Prescription drug addiction is a serious threat in the modern age, affecting countless individuals across the world. The global encounter with prescription drugs began as a legitimate medical treatment, but has escalated into a global crisis, with a particularly alarming rise in cases of prescription drug abuse in the UK.

The journey from a simple prescription to addiction is a slippery slope, paved with unintended consequences.

In the UK, the situation mirrors the global challenge, with prescription drug abuse UK statistics revealing a worrying trend. This has prompted an effort to enhance prescription drug rehab facilities and services, offering hope and support to those caught in the cycle of addiction.


This condition is characterised by the compulsive use of medications not as medically prescribed (1), leading to serious physical and psychological consequences. Prescription drug addiction, also known as prescription pill addiction, can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, and socio-economic status, particularly those seeking relief from chronic pain, anxiety, sleep disorders, and more.

Addiction to prescription drugs begins with the misuse of medications that, while designed to alleviate symptoms, possess addictive properties. Addictive prescription drugs range from opioids and benzodiazepines to stimulants and beyond, each carrying the potential for misuse.

When individuals use these prescription drugs (that get you high), in ways other than prescribed — whether to intensify the effect, to cope with stress, or for recreational purposes — they become prone to prescription drug abuse.

What types of pills get you high?

The various types of pills that create a high and can lead to addiction (2), include:

Opioids: Widely prescribed for pain relief, opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. While they are effective at relieving pain, opioids can also produce a sense of euphoria, making them highly susceptible to misuse. Examples include oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine.

Benzodiazepines: Used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions, benzodiazepines increase the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain that induce sedation and relaxation. However, they can also produce a high when taken in doses or ways other than prescribed. Common benzodiazepines include alprazolam, lorazepam, and diazepam.

Stimulants: Prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy by enhancing the effects of certain neurotransmitters. Misuse can lead to a sense of euphoria, increased energy, and enhanced focus. Examples include amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

Barbiturates: Though less commonly prescribed today due to their high potential for dependence and overdose, barbiturates are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. They work by depressing the central nervous system and can induce feelings of relaxation or euphoria at high doses. Phenobarbital is an example.

The misuse of these medications poses significant risks, including dependency, overdose, and a range of adverse health outcomes.

What are the most commonly abused prescription drugs?

This category is dominated by prescription drugs prescribed for more severe psychological issues that disrupt daily life. They include:

  • Prescribed stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiolytic sedatives for anxiety or sleep disorders
  • Opioids for pain management

Each class of these drugs has specific medical and social consequences when abused. For instance, long-term misuse of opioids can lead to serious health conditions, including:

  • Infections
  • Opioid-induced bowel syndrome
  • Increased morbidity and mortality

Stimulant abuse can result in:

  • Tremors
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Misuse of prescribed benzodiazepines may induce symptoms ranging from nystagmus and stupor to coma and altered mental status.

It's important for individuals and their loved ones to be aware of the risk factors and signs of prescription drug abuse to seek help early. This awareness, combined with careful prescription management and understanding the potential harm of these medications, can help prevent the progression to addiction.

Who is at risk for prescription drug addiction?

Understanding who is at risk for prescription drug addiction involves considering a range of factors that can increase an individual's vulnerability.

  • Teens and young adults are among the highest risk groups, with many turning to prescription drugs for reasons such as to get high, relax, relieve tension, experiment, or even to improve concentration and performance at school or work.
  • Past or present addictions to other substances (like alcohol and tobacco)
  • A family history of substance abuse problems
  • Certain pre-existing mental health conditions
  • Peer pressure
  • Easier access to prescription medications
  • A lack of knowledge about the dangers associated with these drugs
  • Older adults also face significant risks. This group may misuse drugs due to having multiple health problems and taking multiple medications, which can lead to accidental misuse or addiction, especially when combined with alcohol.

The causes of prescription drug addiction include both individual and systemic issues, ranging from the characteristics of the drugs themselves (3) to the way they are prescribed and managed. Some causes include:

Mental health conditions: These elevate the risk for prescription drug addiction. Individuals struggling with mental illness are more likely to turn to prescription medications as a way to self-medicate, leading to a higher likelihood of addiction. This is made worse by the fact that mental illness can be a risk factor for other issues, such as homelessness and unemployment, which can further complicate the treatment of addiction.

Taking higher doses than prescribed: Individuals might use prescription drugs for non-medical reasons such as to feel good, get high, relax, relieve tension, or increase alertness.

The risk of addiction increases when individuals take higher doses  than prescribed or use the medication in a way not intended by their healthcare provider.

Poor medication management: This can also exacerbate the problem. Practices such as prescribing potentially addictive drugs when less addictive options are available, giving prescriptions that span multiple months without the need for follow-up visits, and not adequately screening patients for addiction history and risk factors, all contribute to the issue.

Dangerous advertising: Direct-to-consumer advertising can encourage drug-seeking behaviour, adding another layer of risk.

Prescription drug addiction affects a wide demographic, from teens and young adults — who are particularly vulnerable due to factors such as peer pressure and availability of medications — to older adults who may misuse medications due to multiple health problems or combining drugs with alcohol. Chronic pain patients are also at risk, as long-term opioid use for pain management is associated with the development of substance use disorders.

Prescription drug addiction is a significant and growing concern, with a considerable portion of the global population affected by the misuse of these medications.

According to studies (4), 5.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 in the UK had abused a painkiller not prescribed to them, with younger people showing higher rates of misuse. This issue spans across various types of prescription drugs, including stimulants, tranquillisers or sedatives, and opioids, highlighting the breadth of the problem.

The misuse of prescription drugs is not confined to a particular demographic; it affects individuals across all age groups. For instance, in 2022, around 5% of 16-18 year olds reported misusing any prescription drug in the past 12 months (5), indicating that even young students are not immune to this issue.

Prescription drug addiction affects both men and women, although women face a higher risk of developing addictions due to factors such as a higher prevalence of chronic pain conditions and differences in how their bodies metabolise medications.

Prescription opioids are among the most commonly misused drugs, with millions of Americans misusing these pain relievers annually. The misuse of opioids and other prescription drugs can lead to serious health consequences, including addiction and overdose. In fact, opioid-related overdose deaths have seen a dramatic increase, underscoring the severity of the crisis.

Efforts to combat prescription drug addiction include monitoring and regulating prescribing practices to minimise the risk of misuse. However, a significant portion of individuals obtain these drugs from non-medical sources such as friends and relatives, bypassing regulatory controls and exacerbating the problem.

Prescription drug addiction involves the misuse of various types of medications that are typically prescribed for legitimate health conditions but have a high potential for abuse and dependency. The misuse of prescription drugs means taking medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed, taking someone else's prescription, or taking medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high). The three main classes of medication that are most commonly misused include opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants.

Let’s take a look at the different types of prescription drug addiction in greater detail.


These are primarily prescribed to treat pain and include drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), fentanyl, and others. These are known for their strong pain-killing properties and the sense of euphoria they can provide, which can be highly addictive.

CNS depressants

These include benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), and are used to treat anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, and similar conditions. They produce calming and tranquillising effects that can also be addictive.


Stimulants are prescribed for conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), including amphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and methylphenidate (Ritalin). They are known for increasing energy, attention, and alertness but can also lead to addiction, especially among individuals who misuse them for their euphoric effects or to enhance academic performance.

Prescription drug addiction can have profound psychological, physical, and behavioural symptoms, affecting all areas of an individual's life.

Psychological symptoms

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Euphoria and confusion

Physical symptoms

  • Intense cravings
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing
  • High body temperature

Behavioural symptoms

  • Falsifying or stealing prescriptions
  • Consuming medication faster than indicated
  • “Doctor shopping" to obtain multiple prescriptions

The misuse of prescription drugs poses significant risks, not only to the individual's health but also to their social and professional life. The epidemic of prescription drug abuse has led to a substantial increase in drug overdoses, treatment admissions for prescription drug use disorders, and a concerning rise in prescription drug addiction treatment facilities facing an influx of individuals struggling with substance use disorders.

It's very important for individuals and their loved ones to be vigilant about the signs of prescription drug misuse and seek professional help if needed. Treatment options are available that involve detoxification, counselling, and support services.

Prescription drug addiction is often shrouded in myths and misconceptions that can hinder both understanding and treatment. Here's a look at some common myths:

Myth 1:Prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs”

Many believe that because prescription medications are prescribed by healthcare professionals, they are inherently safer than illicit substances. However, prescription drugs can be just as addictive and dangerous as illegal drugs when misused. Opioid use disorder, for instance, can develop from the misuse of prescription opioids meant to treat pain.

Myth 2: “Only weak-willed people get addicted to prescription drugs”

Addiction has nothing to do with willpower or moral standing. Anyone can become addicted to prescription drugs due to their chemical effects on the brain. As mentioned, factors such as genetic predisposition, mental health issues, and exposure to high-stress environments can make an individual more susceptible to addiction.

Myth 3:Prescription drug addiction is rare”

Prescription drug addiction is more common than many people think. With the widespread availability of these medications, many individuals struggle with addiction across various demographics. Prescription drugs are among the most commonly abused substances, following closely behind alcohol and marijuana in prevalence.

Myth 4: “If you have a prescription, you can't get addicted”

Having a legitimate prescription does not eliminate the risk of addiction. Even when taken as prescribed, some individuals may develop a dependence on medications such as opioids, benzodiazepines for anxiety and sleep disorders, or stimulants for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Misuse, such as taking higher doses or using the medication more frequently than prescribed, significantly increases the risk of addiction.

Myth 5: “Prescription drug addiction only requires willpower to overcome”

Overcoming prescription drug addiction typically requires more than just willpower. It's a complex condition that affects the brain's wiring and requires comprehensive treatment, including medication, therapy, and support groups. Treatments like cognitive-behavioural therapy and medication-assisted treatment can be crucial for recovery.

Myth 6: “Switching from prescription opioids to over-the-counter drugs is safe”

Substituting prescription opioids with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication without medical advice can be harmful. While OTC drugs can be part of a treatment plan, unsupervised switching may not address the underlying issue of addiction and can lead to misuse of these substances as well.

Myth 7:You can quit prescription drugs cold turkey without any consequences”

Abruptly stopping certain prescription medications can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and health complications. A medically supervised detox is often necessary to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse.

Treatment for prescription drug addiction addresses the nature of the disorder through a mix of therapeutic approaches, medical treatment, and support systems.

Inpatient and outpatient programs

These programs offer a structured environment for recovery, with inpatient rehab providing 24-hour care and supervision for those with severe addiction. Outpatient care allows individuals to continue their daily activities while receiving treatment, making it suitable for those with less severe addiction or as a step-down from inpatient care.

The process that follows after a person with prescription addiction has been admitted to a care facility is:

1.     Detoxification

The first critical step in treating prescription drug addiction is detoxification, where the body is cleared of the substances. This process should always be supervised by medical professionals to manage withdrawal symptoms safely.

2.     Psychotherapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common approach that helps patients identify and change harmful thought patterns and behaviours related to drug use. It aims to develop coping strategies to deal with cravings and avoid relapse.

3.     Holistic therapies

These therapies address the person as a whole, incorporating practices like yoga, meditation, and art therapy to support physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Holistic therapies can complement traditional treatments by reducing stress and promoting overall health.

4.     Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Especially for opioid use disorder, medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are used to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. These medications can be an integral part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

5.     Support systems

Recovery is also supported by engaging with trusted family members, friends, self-help groups, and counselling services. Creating a support network is crucial for long-term recovery and relapse prevention.

6.     Specialised care

Prescription drug addiction treatments are tailored to the type of drug abused. For example, sedatives withdrawal may require a gradual tapering off, while stimulant withdrawal treatment focuses on managing symptoms like depression and sleep problems without specific medication.

Luxury treatment for prescription drug addiction offers an unparalleled level of care and comfort, catering to those seeking to overcome addiction to prescription drugs within serene and upscale environments.

Individualised care

These high-end rehab centres focus on providing individualised care, ensuring that treatment plans are tailored to each patient's specific needs and circumstances, an approach that's central to the philosophy of luxury rehab facilities​​​​.

High-end facilities

Luxury rehab programs, such as those provided by The Balance Luxury Rehab are distinguished by resort-like facilities, which include private rooms, gourmet dining experiences, and access to various therapeutic and recreational activities such as massage therapy, yoga, and animal-assisted therapy, including equine assisted therapies. These amenities not only offer comfort but also aid in the recovery process by encouraging relaxation and introspection​​.

Despite higher costs, many patients and their families find the investment worthwhile due to the enhanced recovery experiences and higher success rates associated with luxury treatment.

These centres often offer a higher staff-to-patient ratio, ensuring more personalised care and attention throughout the recovery process​​.

Another key feature of luxury rehab is the emphasis on privacy and confidentiality, crucial for patients who may be public figures or high-profile professionals concerned about the potential impact of rehab on their careers or personal reputations. Luxury rehab centres often implement strict confidentiality agreements and provide an environment where patients can recover without fear of exposure.

Why The Balance?

Kept away in a secluded environment, our executive treatment centres for Prescription Drug Addiction are full of luxury, with opulent accommodations, manicured gardens, and breathtaking views.

Upon arrival, guests are treated to an atmosphere of absolute tranquillity. This atmosphere extends an invitation to solace, far removed from daily struggles with addiction.

Our refined approach to combating prescription drug addiction goes beyond traditional methods. Incorporating practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation amidst the restorative embrace of nature, we provide a journey to internal peace.

Treatment here includes gourmet cuisine, guided nature explorations, and a spectrum of wellness therapies. These elements fuse to create a therapeutic ambiance that leads to enduring wellness habits.

  1. The Guardian. Millions of people in England are taking medicines they can find hard to stop.
  2. WebMD. 11 Commonly abused OTC and prescription drugs.
  3. Kids Health. Prescription Drug Abuse.
  4. NCDAS. Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.
  5. NCDAS. Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics.