Symptoms and Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse
Drug abuse symptoms in young people manifest emotionally, mentally, and phPrescription drug abuse effects vary depending on which medications a young adult is abusing. Here are the three most commonly abused types of prescription drugs and how they impact the brain and body:
- Opioids: Usually prescribed to treat pain, opioid medications contain oxycodone (the active ingredient in Oxycontin and Percocet) or hydrocodone (the active ingredient in Norco). Opioids affect receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing pain signals and impacting areas of the brain that control emotion.
- Tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics: These drugs, known as central nervous system depressants, work by slowing brain activity.This category includes mental health medications, specifically commonly abused anti-anxiety drugs, as well as prescription drugs for sleep disorders. Active ingredients include benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Brand names include Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
- Stimulants: Stimulants increase the release of dopamine in the brain and body, and create a feeling of heightened alertness. Most often prescribed for ADHD, these medications include methylphenidate (in Ritalin and Concerta), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (in Adderall), and dextroamphetamine (in Dexedrine).
What’s the different between using a prescription drug vs. abusing it?
If you’re using a prescription medication in order to get high, you’re abusing it—even if it was prescribed for you. Prescription drug abuse also includes taking a dose other than the one prescribed, or taking the medication in a manner that was not prescribed, such as grinding pills and snorting them.
In addition, using a friend’s or family member’s prescribed medications—whether or not you’re taking them for a medical condition—also constitutes prescription drug abuse.
Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse
Red flags indicating prescription drug abuse include behavioral, psychological, and physical symptoms. Common behavioral signs include stealing or forging medication prescriptions, requesting early refills or “losing” prescriptions, and going to more than one doctor in order to get additional prescriptions. Psychological symptoms include extreme mood swings, hostility, making poor decisions, and appearing either sedated or unusually energetic. Moreover, the dangers of prescription drugs include slowed breathing, coma, and death.
Each type of medication creates prescription drug abuse effects on a physical level:
Opioids can cause:
- Slowed breathing rate
- Poor coordination
- Nausea or constipation
- Low blood pressure
- Increased sensitivity to pain as tolerance of the drug increases
- Coma or death as a result of an overdose.
Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications can result in:
- Dizziness and unsteady walking
- Slurred speech
- Memory issues, confusion, and poor concentration
- Slowed breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Coma or death due to an overdose
- Seizures as a result of withdrawal from the drug.
Stimulants have the following physical effects:
- Anxiety, agitation, aggressiveness, and/or paranoia
- Irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure and heart problems
- Increased body temperature, to the point of danger
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Seizures or tremors
Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse
Why do young adults start abusing prescription drugs? They might begin misusing a medication in order to relax, feel less inhibited, control appetite, improve concentration at work or their academic performance. They might even start using a drug because they received a legitimate prescription for pain or anxiety, and then found they liked the way it made them feel and began misusing the medication.
Ultimately, young adult substance abuse—including prescription drug abuse—is directly linked to underlying mental health issues such as trauma, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mood disorders. The drug becomes a way to self-medicate pain and distress associated with mental health disorder.
Once a young adult starts abusing prescription drugs regularly, the body and brain develop a dependence on the drug, both physically and psychologically. As a result, they may continue to use the drug even when it’s causing significant problems in their relationships, school or work life, and daily functioning. Moreover, a young adult who is abusing prescription medications has a higher likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, getting in trouble with the law, having a car accident, and using illegal drugs.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse
When diagnosing prescription drug abuse, a healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive physical and mental health assessment that includes:
- A physical exam and lab tests to determine how prescription drug abuse is impacting your body and organs
- In-depth discussion regarding your prescription drug misuse and mental health symptoms
What will I experience in treatment for prescription drug abuse?
Treatment for prescription drug abuse isn’t over once you’re no longer using prescription drugs. In fact, that’s when the most important healing work begins. Expert mental health professionals—including clinical therapists, recovery counselors, and experiential therapists—help young adults work through past trauma that may be prompting their misuse of prescription drugs. In addition, patients learn healthy ways of coping with trauma triggers and dealing with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
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Care at Newport Institute
At Newport Institute, we nurture the physical, psychological, and educational needs of young adults from a foundation of compassionate care, clinical expertise, and unconditional love. Through in-depth assessments and psycho-educational testing, we develop a customized treatment plan for every individual.
Our integrated approach to treatment for prescription drug abuse guides young adults to create authentic connections with themselves, their peers, and their family and loved ones. In building self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-compassion, they come to understand the real reasons for their prescription drug abuse. When they leave us, they are equipped with a sense of purpose and meaning, as well as lifelong tools for thriving.
Barbara Nosal, PhD, LMFT, LADC
Chief Clinical Officer
Treatment for prescription drug abuse at Newport Institute includes prescription drug abuse solutions through a variety of powerful healing modalities, facilitated by our team of expert clinicians, counselors, and therapists:
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy help young adults reframe negative thinking and move toward a more expansive view of themselves and the world
- Experiential therapies, such as Adventure Therapy and creative arts, to help process trauma and safety express difficult emotions
- Group therapy with peers creates a supportive community in which you can form connection with others who have had similar experiences
- Family therapy heals wounds in the family system, so that young adults can move into the future with the support of loved ones, along with a healthy sense of autonomy
- Life skills training and academic tutoring to provide young adults with tools for creating a life of purpose and meaning.
Reach out today to find out more about how Newport Institute can help you or a loved one get the help you need.
Marks of Quality Care
Our innovative approach to mental healthcare earns accolades from press around the world, but it is our dedication to our client success that has helped us achieve accreditation from The Joint Commission, exceed licensing standards of care, and nurture affiliations with the following: