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Dangers of Prescription Drugs and Signs of Abuse

Hundreds of people all over the world misuse and abuse prescription drugs, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.

Prescription drug misuse can be described as using prescription medication in a way that is not intended by the prescribing doctor.

This could mean that taking someone else’s prescribed medication, taking more than what your doctor has prescribed. For example – regularly taking twice as many tranquilisers as prescribed.

As with addiction to illegal narcotics, abusing prescription drugs can easily become a compulsive and ongoing behaviour, regardless of the negative consequences.

Dangers of Prescription Drugs

Many people are under the impression that prescription medication is safe because it is prescribed by a qualified medical doctor.

As a result, people who use prescribed medication are often unaware that these drugs are addictive, and their abuse can be extremely harmful.


Abusing Prescription Drugs - Physical Dependence and Addiction

There are two types of dependence that can result from abusing prescription drugs; physical dependence and actual addiction.

Physical Dependence

Physical dependence, also known as tolerance, means that you must take more of the same medication in order to feel its effects.

In addition to this, individuals may experience uncomfortable symptoms when trying to cut back or stop using the medication.

These symptoms are known as withdrawal symptoms and, depending on how severe the physical dependence is, can cause individuals to become severely ill or even hospitalised.

This type of dependence makes it difficult to stop using prescription drugs, even if the individual really wants to.


People who are addicted to prescription drugs may experience both physical dependence as described above, as well as actual addiction to the medication.

The difference here lies in the act of consciously choosing to abuse the medication, regardless of the negative effects or consequences that come from this behaviour.

Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

Apart from physical symptoms and signs of prescription drug abuse, there are other consequences or effects which vary from person to person but can include:

  • Stealing from friends and family
  • Tendency to engage in risky or dangerous behaviour as a result of poor judgement
  • Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships
  • Various forms of criminal activity
  • Decrease in work or academic performance
  • Using illegal drugs
  • An increase in use of recreational substances such as alcohol

Physical Symptoms and Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

There are three classes of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused; tranquilisers, stimulants and pain-killers.

Each class has its own set of signs or symptoms.


  • Slurred speech
  • Memory difficulties
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Unsteady walk
  • Slowed breathing


  • Increase in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Changes in eating habits, especially reduced appetite
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Increase in alertness
  • Insomnia
  • Increase in overall body temperature


  • Poor coordination
  • Nausea
  • Chronic constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Feeling high or euphoric
  • Slowed breathing
  • The need for more medication to feel pain relief
  • Increased sensitivity to pain

How to Help Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Prevention is better than cure, and ensuring you are informed about what medication you are taking and why is vital.

The following are measures that one can take to prevent prescription drug abuse:

Make sure you get the right medication

Before accepting a prescription from the doctor, make sure the doctor fully understands your condition and has a full record of your medical history.

If you are unsure about something, ask your doctor so that you can make an informed decision about the medication which is prescribed to you.

Additionally, ask your doctor if there is a natural or less risky alternative for you to try first, whether it be a homeopathic remedy or a change in lifestyle.

Follow up

If you notice that the medication is not working as it did in the beginning, consult with your doctor and find out if you should continue using it.

It’s up to you to express your concern regarding automatically increasing your dose, rather than trying to find an alternative solution.

Educate yourself

Ask questions about the medication, find out about the side effects and the risk of becoming dependent.

Find out how the medication works as well as what other substances (alcohol, complimentary medication, over the counter medication) are not to be taken in conjunction with what you have been prescribed.

Never just accept a prescription.

Stick to the directions

Always stick to the instructions given to you by your doctor. Never stop, decrease or increase your dose without first consulting with your doctor.

Don’t share medication

Every individual is different; what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa. Therefore, it’s important that you never give your medication to someone else to use and never borrow someone else’s medication.

Keep your medication safe

To avoid the risk of someone using your medication, always keep it stored away somewhere safe that only you have access to.

This is especially important when you have children who can accidentally take medication that you have left unattended.

Dispose of medication properly

Prescription drugs should never be disposed of at home. Any medication that has expired or is no longer being used should be taken to your nearest pharmacy so that they can dispose of it correctly according to the law.

By doing this, you prevent your medication from getting into the hands of someone who should not be using it.

Step Away – Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa

The consequences of prescription drug abuse and overdosing are real.

Prescription drugs are very addictive and the use of them should never be taken lightly.

For more information on how to identify or prevent prescription drug abuse, or if you or a loved one needs assistance with this matter, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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