Modern prescription drugs have made incredible forays in restoring both physiological and psychological health, and as such, allopathy is a big boon for mankind. However, prescription drugs are not without a dark side. In 1990, US pharmacies sold an aggregate of 76 million units of morphine, a pain-killing opioid, and by 2016, this number had increased to a whopping 224 million units, and this is just one drug in the category of three most abuse-prone prescription drugs; Opioids, Depressants/Sedatives, and Stimulants. According to DEA, sedatives, tranquilizers, and opioids are the most abused drugs with the number of US residents seeking treatment for opioids addiction growing by more than 400 percent in the last decade. But studies show that only 1% of prescription drug abusers seek medical treatment. In this article, we are going to look into signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse. As evidenced by the rise in the number of individuals seeking treatment for prescription drug addiction, prescription drug abuse is also a worrying endemic in Europe, Canada and other parts of the world. The first-time abuse of prescription drugs is often a voluntary decision, and mainly in pursuit of the euphoria (“high”) feeling that the addictive prescription drugs give. However, after a period of regular use, the body develops tolerance and dependence to the drug. Tolerance to a drug means that the abuser must take increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effect that was previously achievable using a lower dose. Prescription drug dependence means that the abusers body requires him to maintain a certain amount of the drug in the bloodstream, for it to function properly. In other words, the patient’s body, has become so used to the drug, that it considers its absence in the blood a “disease.” By the time tolerance and dependence begin developing, addiction has set in and the abuser can no longer quit the prescription drug without withdrawal symptoms.

Visible Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

  • Stark increase in dosage or frequency of drug intake – This may be voluntary, but it can also be a subconscious decision.
  • Unusual Physical Appearance – Signs of prescription drug addiction are often prominently displayed in the physical appearance of the individual. Some classic physical symptoms of drug addiction include red or glassy eyes, sniffling and runny nose, as well as splotchy or pockmarked skin. Prescription drug addicts may also cause signs such as unexplained sweating or shortness of breath, especially if one is deeply addicted and haven’t indulged recently (withdrawal).
  • Unexplained Spending  Drugs are often expensive and hard to obtain. If someone you know has been spending a lot of money but cannot account for their spending, drugs are often the reason. However, all the money may not be going to drugs. To keep their drug habit secret, drug addicts go to extraordinary lengths to conceal where and how they obtain the drugs. This may involve paying intermediaries to help keep everything under the radar.
  • Disorder and Unkemptness – Once drug addiction has taken root, an individual who was meticulous and resplendent can turn out disorderly and unkempt. The need to indulge takes centerstage, and they forget to take care of themselves and may often have poor hygiene standards.
  • Sometimes, patients may lie about pain to be allowed to take more pills. It’s always advisable to consult a doctor before increasing the prescription drugs, even if the requested increase is marginal.
  • Oversleeping is very common in the case of opioids, and depressants, etc. and excessive energy in case of stimulants. In the later stages, these signs can amplify and then you may witness other serious symptoms like constant sedation, spasms, body aches, respiratory depression, constipation, repeated nausea, apathy to food and lack of taste.

Behavioral Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

There are many behavioral changes that accompany prescription drug abuse, but these are more noticeable during momentary withdrawal phrases. Some of the most common symptoms for both simulations and opioids are anxiety attacks (sudden euphoria followed by deep anxiety, restlessness, depression, etc.), mood swings, social aversion, and increased ego. Also, patients tend to sweat profusely, say illogical things, exuberate simple facts, and experience memory loss in times of extreme stress.

  • Poor Judgment – Drug addiction places such a chokehold on the abusers that they do not consider anything else as important. They will shirk responsibilities and often fail to turn up at the office or school. This lack of good judgment is often an indication that matters are getting worse and urgent intervention is paramount.
  • Insomnia and Drowsiness – Many drug addicts demonstrate very irregular sleeping patterns. They may spend the whole night without sleeping and will also become drowsy at odd moments. Methamphetamine addiction is notorious for inducing what is known as being “wired” – going for days on end without any sleep.

Social Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

A person’s social life is also deeply affected by prescription drug abuse. While opioids and stimulants increase the appetite for social interactions temporarily, in the long-term people tend to develop a deep apathy towards social interactions. Addicts will generally try to avoid social gatherings and often be mindless in such situations. Their friends circle also changes, and they tend to rely on people who understands them and avoid people who disagree with them. They become more empathic towards fellow abusers and feels comfortable and protected in their company.

In severe cases, addicts spend lengthy periods of time cooped up indoors and uncommunicative. This may be a result of their compulsion to keep their habit secret or it could be something even more insidious. The person abusing the drugs may be seeking to create an alternative reality of their own and they will do anything to keep out of the actual world where duty and responsibilities are real and urgent.

How Opioids Affect the Body & Brain

It’s important to understand that certain classes of opioids are naturally synthesized in our brain during stressful situations as a natural defense mechanism against stress attacks. The opioids attach themselves to opioid receptors present in certain areas of our brain and spinal cord, and the body maintains a natural balance by quickly flushing out any excess opioids from our system; directly through urine and indirectly through cross-metabolism.

However, taking opioids beyond a certain limit limits the body’s natural detoxification system and overfloods the opioid receptors. This creates a deep change in pain perception and ability to sense other hormonal signals. Repeated abuse creates opioid dependency – the body can only function properly in presences of a certain quantity of opioids in the bloodstream, and at this point, addiction has developed. Some types of opioids, such as morphine, are highly potent and addiction and tolerance develops after just a few days of regular use.

Opioids cause much collateral damage in the body, and this manifested inform of problems like nausea, acidity, constipation, liver damage, hardening of blood vessels, increased sensitivity followed by blackouts, muscle and joint pain, subjugation of the body’s natural immune system, and reduced sensation to physical pain.

How Depressants Affect the Body & Brain

Depressants blocks an important neurotransmitter pathway, known as the dopamine channel and GABA receptors. Dopamine is the hormone responsible for the perception of happiness while GABA is an important transmitter of neural signals. Depressants affect the brain by minimizing the effects of these neurotransmitters and then taking over their chemical functions, especially that of GABA.

The effects of depressants abuse are similar to those of first-phase of opioid stimulation: slowed pulse, reduced and short breathing, low blood pressure, bent posture, constant fatigue, slurred speech, abnormal gait, lack of coordination, dilated pupils, difficulty in urination and defection, and complete lack of motivation.

How Stimulants Affect the Body & Drain

Though stimulants fundamentally follow the same pattern, they do the exact opposite of depressants; they increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain along with their potency. Stimulants create a mental perception of invincibility and in high doses, similar effects to cocaine abuse. Stimulants like dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) constantly interact with the Central Nervous System’s core neurotransmitters, making them temporarily more powerful.

Though specific depressants tend to have specific signs, like opioid and depressants, there is a broad range of general symptoms associated with stimulants abuse. These include excessive sweating, sweaty palms and feet, irregular breathing and blood pressure, dry mouth, increased thirst but low urination, weight gain, decreased fatigue, increased appetite right after drug use, loss of appetite during withdrawal phase, dilated pupils, and increased alertness which can sometimes cause long-term insomnia and anxiety disorders.

Long-Term Health Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse


  • Accidental death due to increasing tolerance and subsequent overdose.
  • Paranoia and anxiety disorder.
  • Breathing and heart problems
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Low sperm production and no sex drive.
  • Joint pain and bone decay.
  • Drying up of spinal fluid and synovial fluid, which are non-replaceable.
  • Loss of vital neural connections, which can even lead to paralysis.
  • Decreased sensory feelings like taste, touch, sound, sight, etc.
  • Frequent nervous breakdown.
  • Anger bouts and violent behavior.
  • Low concentration.
  • Low response and decreased agility.
  • Low immunity.
  • Constipation, intestine infection which can spread out to the liver and pancreas.


  • Decreased mental sharpness
  • Poor performance at school or at work
  • Reduced number of friends and interests.
  • Dry and corrosive eyes.
  • Kidney and liver failure in high levels of toxicity.
  • Hardening and decay of arteries.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Uncontrollable anger.
  • increased chance of relapse or
  • Prone to further substance abuse
  • Dry mouth, low levels of saliva, and tooth decay.
  • Inability to mingle in society.
  • Inability to concentrate or fulfill commitments.
  • Disorganized lifestyle with little care for basic cleanliness.


  • Involuntary muscle movements like teeth clenching and blinking
  • Intolerant to loud noise or bright lights
  • Impaired judgment.
  • General body fatigue due to low oxygen intake
  • Lethargy due to abnormal metabolism.
  • Lack of motivation for real work.
  • Over pessimistic and complete denial of problems.
  • Increased chance of relapse or Prone to further substance abuse.
  • Kidney and liver failure.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Seizures or convulsions.
  • Irritability and suicidal thoughts.

Prescription Drug Overdose

The tolerance level of many prescription drugs is almost as high as that of illegal drugs. This means they are easily addictive and users tend to keep increasing the dosage to get the same high/effect. As the patient progressively increase the dose, the risk of overdose also increases. The following are the signs and symptoms of prescription drug overdose:

  • The risk of overdose is very high in all of these three classes of prescription drugs. The symptoms of overdose are detailed below.
  • Confusion, delirium, hallucinations.
  • Violent mood swings and early signs of multiple personalities.
  • Bluish skin around the lips or under the fingernails
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Breathing problems, including slowed or irregular breathing
  • Extreme constipation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Coma or inability to come to sense.
  • Breathing problems and a feeling of suffocation.
  • Cold body temperature with dry skin.


Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.