Who Is at Risk for Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug misuse is a serious problem that affects millions of people. When a person misuses prescription medications, this habit can quickly get out of control. A lot of people mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs and don’t realize their misuse of substances can lead to addiction.

Whenever a prescription drug is taken for nonmedical reasons, or when it’s taken differently than prescribed, there is potential for misuse to progress to addiction. Categories of drugs that may lead to addiction include sedatives, tranquilizers, opioids and stimulants. Who are the people that are most at risk of becoming addicted to prescription drugs?

While there is no way to know for sure who will end up hooked, there are certain risk factors that increase the risk of misusing prescription drugs. Misusing prescription drugs can lead to a problem that quickly spirals out of control, leading to dependence and then addiction.

Alcohol Use and Substance Use Disorder


A person who has substance use disorder has a condition that affects their brain and behavior, causing them to use and abuse mind-altering substances in spite of negative consequences. For many people, the first substance misused is alcohol.

Those who misuse alcohol are as much as 18 times more likely to report misusing prescription drugs than those who don’t drink. A person with substance use disorder is compelled to rely on chemicals to alter their mood or to escape from reality. The use of alcohol and other substances including tobacco increases the risk of prescription drug abuse.

Peer Pressure and Social Circles


Relationships with other people can have an influence on a person’s tendency to misuse prescription drugs. Adolescents who associate with a large number of peers who misuse prescription drugs are likely to do the same thing. College fraternities and sororities are examples of social circles that may get together and experiment with nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

The attitude an adolescent’s parents have may also influence teens in both good and bad ways. A teen who has a good relationship with their parents and receives a message of disapproval regarding substance use is less likely to abuse substances. If parents misuse substances themselves, the teen is at higher risk of misusing prescription drugs and possibly developing an addiction.

Chronic Medical Conditions


Physical pain is a common reason for misusing prescription drugs. According to information gathered by Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration in 2016, approximately six out of every 10 people who misused prescription painkillers did so to relieve physical pain.

When the prescribed dose of medication doesn’t seem to be controlling pain, people sometimes take a higher dose. They may try to get prescriptions from more than one doctor out of desperation for pain relief.

Mental Health Challenges


Living with mental health challenges can cause extreme emotional ups and downs. As many as half of people with mental illness also misuse substances in an effort to self-medicate.

Prescription medication can ease feelings of emotional turbulence, causing a person with mental illness to feel compelled to keep using these medications. Mental health challenges such as posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, and anxiety can all increase the risk of prescription drug misuse and addiction.

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Prescription Drug Addiction and the Elderly


Elderly people are at risk of prescription drug addiction, particularly when they have several different medical conditions. They may mix up their medication unintentionally, or they may increase their dose of medication deliberately in an effort to relieve unpleasant symptoms of disease.

Dementia can contribute to difficulty remembering which medications are supposed to be taken when. Habitually taking a higher dose than prescribed can lead to physical dependence and ultimately addiction.

Getting Help for Prescription Drug Addiction


The use of prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons is a growing problem, and it affects people of both genders and of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Once addiction sets in, breaking the habit takes more than willpower—it usually requires treatment through an inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation facility.

Under the supervision of addiction professionals, the addict can safely go through detoxification and then can begin to learn how to live a life that doesn’t require dependence on prescription drugs or any other chemicals. Treatment includes individual therapy as well as group or family therapy or 12-step support groups.

Prescription drug addiction can give a person the feeling that giving up reliance on substances is hopeless, but it’s not. No matter what triggered addiction to develop, it’s possible to learn to live a fulfilling life that doesn’t continue to include reliance on prescription drugs.