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Prescription Drug Addiction

Data from the NHS suggests that as many as 1 in 4 people in England – nearly 12 million people – are taking "addictive" prescription medicines such as antidepressants, sleeping pills and opioid painkillers. 


A Public Health England review looked at the use of strong painkillers, antidepressants and sleeping tablets which are used by a quarter of adults every year. It found that at the end of March 2018, half of the people using these drugs had been on them for at least 12 months. Officials said long-term use on such a scale could not be justified and was a sign of patients becoming dependent.

Addiction to prescription drugs is a dangerous and sometimes fatal issue in the UK. Help Me Stop helps those addicted to prescription drugs restore their lives and live a life free from addiction to the substances they may currently be struggling with.

Prescription drug addiction is slightly different from other substances in that it isn’t by nature illegal. It is, however, just as serious an issue in our society. Addiction to prescription drugs prescribed for legitimate reasons relating to health often leads individuals to illegal substances – particularly when their prescription runs out.

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Help Me Stop is here to support any person struggling with addiction to prescription drugs. If you are worried about your own use of prescription drugs or are close to someone you have concerns for, please don’t delay; get in touch immediately with our team.

What kind of prescription drugs can people become addicted to?

Prescription drugs can be very strong and addictive, particularly those prescribed for serious or life-changing illness and injury. These are prone to abuse, and can include drugs from the following categories and intended uses:

  • Opiates such as fentanyl, morphine, hydrocodone and codeine

  • Antidepressants such as citalopram and Prozac

  • Weight loss pills such as Orlistat, Alli and Xenical

  • Insomnia and sleeping pills such as zopiclone

  • ADHD medicine including Ritalin

  • Anti-anxiety medicine such as pregabalin and benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Valium

How does prescription drug addiction start?

Addiction to prescription drugs usually begins after a person has a legitimate need for them. Life-changing events such as serious illness or a painful accident can, for instance, give a person real need for strong painkillers such as morphine to get through their recovery and healing.

While these are carefully prescribed by medical professionals, the simple fact is that substances like morphine are addictive. This poses little problem usually while the prescription is being provided and consumed, but can leave the individual with strong withdrawal symptoms and a desire to consume the same or similar substances even when they are no longer needed for recovery.

In these cases, individuals who are experiencing symptoms of addiction may turn to illegal drugs to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and feelings of addiction or turn to the internet to get more “prescribed” drugs. Strong painkillers such as morphine do, in some cases, lead people towards the purchasing and use of similar illegal drugs such as heroin.

How widespread is the issue in the UK?

While statistics vary, studies such as those undertaken in the 2017 to 2018 period by Public Health England have found over eleven million adults in England, around one-quarter of the population, to have received prescription drugs with potential for addiction. Most common among these are antidepressants, with further drugs including opioid pain medicines, benzodiazepines (mostly prescribed for anxiety), gabapentinoids (used to treat epilepsy, anxiety and nerve-related pain) and Z-drugs, a group of nonbenzodiazepine drugs that are similar to benzodiazepines and usually prescribed for sleep issues.

What are the symptoms of prescription drug addiction in a loved one or friend?

Although the symptoms of addiction will vary depending on the specific drug consumed, the frequency of use and the amount being used there are common signs of addiction that can indicate someone is struggling with substance misuse and dependency. Defining exactly what is going on with a person and their possible prescription drug addiction can be challenging, however, as there are many substances that fall under the umbrella of prescription drugs – and many have varying symptoms of addiction.

Although it's important not to jump to conclusions over perceived changes in behaviour, there are common behavioural things that someone struggling with prescription drug use may do. Visiting the doctors with increasing frequency, visiting multiple doctors for the same condition to try and obtain multiple prescriptions, taking prescription medication faster than prescribed to, and shopping online for medication are changes in behaviour that may indicate an issue.

Changes to important activities such as education and self-care are critical indicators of problems in any individual’s life and are often seen within the realm of prescription drug addiction as dependency worsens. This, together with a reluctance to talk about prescriptions and a sense of defensiveness on the subject may point towards a developing issue.

On a physical level, the following can all be signs of problematic use: slurred speech, diminished or increased appetite, leading to weight changes, mood swings and coordination problems.

How do I know I might be becoming addicted to prescription drugs?

If you are currently prescribed a drug and are concerned over developing an addiction to it, please get in touch with Help Me Stop today. We will happily talk you through your concerns and advise you openly and honestly.

With that said, addictive substances often share a core set of symptoms, particularly painkillers and opiates. If you are experiencing mood swings, especially when your prescription has briefly run out, this may indicate you are developing a dependency on your prescribed drug. Difficulties maintaining sleep schedules and a tendency to become more irritable and anxious can also indicate a shift in your use of the drug.

You may also find yourself increasingly drawn towards other substances during or after your prescription. Many addicts report a tendency to drink more alcohol when they are addicted to a substance or are going through withdrawal from a drug. If you are suddenly finding yourself consuming more alcohol throughout your prescription, this may indicate you are struggling with a developing dependency.

Is addiction to prescription drugs dangerous to me?

Potentially, yes. Although this will depend largely on the substance to which you are prescribed, addiction to certain prescribed drugs in particular such as morphine and antidepressants can lead to addictive behaviour which may ultimately be fatal.

This is generally the case when a person prescribed drugs uses too much of their prescription at once, combines it with other substances such as alcohol, or turns to unreliable illegal drugs to continue use and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Can I overdose on prescription drugs?

Potentially, yes. This will depend on the substances you are prescribed and in what volume they are provided. Some prescription drugs have more potential for damaging or fatal overdose than others.

A person who is prescribed morphine, for instance, is at risk of overdosing if too much is taken at once or if they turn to illegal heroin once their prescription runs out. In such cases, fluctuations of tolerance levels and the concentration of the new drug can pose immediate and serious risks to health due to overdosing.

New users of illegally acquired heroin are at particular risk of harm due to the unknown concentration of street-bought heroin and the potential dangers associated with needle use, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV. Needle use also carries the risk of damage to veins and arteries in the body as well as the risk of damage to limbs due to the development of gangrene and ulcers.

Please get in touch today or review our website page concerning heroin addiction if this is a concern for you.

Are there mental health risks from prescription drug addiction?

Yes. Addiction comes in many forms and generally is associated with mental health issues that can affect your quality of life severely. In addition to outright dependency on some substances, addictive behaviour can lead a person to prioritise acquiring and taking their substances of choice over other important obligations such as self-care, family and career.

Dependency on certain drugs that may be prescribed can also have side-effects on the mind. Some prescription drugs such as opioids, painkillers and antidepressants can by nature or by side effect interfere with the brain’s natural production of organic chemicals like dopamine.

Addiction to prescription drugs, therefore, can cause harm to mental health either as a direct result of the use of substances both legal and illegal or through the deterioration of a person’s quality of life due to their growing need to buy and consume drugs.

How does Help Me Stop support and enable the recovery of people with prescription drug addiction?

Prescription drug addiction is a widespread and serious issue in the UK. Help Me Stop’s breakthrough ‘Dayhab’ model is designed specifically to be available to a wider range of adults in the country than traditional residential and day programmes are, and matches or exceeds the success rate of such programmes.

The fact that prescription drug addiction is such a wide umbrella term means that treatment programmes that address it require extensive skill and knowledge. Most of Help Me Stop’s employed therapists have recovered from addiction to substances in their own pasts, giving them a strong ability to relate to the struggles of any person going through our dayhab programme.

Sometimes the first step is simply talking with a professional that understands addiction. Talking to someone about a problem with prescription drug use can feel humiliating or dangerous, but remember, nothing is more dangerous than losing everything that matters to you or risking your life. Help Me Stops staff are trained specifically to offer help to people with an addiction, not to judge people. It’s so much easier to tackle addiction early before it gets worse and leads to long-term trouble that’s harder to recover from.

That being said, Help Me Stop is not a medical service but will work with and signpost to medical providers to support you with a medical detox. Help Me Stop supports PHE advice not to stop taking prescription drugs on your own. Stopping or limiting the use of medicines could cause harm, including increasing the risk of suicide or making people try to get medicines or illegal alternatives from less safe sources, such as illegal websites or drug dealers.

Prescription addiction is more than physical dependence, even after detox when your body is no longer physically hooked, you’re at high risk for relapse. Talking therapies are a mainstay of substance abuse treatment for many people. Cognitive-behavioural therapy, family counselling, and other types of therapy can help manage cravings as well as treat other mental health conditions that often play a role in prescription abuse and are the mainstay of Help Me Stops programme.

How is the Help Me Stop dayhab model different?

We combine a range of talking therapies alongside the 12-Step approach to deliver effective treatment, not only for the prescription misuse but for the underlying issues. We call this combined behavioural intervention, and it includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other forms of therapy. This combination has proved extremely effective in dealing with depression, anger, anxiety, self-esteem, relationship and assertiveness issues as well as negative thoughts and behaviours.

We also provide a greater degree of aftercare and family support compared to many traditional treatment programmes. Our London centre is available for attendance of the Dayhab programme during the day, evenings and at weekends, making flexible completion of the 160 hours Dayhab programme easier while you are still meeting obligations such as work and family life.

If you are concerned about your potential addiction to a prescription substance or are worried about a person close to you who appears to be displaying symptoms of drug use and dependency, we want you to know that we are here to help.

At no obligation, please reach out to us today to receive free advice on how to handle the present situation – and how to guide you or your loved one towards recovery and a life free from prescription drug addiction.