What is Prescription Drug Dependency?

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  • Written By: Jeany Miller
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2018
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Prescription drug dependency occurs when a person becomes addicted to his or her medication. This is often the result of taking medicine in a manner inconsistent with physician's orders, such as by increasing dosage frequencies or amounts. Prescription drug abuse also includes taking medications for reasons outside prescription parameters — called non-medical use — or taking another person’s medication. Narcotic painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers and stimulants are among those medications that may lead to dependency. Steroid abuse may also cause prescription drug dependency.

Drug abuse is a term often associated with illegal drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. Drug addiction, however, can also occur with the use of legal drugs. Some health care officials believe this is partly explained by patients who inherently trust prescriptions because the drugs are administered by doctors and therefore often believed to be harmless.

Prescription drug abuse is the act of taking a medication in a way not intended by the prescribing physician. This can be the result of a number of different factors, including a desire to relieve pain, feel relaxed or ease tension. Some prescription drug dependency results over time as a person continues to use his or her medication. Other cases may develop rapidly after a person deliberately misuses the prescription.


Dependency on prescription drugs can occur with both genders and across multiple age groups. Narcotic pain relievers such as codeine, oxycodone and morphine are among the most commonly abused. These reportedly provide patients with feelings of euphoria, which may create a psychological desire for them. These drugs can also, however, lead to physical dependency. If a person does try to stop abusing prescription painkillers, withdrawal symptoms may persist.

Sedatives and tranquilizers are often prescribed for the treatment of sleeplessness and anxiety. While they may induce drowsiness, sedatives may also lead to prescription drug dependency. Sedative intoxication is reportedly similar to alcohol intoxication. Persons may feel released from their inhibitions, but sedatives can allegedly cause dependency even at prescribed doses. Tranquilizers may depress heartbeats and breathing rates to fatal levels.

Steroids and stimulants have historically been used to treat such health problems as asthma, obesity and neurological disorders. The potential for abuse and addiction, however, have caused medical use of these drugs to wane. Stimulants and steroids are sometimes attractive to people because they may increase alertness, attention and energy.

Symptoms of prescription drug dependency may include stealing or selling prescriptions, taking higher doses than prescribed and seeking prescriptions from multiple providers. Serious medical complications may result from drug abuse. Memory problems, hallucinations, slowed breathing and tremors are examples of potential health problems. Prescription drug dependency may also cause instances of overdose, which can lead to coma or death.



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