Prescription Drug Abuse

Every year millions of older adults receive prescriptions to help with medical issues and symptoms. These medications can become dangerous if used incorrectly. Abuse can occur whether intentional or accidental when dosage is administered incorrectly. Many people also use them for non-medical reasons to achieve altered feelings and sensations.

The number of individuals abusing prescription drugs is increasing because of the availability of prescription drugs and less oversight among physicians. Individuals are sometimes assuming that as long as they are prescribed by a doctor they are not harmful.

If you are taking your medication more than what has been prescribed, you are abusing prescription drugs. If you take your medication for reasons other than prescribed, such as feeling out of sorts or bored, you are abusing prescription drugs.

Risk Factors

Many people come close to abusing their prescription drugs without even realizing they have done so. The more you consume drugs, the higher your tolerance. This can result in increasing your dosage to get the same result. Your prescription drugs may lower your inhibitions when you are socializing or to help you fit into a group of people.

If you are dealing with chronic pain, panic attacks or other debilitating health issue, you may be more susceptible to increasing your dosage. If you have experimented with drugs in the past, you may be more likely to abuse prescription drugs. Your biology, social environment, and age or stage of growth will also determine how likely you are to get addicted. Other risk factors include:

  • Mental disorders like depression, anxiety or ADHD
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Past or present physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Past or present neglect or other traumas
  • PTSD
  • Aggressive behavior as a child
  • Major life changes or transitions
  • Association with other drug users.

Behavioral Changes

If you suspect you are abusing prescription drugs or another loved one, be aware of certain behavioral signs. It’s not easy to hide drug addiction but many people will still try. If you observe these behavioral changes, it’s time to pay closer attention to the individual or yourself.

Seek out help with your physician or local clinic. Talking to someone can feel humiliating or dangerous, but you could lose everything including your life. Medical professionals are trained to help people with addictions not to judge. It’s much easier to address addiction issues before it gets worse.

  • Personality becomes more irritable or frequent mood swings without a good reason.
  • Forget things or become clumsy.
  • Skip work, planned activities or family get togethers.
  • Performance suffers with work, hobbies or other activities.
  • Lies and deceitfulness are observed. Eye contact is avoided.
  • Personal appearance and hygiene is neglected.
  • Avoids hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed.
  • Appetite decreases or increases significantly.
  • Borrow money or withdraw frequent amounts from bank.
  • Angry and abusive towards others.
  • Engages in reckless behavior.

Opioid Prescriptions

Opioid pain relievers (derived from the poppy plant) are commonly prescribed to treat cancer and surgery and are one of the most commonly abused drugs. They can go by the names codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl or morphine. The drug makes you feel relaxed, calm and intensely happy. When they are taken, the chemical structure replicates a natural neurotransmitter in your brain, activating certain nerve cells.

Taking opioids with alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium can cause respiratory depression or even death. Watch for these signs of abuse with this particular drug:

  • Confusion
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness, dizziness, sleepiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Watery or droopy eyes
  • Nausea, vomiting, and constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Sleep deprivation or “nodding off”
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Slow gait
  • Dry skin, itching, or skin infections
  • Constant flu-like symptoms
  • Bruises or “track marks” (if injecting)


Depressants can include sedatives, sleep aids, tranquilizers, and barbiturates. They are prescribed to treat various mental disorders like anxiety, sleep disorders, panic attacks and eating disorders. You may have a heightened sense of well-being, intense happiness and excitement. They affect your brain neurotransmitter GABA which lowers your brain activity. This makes you drowsy or calm.

After taking depressants for a while you may need larger doses to get the same feeling. Depressants taken with alcohol can also slow down your heart and breathing and lead to death. Consult with your physician before stopping suddenly as you can experience life-threatening effects such as withdrawal seizures.

The following can be observed if these prescription drugs are being abused:

  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of coordination/dizziness
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Memory problems
  • Slurred speech
  • Respiratory depression
  • Slowed reflexes


Stimulants include prescription drugs like amphetamine, Adderall, Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin or Ritalin. These are used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder).

Stimulants will increase your alertness, energy and attention. They raise your heart rate, blood sugar, blood pressure, constrict blood vessels, and open the pathways of the respiratory system. When taken with decongestants they may cause irregular heart rhythms. High doses of stimulants can cause high body temperatures, cardiac arrest, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke and psychotic behavior.

The following can be observed if stimulant prescription drugs are being abused:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sweating
  • Exhibiting excessive energy or motivation
  • Aggressive behavior or anger outbursts
  • Mood-swings
  • Risky or impulsive behaviors
  • Jitteriness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hyper-focus
  • Flight of ideas
  • Racing thoughts
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Increased sense of well-being or confidence

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