors and are legal, they aren’t as dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. These drugs can cause health conditions as severe or more so than illegal drugs.

Since they’re so powerful, it’s normal to need help to quit. At Bedrock Recovery Center, we specialize in just that. Our drug abuse experts use scientifically proven methods to help you face your addiction head-on. Call us today to start your recovery journey.

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2023 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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