Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

While prescription medication is designed to help those who require it for a number of different medical conditions, prescription drug abuse is a growing problem, especially for young individuals. Many young people abuse prescriptions drugs in an effort to alter their moods and bring about feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and detachment from their surroundings. The prescription medications most commonly abused are sedatives, painkillers, antianxiety medications, and stimulants. However, many types of prescription medication can be abused.

When prescription medications are not consumed as directed by a prescribing physician, many negative consequences can occur, including the development of addiction. Once prescription drug addiction has occurred, it can be highly challenging for individuals to defeat it without the help of professionals.

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Studies show that roughly 52 million Americans have abused some form of prescription medication. In addition, research has found that prescription drug overdose in the United States takes more lives than gunshot wounds, car accidents, or suicides.

Causes and Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Abuse

There are many varying components that can explain why some young individuals will develop a prescription drug addiction while others will not. Consider the following:

Genetic: Years of research have shown that there is a prominent genetic link to one’s risk of substance abuse and addiction. A young individual who has a family history of chemical dependency is at a greater risk for facing addiction at some point in his or her life.

Environmental: Many environmental factors can affect one’s risk of prescription drug addiction. For instance, those who grow up in an environment where drug abuse is common are more likely to abuse drugs, too.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from a condition that requires the use of prescription drugs for symptom relief
  • Easy access to prescription drugs
  • Peer pressure
  • Experiencing a trauma
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect
  • Personal or family history of mental illness
  • Family history of chemical dependency

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms a young individual might show when abusing prescription pain medications will depend on the type of substance being abused, how long one has been abusing, and the amount that he or she is consuming. Some examples of the symptoms one might experience when abusing prescription medications can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Skipping school
  • Breaking curfew
  • Frequently getting in trouble
  • Behaving in an aggressive manner
  • Lying or other deceitful behavior
  • Stealing
  • Decline in academic performance
  • No longer participating in activities that he or she once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Change in peer group

Physical symptoms:

  • Tremors / shakes
  • Lack of good hygiene
  • Lethargic
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Weight gain or weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delayed thought processes
  • Disorientation
  • Altered perceptions of reality
  • Lack of judgment
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of motivation
  • Appears fearful or paranoid for no reason
  • Changes in personality
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Irritability or anger outbursts
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of any drug, including prescription medications, will lead to an individual experiencing a variety of negative outcomes that can disturb all areas of his or her life. Some of the many ways in which prescription drug abuse can impact a young individual’s life can include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Organ damage and failure
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Family discord
  • Onset of symptoms of other mental health conditions
  • Physical harm as a result of accidents or engagement in risky behavior
  • Social isolation
  • Destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Poor academic performance
  • Increased risk for accidents

Co-Occurring Disorders

The presence of additional mental health conditions has been known to develop in those who battle prescription drug addiction. The mental health conditions listed below have been known to develop in those who are simultaneously struggling with a prescription drug abuse problem:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of prescription drug withdrawal: The continued abuse of prescription drugs can lead to the onset of withdrawal symptoms when the use stops. The specific symptoms that one might experience will depend on the type of drug that is being abused, but might include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Tremors / shakes
  • Hallucinations
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Vivid dreams
  • Sleep problems
  • Profuse sweating

Effects of prescription drug overdose: Whenever a child or adolescent abuses more of a substance that he or she is able to handle, overdose will occur. If an overdose happens, immediate medical attention should be obtained. The symptoms that a child or adolescent has overdosed on prescription drugs can include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Respiratory failure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Death
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