Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

What is prescription drug abuse?

A description of prescription drug abuse would be the use of prescribed medication but not in the way that it was originally prescribed by the GP. It would include, for example, consuming higher daily doses than intended, as well as taking prescription medication not prescribed by the GP at all.  Prescription drug addiction can result in our body becoming used to the medication such that we start to suffer withdrawal symptoms if we try to cut back or stop the drug. 

pharmacist with prescription drugs for patients

It is less common nowadays to be addicted due to GPs over prescribing

At The Haynes Clinic we used to have people being admitted to be detoxed  from long term Benzodiazepine use, where their prescription had been continually renewed for years and the individual had also managed, over a period of time, to get the dosage increased.  However, due to a tightening of healthcare legislation and the need for due diligence, and an awareness of the dangers of long term medication use, it is rare these days for any individual to have their prescription renewed on a continuous basis.  It is now far more common to have medication prescribed for short term use only.

As a result of more careful prescribing, it is now more common for people to become addicted to medication they are getting from non official sources such as from the internet or dealers.

This can occur for a number of reasons. For example, someone has seen their GP for anxiety and been prescribed Diazepam for short term use and then that prescription has not been renewed.  Levels of anxiety can then increase for that individual as they do not see how they can now manage without it.  At The Haynes Clinic we find that some at this point will search for medication that they can get from the internet and delivered to their home address.  This medication may be advertised as being the same as they were prescribed but generally it can be made of anything. There is also a danger that continued use of the drug will  lead to an addiction.

Most common prescription drug addictions

Accessing medication from the internet formerly prescribed by the GP (or in greater quantities than prescribed by the GP)  is becoming an increasing problem that is now affecting all age groups.  The medications that are most commonly abused are opiate based painkillers (some of these can even be bought over the counter at a chemists such as Solpadine), sedatives such as sleeping medication and stimulants such as the medications used to treat ADHD, for example, Concerta.

Symptoms of prescription drug addiction

The key to preventing a prescription drug abuse becoming an addiction is an early realisation and, more importantly, an acceptance of the symptoms of the drug that are having a detrimental effect. These symptoms can usually be observed on our health, work, finances and relationships. There is a need to share with another person what we are doing and what is happening with our life before it becomes more critical.  At The Haynes Clinic we offer free assessments, either at the clinic or via a telephone call, with an experienced professional who will understand the position and be able to put forward suggestions to  an individual care pathway that would include the manageability of our life without the misuse of medications.


  • Drowsiness
  • A dangerously slowed breathing rate
  • Poor coordination and unsteady in walking
  • Increase dose needed to be effective
  • Increase dose then becomes ineffective
  • Confusion and forgetfulness
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Preoccupied with constantly seeking to maintain supply of medication
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ignoring others’ concerns about our health

The most misused prescription drugs:

  • Opioids which are usually used to treat pain. In the UK commonly prescribed medication is Tramadol, Codeine, Co-Codomol or Co- Dydramol. Codeine based medication can be purchased over the counter at any pharmacy and is becoming a problem as it is being misused even when not prescribed. Opiods can cause a slowed breathing rate which can lead to a coma and an overdose of any opioid can cause death.
  • Anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Diazepam are known as benzodiazepines. Detox from these can take up to 6 weeks – even more – in a residential addictions unit depending on amount and length of use.  Continued use can cause memory problems, low blood pressure and slowed breathing. If people suddenly stop taking this medication it can affect the nervous system and lead to seizures.
  • Stimulants such as Amphetamines, that are prescribed by a GP, are medicines that are generally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also known as ADHD. The  medications used are Concerta or Ritalin or Guanfacine. Nacrolepsy, which is related to uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep, can lead to a stimulant being prescribed such as Modafinil, which stimulates the central nervous system. Stimulants are used to increase alertness, attention and energy. Dangerous side effects if this medication is abused are increased blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased breathing rate. Hallucinations, rapid aggressive mood swings and paranoia can also be present with long term use.

Developing an addiction will take a different amount of time for each individual

Physical dependence on  medication is caused by long term use. The time it takes to  become dependent will vary from person to person but is usually caused by the body needing higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effect due to it becoming tolerant to the drug’s effect over a period of time. We will also then experience withdrawal symptoms when cutting back or trying to stop taking the drug. Addiction to any drug is the body’s dependence on that drug combined with a compulsion in the mind to use the drug even when it causes major problems in our lives and we are  fully aware of its detrimental effect on us.

The risk with prescribed medication is that people think that, because it was prescribed by a healthcare professional in the first place, then it has to be safe. In addition people think that because GPs have provided it on a short term prescription basis, then surely it would still be all right to use it longer term? This, combined  with a fear as to how to manage their medical condition without the drug, leads to them to source the medication illegally .  At The Haynes Clinic, part of the residential therapy programme is based on the Cognitive Behavioural  Therapeutic model in order to help people manage their feelings, with the help of others, and to accept that their conditions would not need them to be taking increasing doses of medications to maintain a structured life. They also need to realise that the long term effect of the medication is now generally making their condition worse than before the medication was initially prescribed. 

Help is available

As with all addictions, the way forward to regaining our lives is to ask for help.

Telephone The Haynes Clinic and have a confidential conversation with one of our professionals today or arrange a convenient time for an assessment of your current condition.

Our helpline at The Haynes Clinic is open 7 days a week.

The Haynes Clinic:  01462 851414