A Prescription Drug addiction can be far more difficult to spot than an alcohol or illegal substance addiction. For a start, the medicine is usually prescribed, so they have a valid justification for taking it. Most individuals do not abuse prescription drugs, but for those with addictive tendencies, there is always going to be the temptation to take more than prescribed if the medicine is mood and mind altering. The most common addictions are to opiate based painkillers, sleeping tablets and various types of Valium or Benzodiazepines. The effect they produce is one of comfort and euphoria and they are also highly addictive. You only need to take these types of medicines for a few consecutive days before your body adjusts and builds a tolerance. You may be concerned that your family member is not being honest around their prescription drug taking, that they are abusing them, or have built a physical dependence. Prescription drug addiction can be every bit as destructive as illegal drugs or alcohol. It can affect the individual in the same mental, physical and financial ways. This means that it undoubtedly impacts on the family and loved ones too. 

How Do They Become Addicted?

Addiction to prescription drugs is more common than you think. There is an estimated 2 million individuals currently addicted in the UK, with at least half of that number being addicted to Benzodiazepines. Prescription Drug addiction usually starts off with a physical or mental health complaint. Commonly abused drugs such as Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed for disorders or complaints such as anxiety, panic attacks, muscle spasm, insomnia and bereavement; but did you know that they should only be prescribed for a maximum of 14 days? And that a physical addiction can develop within as little as a week of taking them? Benzodiazepines can also be bought over the Internet and off the street, meaning that the Doctor is not the only source for these highly addictive pills. Prescription opiates such as Codeine, Tramadol, Morphine and Dihydrocodeine are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain and also as a postoperative painkiller; an addiction to these can develop within days. Once an individual has built a tolerance to a prescription drug, they will need to take more to gain the same effect that they originally gained when they first started the medicine. Tolerance is when the body biochemically adjusts to a certain amount of the drug, taking any less will produce withdrawal symptoms and they will find that over time they will need to take more and more as the body carries on adjusting to higher levels. This presents a Catch 22 situation, where the individual feels trapped by the drug, withdrawal symptoms are very unpleasant and can even be life threatening if the drug is stopped too abruptly. Stopping an addictive prescription drug often requires professional help and guidance. Some even require rehab and inpatient detoxification.

Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

You may have suspicions that your family member or loved one is addicted to prescription drugs; you may have even confronted them over it but to no avail. It can be helpful to know what signs to look out for to help you decide if your family member has a problem that requires further help:

  • Your family member is very secretive around the amount of prescribed pills they take
  • You have found evidence to suggest they are buying prescription drugs off the internet

You have found pills in clear plastic bags or wraps rather than the blister strips that they are manufactured in

  • Your loved one is very defensive around their prescription drug taking or goes to great lengths to justify it
  • They have been taking the medication for a substantial length of time
  • The original complaint no longer remains yet they still take the pills
  • You find empty numerous boxes and blister strips lying around
  • Their temperament has changed; they may be restless, irritable, short-tempered, depressed, suicidal or aggressive
  • They have become increasingly withdrawn
  • They are having financial, social and working difficulties
  • They appear closed down and difficult to approach
  • They appear high a lot or excessively sleepy in the day


  • They mix their prescription drugs with alcohol or other drugs to gain a greater effect
  • You find prescriptions for different Doctors surgery’s, indicating they are getting their prescription drugs off more than just one doctor

What to Do If They Have a Problem

If you family member admits that they have a prescription drug problem and wants help, please call and speak to one of our Addiction Treatment Experts, who will be happy to advise you on the options available. Usually a rehab detox and rehabilitation is the most successful treatment for those who are dependent on a drug. Help for family is not that hard to find, even if you are somehow limited in your choices. If financially this isn’t an option, you should encourage your loved one to be honest with their GP and seek support from their local drug and alcohol team. Remember that they will be suffering from a physical dependency and be terrified of giving up their crutch in life, so it is important that they have the correct professional support to help them through this difficult time. If they do not want help or won’t admit there is a problem, then you can access support from a family group or by engaging with one of our specialist counsellors, please call us for further information.