Prescription Drug Rehab & Addiction Treatment
When used as prescribed by a doctor, prescription drugs can help manage and treat various health conditions. While prescription drugs have legitimate medical uses, they can be misused in several ways, such as:1
- Taking a prescription medication in a dose or manner other than prescribed (e.g., injecting, snorting, smoking).
- Taking a prescription medication not prescribed to you, even if for a legitimate medical complaint.
- Taking a prescription medication only for its subjective effects (e.g., to feel euphoria).
Misuse of psychotherapeutic prescription drugs can expose you to serious health risks, including dependence, overdose, and the development of a substance use disorder (SUD), which is characterized by chronic drug seeking and use, despite experiencing harmful consequences.1, 2
If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug misuse, help is available.1 This page will help you learn more about treatment for prescription drug misuse and how you can start the path to recovery.
Prescription Drug Misuse
Prescription drug misuse is common. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.3 million people (5.1%) aged 12 and older misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year.3
The 3 most misused classes of prescription drugs include:1
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
Prescription Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
Prescription central nervous system (CNS) depressants are a broad class of drugs that include sedatives, tranquilizers, and hypnotics.4 Sedatives primarily include barbiturates, such as phenobarbital, but also include non-benzodiazepine sedative-hypnotics like Ambien and Lunesta.4 Tranquilizers primarily include benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax. This class also includes other anti-anxiety medications (e.g., buspirone) and muscle relaxers (e.g., carisoprodol).4, 5, 6
Prescription CNS depressants help manage and treat certain conditions by inhibiting abnormal levels of excitation throughout the CNS.4 Doctors prescribe these medications for various reasons, including anxiety, panic, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders.4
CNS depressant use can have several health effects, including mental confusion, dizziness, problems with memory and movement, lowered blood pressure, and slowed breathing.4 Continued use of CNS depressants can lead to dependence and subsequent withdrawal symptoms when a person abruptly reduces or stops taking the medication, potentially resulting in harmful consequences.4
Misuse of CNS depressants can result in overdose, which can cause life-threatening symptoms, including respiratory depression. This may lead to hypoxia, a condition caused when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, potentially resulting in coma, permanent brain injury, or death.4 The risk of overdose increases significantly when a person combines substances (e.g., polysubstance use), especially those that also cause respiratory depression (e.g., alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids).7 Unfortunately, polysubstance use is common. Benzodiazepines, in particular, are typically secondary drugs of misuse, with the most frequent primary drugs of misuse being opioids (54.2%) and alcohol (24.7%).7 Nearly 14% of opioid-involved overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepines in 2021.8 Benzodiazepines are also sometimes found in illicit opioids, which can put people at risk of unknowingly combining these drugs.8
Prescription tranquilizer and sedative misuse and addiction are common in the U.S. Among people aged 12 and older, 4.9 million people misused tranquilizers or sedatives in the past year, according to the 2021 NSDUH.3 Furthermore, 2.2 million people had a prescription tranquilizer use disorder or sedative use disorder (the term for addiction) in the past year.3
Prescription opioids are commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain.9 They bind to and activate opioid receptors, which block pain signals sent from the brain to the body.9 This also increases the activity of dopamine, a chemical involved in reinforcing and rewarding behaviors.9 Common prescription opioids include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine, codeine, and fentanyl.9
Prescription opioid misuse can slow a person’s breathing, leading to hypoxia.9 As mentioned, hypoxia occurs when the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and can lead to coma, permanent brain injury, or death.9
Around 220 people die every day from an opioid overdose in the U.S.8 Combing opioids with CNS depressants, such as alcohol or benzodiazepines, increases the risk of life-threatening overdose as combining substances can further suppress breathing.8 As mentioned, prescription opioid overdose deaths commonly involve benzodiazepines.7, 8
Prescription opioid misuse and addiction impact millions of people each year.3 Compared to other prescription drugs, prescription pain relievers were the most misused by people aged 12 or older, according to the 2021 NSDUH.3 In the past year, 8.7 million people aged 12 and older misused prescription pain relievers and 5 million people had a prescription pain reliever use disorder.3
Prescription stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy and are primarily used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1 Common prescription stimulants include many ADHD medications, such as Adderall and other amphetamines, as well as methylphenidate (Concerta and Ritalin).10
Many prescription stimulants enhance the effects of chemical signaling molecules in the brain including dopamine, which is involved with movement, motivation, and reward, as well as norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. Because increases in dopamine activity can reinforce what a person perceives as a pleasurable experience, they may misuse prescription stimulants repeatedly.1, 11
Prescription stimulant misuse can result in several health effects including dangerously high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, and seizures when taken in high doses.10 When used with alcohol, prescription stimulants may mask the depressant action of alcohol, which can increase the risk of alcohol overdose.10
Among people aged 12 or older, 3.7 million people misused prescription stimulants in the past year, and 1.5 million people had a prescription stimulant use disorder in the past year, according to the 2021 NSDUH.3
Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Options
Prescription drug rehab can take place in different settings, including inpatient and outpatient rehab.12 The appropriate treatment setting depends on several factors, such as the severity of a patient’s addiction, what substances a patient has been using, how long a patient has been using them, and whether a patient has a co-occurring disorder (e.g., anxiety, depression).12
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), effective treatment is individualized and considers any associated medical, psychological, social, vocational, and legal problems a patient has in addition to their substance use.13 This includes co-occurring substance use disorders as CNS depressant and opioid misuse often occur along with the misuse of alcohol or other drugs.4
While in treatment, patients may participate in a combination of:1, 12
- Behavioral therapies.
- Medication (as needed).
- Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders.
- Family, group, and individual counseling.
- Addiction education.
- Life skills training.
- Substance use testing.
- Relapse prevention training.
- Self-help and support groups.
Continuing care, sometimes referred to as aftercare, is the process of post-treatment monitoring and a form of treatment.16 After a patient completes an initial period of treatment, continuing care aims to support their recovery goals. This includes monitoring their condition and creating a plan should they experience a return to substance use.16
Continuing care can involve:13, 17
- Individual therapy.
- Group counseling.
- 12-step meetings (e.g., Narcotics Anonymous) or mutual support groups (e.g., SMART Recovery).
- Prescription medication.
- Regular check-ups with a case manager, doctor, or nurse.
- Living in recovery housing (e.g., sober living home).
How to Help a Loved One
Knowing how to help a loved one struggling with prescription drug misuse is hard, but there are several things you can do including:13, 18, 19
- Educating yourself on addiction. Understanding that addiction isn’t a matter of simply quitting can help you empathize with your loved one.
- Planning a conversation. Set aside time to talk to your loved one in private when you are both free of distractions.
- Addressing your concerns without judgment. Avoid stigmatizing language during your conversation (e.g., “addict” and “junkie”).
- Offering to help. This can include scheduling appointments or attending appointments with them.
- Researching treatment options. You can find treatment centers with specific criteria (e.g., insurance coverage or type of treatment) using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) treatment locater at FindTreatment.gov. You can also search for treatment centers using our rehab directory.
It’s never too late to get help for prescription drug addiction. If you or a loved one are interested in starting the path to recovery, contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to speak to a caring admissions navigator and learn more about prescription drug addiction treatment centers and rehab options. You can also easily verify your insurance online by filling out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential.