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Prescription drugs are FDA-approved substances that doctors may prescribe patients to treat illnesses, infections, deficits and disorders.

You may see prescriptions written as the abbreviation, “Rx”. Although prescribed medications are safe to take as directed, they may still carry risks of overdose and addiction. Some can cause serious medical harm if mixed with other drugs. Your doctor should discuss risks and side-effects with you when issuing the drug. Prescribed medications also come with FDA warnings. Always read these before using.

History of Prescription Drugs

Use of prescription drugs has increased every decade since the 1960s. Stimulants, depressants, and opiates have become the biggest problems for abuse. Users can become physical dependent on these drugs without even realizing it. Drugs such as Fentanyl, Vicodin and even OxyContin have become recreational drugs as users seek the high they create.

The rise of prescription drugs has worsened the opioid epidemic in the United States. When painkillers become too expensive to get legally or illegally, many will turn to a cheaper alternative, such as heroin. Despite the risks of addiction, many people continue to misuse their prescription drugs, without realizing the dangers of their long-term effects.

Prescription Drug Use

Americans use significantly more prescription drugs than people in other countries. Many complex factors play into this issue. American lifestyle has a big role in why pharmaceuticals are so abused. The United States is one of the most affluent countries in the world, has a high rate of mental illness, and many people live extremely stressful lives. Advertising and marketing of prescription drugs also play a large role. With the prevalence of prescription drugs in our culture it makes many individuals feel they need medication for issues which they otherwise wouldn’t seek help. According to the latest government statistics, nearly 47% of American adults have taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days.

Problem With Prescription Drugs

Painkillers are often disposed of improperly, forgotten about, or sold for illicit uses. These medicines are only truly safe when taken as directed by a doctor. This includes using the correct dosage, taking medications at the correct time, and never taking a drug not prescribed to you. Unfortunately, this often isn’t the case. Many people abuse and use drugs dangerously.

Prescription drug abuse is associated with an increase in emergency room visits, drug-related deaths, and addiction. Young adults abuse prescription drugs the most, with almost 15% of people aged 18-25 abusing a prescription drug in the past year. Other commonly abused drugs in this age group include alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Older adults are more likely to become accidentally addicted to their prescriptions. More than 80% of older Americans ages 57 to 85 use at least one prescription drug a day. Possible drug interactions, slowed metabolism, and chronic illnesses can make abuse or misuse dangerous for older individuals.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

If you suspect a loved one has a problem with prescription drugs, watch for the following signs:

  • Using a prescribed drug even after their pain has subsided
  • Seeking a drug after the prescribed time has ended
  • Frequent clinic or hospital visits, especially to different doctors
  • Changes in mood and behavior
  • Lack of interest in treatments that exclude medication
  • Using other people’s prescriptions
  • Vague answers about where a medication came from

These are all possible signs that a person is abusing prescription drugs. Some physical symptoms which occur from withdrawal. Joint and muscle pain, night sweats, insomnia, extreme changes in sleep, hyperactivity, and a sedated demeanor can all be indicators of withdrawal or abuse.

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Risk factors of Prescription Drugs

As with any drug, there are several risk factors. First and foremost being prescribed painkillers predisposes a person to abuse because of how physically addicting they can be after a short time. Genetics as well as familial drug or alcohol abuse can be factors. Pre-existing mental illnesses and chronic pain are both conditions which could increase one’s likelihood of becoming addicted. Addiction can develop quickly because prescription drugs, at first, seem like a medical intervention to a medical problem (illness or pain). An individual may be able to convince themselves, for a time, that they aren’t misusing the drug. They may believe they are truly using the drug for its medical benefits. This may even convince loved ones. Overtime though, full blown addiction may develop, and it can be just as deadly and destructive as illicit drug abuse.

If you suffer from addiction to prescription drugs, or suspect that a friend or family member may need help, call us today. Our experienced doctors and wellness professionals can provide personalized treatment to help you or a loved one find long-term, sustainable sobriety.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.