What are the Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction?

Long Term Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction

Unfortunately, legal doesn’t always mean safe. Although more than 100 million people in the U.S. are safely prescribed medications for a range of severe and debilitating health issues, about 19 million will go on to abuse their prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse can also start a person down the path of addiction to illegal substances, and long-term abuse and addiction can severely impact a person’s physical and mental health and their quality of life. It is a myth that prescription medication is 100% safe and won’t come with the risk of addiction.

Who is most at-risk for prescription drug abuse and the problems it creates?

Anyone can become addicted to a substance. The biochemical and physiological processes that are present in the disease of addiction aren’t unique to any one person. Drugs, legal or otherwise, impact the brain in much the same way from one person to the next. But it is not entirely understood why some people are more likely to form substance use disorder than others, but there are a few known risk factors.

Men and women abuse drugs in roughly equal numbers, but the reasons why they abuse drugs are different. Around 20% of all Americans over the age of twelve have abused a prescription drug, meaning they have used the medication for a reason other than what it was intended for. That can mean that they took another person’s prescription, used way more than what a doctor prescribed at once, or took a medicine more frequently than prescribed. Mixing prescriptions with alcohol or another drug is also a form of abuse. But while abuse is common, that doesn’t always mean a person will go on to develop an addiction. Abusing drugs isn’t the definition of addiction, although it is a risk factor.

Addiction completely changes the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. The biological processes involved in addiction hijack the brain’s risk and reward systems and also cause severe physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when a person can’t have access to the addictive substance. Addiction is a complicated illness, and there is no single, concrete way for doctors to determine who gets addicted and who doesn’t, but certain demographic groups have a higher risk profile for prescription drug addiction than others.

Using Tobacco or Alcohol

People who smoke or use nicotine products and people who have abused alcohol or struggled with alcohol misuse in the past are at higher risk of abusing their prescriptions and becoming addicted.

Family History

Having a close, blood relative with substance use disorder also raises a person’s risk profile for prescription drug addiction. Scientists aren’t 100% sure what genes are responsible for this risk factor.

Mental Illness

People with mental health disorders are also at higher risk of developing an addiction to a prescription drug than those with better mental health. It is estimated that close to half of all people who enter rehab for alcohol addiction also have a co-morbid mental health disorder. An untreated mental health disorder will cause distressing symptoms that people may be tempted to alleviate with drugs or alcohol. Specific prescriptions, such as opioid painkillers, are highly effective at lessening both physical and emotional pain.


People between the ages of 18 and 25 are at higher risk of becoming addicted to a prescription drug than older or younger individuals. The most common reason that people in this age group abuse prescriptions is to experiment. Unfortunately, abuse can trigger addiction.

What are the long-term physical and mental effects of prescription drug abuse?

Abusing prescription opioids can lead to severe physical and mental dependence, and ultimately, addiction. Opioids and other narcotic painkillers are highly addictive, and it doesn’t take very long for the body to form a dependency on the medication. Stopping or taking less of the drug when addicted will cause severe and distressing withdrawal symptoms. Long-term abuse can cause liver damage and also worsen mental health conditions.

When someone is addicted to sleeping pills, they can experience rebound insomnia when they stop taking the drugs or try to lessen the amount of medication they take. Rebound insomnia is incredibly challenging to treat. These drugs can also damage the liver, and cause gastrointestinal side effects and distress.

Long-term prescription stimulant abuse can cause a range of different health problems, including chronic fatigue and exhaustion, sexual dysfunction, and cardiovascular damage. These drugs increase blood pressure and can lead to permanent changes in cardiovascular functioning.

Why are rehab and addiction counseling critical for long-term abusers?

In most cases, taking medication as prescribed and under a doctor’s care and supervision won’t lead to adverse side effects or addiction. But taken incorrectly, prescription medications can be incredibly damaging to a person’s long-term mental and physical health and well-being. Abusing these medications long-term can cause organ damage, worsen mental health issues, and cause permanent physical impairment. These medications also come with a risk of overdose and death when taken incorrectly.

Addiction is a disease that needs to be treated with help from qualified medical professionals. For the majority of people who are addicted to prescription medication, they need assistance in managing the initial health problem and the addiction to their prescription. Experienced rehabilitation centers offer the type of comprehensive, customized care that people need when it comes to treating an addiction to prescription medications.

How can someone with a long-term addiction to a prescription drug get help?

It’s essential to reach out to a professional drug abuse counselor for help with addiction to prescription medication. Addiction treatment requires highly personalized care that takes into account the patient’s entire medical history and their reason for having a prescription in the first place. Medically-supervised detox is usually recommended, where patients are given either a tapering-off schedule for the drugs or are given a replacement drug to treat their initial health problem while also addressing the withdrawals present in addiction treatment.

Mission Harbor Behavioral Health has helped dozens of patients recover from prescription drug addiction. Please contact Mission Harbor today to explore your options for addiction treatment.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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