Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

long term prescription drug effects | Renaissance Recovery

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

A prescription pill addiction affects individuals of all ethnicities and genders—here are the long-term effects of prescription drug abuse.

When prescribed for you by a doctor, these medications can indeed be helpful or even life-saving. It’s when these drugs are taken without a prescription or not as directed that they become dangerous and addictive. At higher doses or when combined with alcohol or other drugs, many prescription drugs can become deadly.

Generally speaking, prescription drugs are medications that are legitimately prescribed by doctors to treat health issues. Many people assume that since they’re legal when prescribed by a doctor, they must be safer than illegal drugs.

The truth is, these drugs require a prescription for a reason. It takes a trained doctor to understand which medications should be prescribed for specific health issues. A holistic approach is used by doctors to factor in all of the patient’s additional health issues, their medical history, and other medications the patient might be taking.

When abused, prescription pills can be just as dangerous, and as deadly as illegal drugs. In fact, in recent years, prescription pill abuse has resulted in more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. Luckily, there are addiction treatment programs, like our California rehab, and sober living homes that can help.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into three categories: Painkillers, Depressants, and Stimulants.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Painkillers

(AKA: Captain Cody, Cody, sizzurp, lean, syrup, schoolboy, doors & fours, loads, oxy, oxycet, hillbilly heroin, percs)

What are Painkillers?

As many know, prescription painkillers usually contain opioids that are naturally derived from poppy flowers or are lab-made using a semi-synthetic substitute. These drugs attach to particular areas of the brain called “opioid receptors.” When a person ingests prescription painkillers, the messages that the brain receives are changed. The brain no longer interprets pain signals as being painful. These are the same receptors that heroin uses to bind to inside the brain.

Under the close supervision of a doctor, painkillers can be helpful in relieving severe pain due to injury, cancer, or illnesses.

Unfortunately, prescription pill abuse in the form of painkillers has become a serious problem. The most commonly abused brand-name painkillers include Vicodin, Oxycodone, OxyContin, and Percocet. Codeine, an opioid painkiller often found in prescription cough syrup, is also commonly abused.

The Short-Term Risks

Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that can be dangerous, or even deadly. This is especially true when these medicines are taken at high doses or are combined with alcohol. Of greatest concern is that a single large dose can cause stop a person’s breathing and lead to death. The short-term effects of painkiller abuse can include lack of energy, inability to concentrate, nausea, and vomiting.

Long-Term Effects

Given their effect on the brain, it’s no wonder that prescription painkillers can be highly addictive when abused. Even patients who are prescribed painkillers exactly as directed can develop a “physical dependence” over time.  Essentially, the body becomes accustomed to having the drug.

When a patient tries to end use of their medication abruptly, these drugs can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Any changes when using these medications must be reported to and carefully monitored by a doctor.

If a person is abusing prescription pills, it’s likely that they’re dosing at higher rates. To end this prescription pill addiction, addicts will need to seek treatment at a detox or rehab facility.

The Bottom Line

The abuse of painkillers is a widespread problem around the world and they have some of the most dangerous long-term effects of prescription drug abuse compared to the other forms of prescriptoin drugs. The effects of the drug are powerful and addictive. Without a doctor’s prescription and supervision, short- and long-term use of prescription painkillers can lead to dangerous side effects, including accidental overdose. Combining them with alcohol or other drugs increases the risk of death from overdose.

Those who suffer from long-term prescription pill addiction will likely need rehab or detox followed by adjustment in a sober living home.

Long-Term Effects of Depressants

(AKA: Downers, downs, barbs, benzos, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets, candy, sleeping pills, tranks, xanies)

What Are Depressants?

As the name implies, doctors prescribe depressants to treat a variety of health conditions, mostly depression issues, mood problems, anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders.

Depressants can be divided into three groups. The groups are based on their chemistry and the specific health problem they help address.

These groups include:

  • Barbiturates, which are often prescribed to promote sleep;
  • Benzodiazepines, like Valium and Xanax, which are prescribed to relieve anxiety;
  • And the new (non-benzodiazepines) sleep medications, like Ambien and Lunesta, are commonly used to treat sleep disorders.

The Risk

Teens are especially susceptible to the side effects of depressants. In teens, depressants can cause depression, confusion, exhaustion, and irritability. Part of this sensitivity to the drug in teens is due to naturally occurring hormonal imbalances or changes that are common to this age group.

Because depressants work by slowing down the brain’s activity, they can diminish heartbeat and respiration to dangerously low levels. This is especially true when depressants are combined with alcohol or OTC medications. It’s a combination that can even lead to death.

Long-Term Effects

Depressants are highly addictive drugs, and when chronic users or abusers stop taking them, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, and muscle tremors. In fact, going “cold turkey” off of some depressants can have life-threatening consequences, like seizures, convulsions, and, in rare instances, death.

The Bottom Line

Depressant drugs can make you depressed, confused, and irritable. And prescription pill addiction in the form of depressants increases your chances of more dangerous outcomes, like overdose, slowed breathing and heart rate, and even death.

Long-Term Effects of Stimulants

Prescription stimulants affect the brain through a slow and steady release of two neurotransmitters—dopamine and norepinephrine. When prescribed and taken correctly, under medical supervision, these drugs can help treat a few health conditions, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and, occasionally, depression.

In treating ADHD, prescription stimulants can help regulate and normalize the dopamine and norepinephrine function in the brain, so a patient with this condition can focus better and pay more attention. Common brand-name prescription stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Benzedrine.

The Bottom Line

Some people mistakenly believe that prescription stimulants can give them energy, help them focus, and help them perform better in school. If you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition that requires taking these drugs, and aren’t taking them under a doctor’s supervision, the long-term effects of prescription drug abuse can be not only dangerous but deadly.

If you’re suffering from prescription pill abuse, contact us today.

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Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country