Last updated: 09/18/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Many types of prescription drugs have mind-altering or psychoactive effects. Medications that stimulate and/or sedate central nervous system functions often produce unintended effects, such as euphoria, increased energy and calm. These unintended effects account for why so many people use prescription drugs for recreational purposes.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs in the United States.
Both prescription stimulant and sedative-type medications carry highly addictive properties even though they require a doctor’s prescription.
While stimulant and sedative medications have different effects on the brain and body, prescription drug addiction can develop when drug are not taken as prescribed or when taken for recreational purposes.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Many people might be surprised to know that Oxycontin, Xanax, Ritalin, heroin and cocaine drugs all fall within the narcotics drug classification. Though considered legal, Oxycontin, Xanax and Ritalin nonetheless carry the same addictive properties as illegal narcotics.
Both prescription stimulant and sedative-type drugs alter vital brain neurotransmitter chemical processes and continue to alter these processes for as long as a person keeps taking them. In effect, prescription drug addiction develops in much the same way as addictions to illegal narcotic drugs.
Stimulant Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms
Stimulant prescription medications directly affect dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitter brain chemicals. When ingested, the brain secretes unusually large amounts of these chemicals, which in turn throws off essential bodily processes, such as cognition, heart functions, and emotions. Over time, the brain develops a tolerance to the drug’s effects, which drives users to ingest increasingly larger doses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of stimulant addiction include:
- Reckless behavior
- Sleep problems
- Loss of weight
Opiate Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms
Opiate drugs mostly affect the brain’s dopamine neurotransmitter chemical levels. Dopamine plays a key role in regulating pain signals, the experience of pleasure, body temperature and digestion processes. Opiate drugs include most all pain reliever medications that require a prescription. Surprisingly, addiction rates for prescription pain relievers far outnumber those of cocaine and heroin.
Symptoms of opiate addiction include:
- Confused thinking
- Slow breathing rate
- Coordination problems
Sedative Prescription Drug Addiction Symptoms
According to Psychology Today, both sedative and anti-anxiety medications depress central nervous system functions by targeting GABA brain neurotransmitter chemical processes. When ingested, the brain secretes large amounts of GABA, which slows brain activity and creates a relaxing effect. Much like opiate and stimulant medications, the brain develops a tolerance to these drugs over time.
Symptoms of sedative/anti-anxiety drug addictions include:
- Poor decision-making
- Eye tics
- Muddled thinking processes
- Unsteady gait
Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction
While physical symptoms of prescription drug addiction can easily be spotted, signs of addiction can also be seen in a person’s behaviors and routines.
Behavior-based signs of addiction include:
- Isolating from friends and family
- “Doctor shopping”
- Change in sleep patterns
- Extreme mood swings
- Violent behaviors
- Financial problems
- Brief lapses in consciousness or “nodding off”
As drugs take on more importance in a person’s life, behavior-based signs of addiction will become more apparent.