There’s a fine line between prescription drug addiction and prescription drug abuse. Do you know where one starts and the other one ends? More importantly, do you unwittingly find yourself in one or the other camp? If so, what’s your next move?

Frequently Abused Prescriptions

Before discussing prescription drug addiction, let’s look at some of the most commonly mentioned product names. They typically fall into one of three categories: stimulants, depressants, and opioids.


Hand holding pills shows a prescription drug addiction in the making.

Doctors prescribe stimulants for conditions such as ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. Drug names include Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine, but there are also generic forms of the medicines.

Drug companies manufacture these products to enhance your ability to concentrate and boost your energy levels. Against the backdrop of prescription drug abuse, users report that overdoses result in feelings of euphoria. Adderall, in particular, finds plenty of fans among college-aged adults. On campuses, they refer to it as the “smart drug” and rely on it as a means for pulling all-nighters.


Depressants act on the central nervous system and have the opposite effect. The products include tranquilizers and sedatives that have calming properties. You might receive a prescription if you suffer from sleep disorders or experience bouts of anxiety. Brand names include Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Luminal.

These medications help you calm down. Some make you drowsy. Because it’s easy to build a physical tolerance to the drugs, some people end up increasing the dose for the same effect. Since these chemicals have psychoactive properties, their increased use or dosage can lead to a prescription drug addiction. Users may steal these medications from family members or friends when they get the chance.


Finally, there are the opioids. These are painkillers that act on neurotransmitters in the brain. Brand names include OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin. Other opioid products contain morphine or codeine.

Their addictive qualities have to do with the states of euphoria the drugs potentially produce. Users found ways to boost the high by crushing and snorting the pills. The addictive nature of opioids is on par with heroin. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long to cross the line from prescription drug abuse to addiction.

Defining the Difference: Prescription Drug Abuse vs. Prescription Drug Addiction

Are you dealing with a prescription drug addiction or is it prescription drug abuse? Both conditions start with a prescription for medication in one of the three classes. You take the pills just like the doctor told you to do. Noticing that one of the side effects is actually somewhat pleasant.

You may like the energy boost you get from the stimulants. The appetite control it gives you works in your favor. The slight edge of euphoria you feel with the opioids may be nice, too. Next, you take the medication even when you no longer experience the medical need to do so.

This decision is the first step toward prescription drug abuse. You might do it infrequently or just to relax a little. Since the majority of the drugs create a physical tolerance, you find yourself increasing the dose. To do so, you may have to lie to the doctor to get a medically unnecessary refill at a higher dosage.

However, you don’t realize that the chemicals in the drugs rewire some of the processes in your brain. For example, your brain may no longer regulate dopamine release automatically but becomes dependent on an influx of chemicals. You feel depressed, fatigued, and out of sorts without the drugs. You may ask friends for leftover medications, start stealing pills and go doctor shopping to get more scripts.

By now, you’re dealing with the onset of a prescription drug addiction. If you try to go too long without the medication, you feel withdrawal symptoms. Since they’re unpleasant, you make sure you never get to that point. Now, your addiction worsens.

Risk Factors That Underscore the Importance of Getting Help

Remember that not everyone who takes one of the previously mentioned substances also develops a prescription drug addiction. In fact, it’s almost impossible to predict who will and who won’t. That said, there are some risk factors that heighten a patient’s likelihood of going down that road. Because doctors don’t always ask related questions, even those at high risk receive scripts.

One factor is genetic. Although researchers cannot point to an official “addiction gene,” they find that the propensity for drug abuse runs in families. Do your parents struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol? If so, you’re at a heightened risk of developing a prescription drug addiction when taking an opioid, depressant, or stimulant.

Another risk factor is a history of trauma. Examples include dealing with death, being the victim of a violent act, or suffering from childhood neglect. While this doesn’t mean everyone who suffered trauma will also fall victim to prescription drug abuse, it’s a common trend. Therapists believe that missing or undeveloped coping skills may be an outcome of unresolved traumatic experiences.

The presence of a mental illness can be another contributing factor. Some people abuse prescription drugs to self-medicate and relieve symptoms of depression or anxiety. But they never receive an actual diagnosis of a psychological disorder because they have become expert at masking it. Undiagnosed psychiatric disorders may result in a drug addiction that’s difficult to quit.

What Does Treatment for a Prescription Drug Addiction Look Like

If you believe that you see a pattern emerging in your use of medicines, it may be time to get help. Because a prescription drug addiction, just like alcoholism or asthma, is a disease, you need medical assistance. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you just need to pick yourself up by the bootstraps. If you could’ve just stopped using from one day to the next, you would’ve already done so.

This line of reasoning is sure to lead to failure, depression, and increased prescription drug abuse. You need the type of assistance that you find a high-quality rehab facility where therapists genuinely care about you. Because the goal is to ensure a life of sobriety, getting to the root of your addiction is vital. Case in point is Healing Springs Ranch, where treatment programs include:

  • Group therapy, which allows for the formation of self-awareness and adaptive behaviors
  • Art therapy that helps participants embark on the process of non-verbal self-expression
  • Yoga as an experiential means for reflection, stress reduction, and anxiety relief
  • Dual diagnosis treatment to help those in the program deal with mental illness as well as addiction
  • 12 Steps to recovery, which can introduce a spiritual component to healing

Treating a prescription drug addiction is not something that happens overnight. Remember that you didn’t cross the line from prescription drug abuse to addiction in one day, either. In the same way, treatments take a little time as well, to ensure a good foundation for sobriety and to prevent relapse. To facilitate a strong rehab experience, program participants commit to a residential rehab facility stay that ranges from 30 days to 90 days.

Since each program participant and her or his addiction is different, therapists will customize treatments to meet your needs. Just because an approach works for ten people, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you. For this reason, the customization process starts at intake and allows for future treatment revisions. When you hit wellness milestones earlier than anticipated, the treatment plan can be revised to reflect goals met.

Conversely, if you find that you would benefit from more group therapy, it’s easy to add it to your schedule. Everyone dealing with a substance abuse issue has an individual struggle. The help you receive must follow suit. In some situations, those overcoming drug addictions learn that they also have a process their problems. Because some of these issues masquerade as positive qualities, they’re difficult to diagnose, especially when society often encourages those behaviors.

However, a failure to do so, and to deal with them, heightens the risk of a relapse. What differentiates a high-quality rehab facility from a mediocre one is the ability of program participants to explore all their issues. They do it with the assistance of therapists who understand the difference between a character trait and a process addiction. Other types of relapse prevention techniques include life skills training and vocational mentoring.

Where to Get Help Now

You know the difference between prescription drug abuse and addiction. Now you realize that you’re no longer dabbling but have become the victim of a prescription drug addiction. Getting help at Healing Springs Ranch is your ticket out of the vicious cycle. Connect with a caring therapist today to put together an individualized treatment plan. We’re ready to work with you to devise a treatment plan that will motivate you to change the way things are. Call 866-656-8384.