Prescription medications are a major cornerstone of modern medicine, as they offer treatment for an incredible range of conditions and ailments. We trust these drugs, knowing they’ve undergone rigorous testing and been approved by regulatory bodies.

That said, this approval doesn’t negate the fact that some of them can be quite addictive, especially when misused or abused without professional guidance.

In fact, prescription drug abuse is a serious epidemic in New York, with the Department of Health reporting thousands of life-threatening overdose cases that required hospitalization across the state.

If you or a loved one is struggling with this type of addiction, this guide will walk you through everything you need to know to set foot on the path of recovery, including how this dependence develops, how to identify it, and the best treatment programs to overcome it.

What Prescription Drugs Have the Highest Potential for Abuse?

While the following drugs help in managing a wide range of physical and mental health disorders, they pose a real threat of developing substance abuse when misused.

Here’s a quick look at the different types of drugs with serious risks of addiction despite their medical properties.


Opioids are a large class that includes all drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. The class consists of drugs made directly from the plant (opiates) as well as synthetic and semi-synthetic analogs that are usually much more potent than morphine.

Almost all opioids are used as painkillers to relieve moderate to severe pain. Almost all opioids are used as prescription painkillers to relieve moderate to severe pain except for codeine, which is sold over the counter (without prescription) as a cough treatment in some states.

Some of the commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).

However, the most dangerous prescription opioid is fentanyl, which is responsible for over 20% of opioid addiction overdose deaths, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


These drugs are prescribed to increase focus and alertness, which is why they’re commonly prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder characterized by excessive drowsiness throughout the day.)

When taken in doses larger than prescribed, stimulants can be highly addictive. This is common among students and employees abusing the drug for its perceived performance-enhancing effects.

Examples of addictive stimulants mainly include methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) and amphetamine (Adderall).


Commonly known as “Benzos”, these drugs function as sedatives that slow down the nervous system and produce a calming effect, so they’re mainly prescribed for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety.

Benzodiazepine tolerance and addictive potential are both remarkably high, especially when taken for a long time even at regular doses. Examples here include alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan).

How Does Prescription Drug Addiction Develop?

Although prescription drug addiction shares a lot of similarities with other forms of substance use disorders, they’re typically surrounded by unique circumstances that may stand out.

For starters, qualified healthcare professionals will usually prescribe these drugs at a certain dose and time frame to limit their addictive potential.

As a result, addiction often starts among main users who take these medications at a higher dose or for a longer period than they were prescribed.

Besides drug misuse, other people may also abuse these drugs for their perceived effects, even if they don’t medically require the drug.

While these drugs may vary in properties depending on their class, they all develop addiction following the same pathway/cycle, which goes like this:

  1. As the drugs interact with natural chemicals of the central nervous system (neurotransmitters), they create their perceived effects, typically accompanied by euphoria.
  2. Over time, the body builds a tolerance toward these effects, needing more of the drug to get the same results.
  3. This gradually leads to dependence, where patients experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug.
  4. Left unchecked, the cycle of tolerance, dose increase, and dependence develops into compulsive drug seeking and other symptoms associated with addiction.

What Are the Main Causes of Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug addiction usually has unique circumstances surrounding its development. However, like other forms of drug use disorder, it can also involve a wide range of interacting risk factors, whether they’re personal or social. Here’s a quick look at them:

Common Individual Causes

  • Having a personal or family history of drug abuse increases the risk of prescription drug addiction significantly.
  • Suffering from underlying mental health issues can lead to self-medication or increasing the dose of the drug without consulting your doctor.
  • Using prescription drugs with high addictive potential from a young age increases the susceptibility to drug addiction.

Social Risk Factors

  • Easy access to the drug, either through profession or by having leftover medications from family/household members.
  • Lack of awareness about the addictive potential of these prescription drugs, which leads to downplaying their risks.
  • Professional or academic stress, which can push some people to abuse drugs, especially performance-enhancing drugs like stimulants.
  • Coping with severe chronic physical pain, which intensifies the motivation to self-medicate using opioids.
  • Suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders, which prevents patients from giving up treatments needed for condition regulation.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse can lead to serious health complications with a high risk of overdose or even death if not treated properly.

The following are some signs and symptoms to help you detect potential drug abuse and seek immediate help.

Behavioral Changes

  • Taking higher doses of medications than prescribed
  • Going to multiple doctors to get prescriptions (commonly known as doctor shopping)
  • Forge prescriptions to obtain prescription drugs
  • Buying prescription drugs illegally due to lack of prescriptions
  • Stealing prescription drugs from original users
  • Denying substance abuse no matter how obvious the situation becomes
  • Changing the method of administration of the drug. For example, crushing and snorting pills instead of swallowing them.
  • Isolation and withdrawal from society
  • Neglecting academic, professional, and social responsibilities

Physical and Psychological Signs

  • Developing withdrawal symptoms upon reducing the dose or stopping the drug.
  • Disturbance in sleep patterns whether as insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • Changes in appetite which lead to either weight loss or gain
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting, and/or constipation.
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Memory and speech impairment
  • Poor coordination and concentration on tasks
  • Increased risk of abused drug side effects

What Are the Most Common Treatment Approaches for Prescription Drug Addiction?

Now that you know more about prescription drug abuse, here’s a quick look at some of the most reliable and evidence-based treatments available.

Medical Detoxification

Commonly known as “detox”, this is the initial and more critical step during addiction treatment. In this stage, patients are typically admitted to a facility to receive 24/7 medical support, which is known as residential or inpatient treatment.

While the previous route is common for patients with severe addiction, milder approaches like nonresidential or outpatient treatment also exist, but they’re reserved for milder cases only.

Prescription drug addiction detoxification typically includes medication-assisted treatment, which is a program that incorporates specific FDA-approved drugs to support and enhance treatment during the initial phases of recovery, such as methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and sometimes naloxone.

These medications work in different ways, but all aim to reduce withdrawal symptoms, ease cravings, and ultimately help you stay on track with your recovery journey.

Individual Therapy

After successful detoxification, individual therapy makes up the main bulk of the treatment process to recovery.

The purpose of this therapeutic approach is to explore the root cause of addiction and develop coping mechanisms to resist its cravings.

Professional therapists typically use a wide range of approaches during sessions, but the most popular one here is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This one mainly focuses on identifying and fixing the thought patterns that trigger addictive behaviors.

Group Therapy

In addition to individual therapy, drug addiction also includes various forms of group therapy to counter the isolation associated with addiction.

Group meetings like 12-step programs and other peer-to-peer support groups create a sense of community among recovered patients and help them maintain their progress by sharing their experiences.

Besides encouraging continued recovery after treatment, group therapy is also a great way to learn more about accountability and relapse prevention.

Post-Recovery Care

The risk of relapse following addiction treatment is relatively high, especially if the underlying issues behind addiction weren’t addressed during therapy.

A good rehabilitation program will also include post-recovery care that focuses on the well-being of individuals through lifestyle changes like exercise. This can also include therapeutic techniques like meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, acupuncture, and more.

Finding Help with Prescription Drug Addiction in New York

The path toward a life free from prescription drug addiction is challenging but not impossible. With the right approach and support, patients can emerge victorious and enjoy relapse-free recovery.

That being said, finding the right help during this challenging journey is essential for improving the chances of success.

If you or someone you love are struggling with drug addiction in New York, consider seeking the help of Long Island Interventions. We offer highly personalized treatment plans developed by qualified professionals to maximize your chances of a relapse-free recovery.

Published on: 2024-06-27
Updated on: 2024-07-11