Prescription Drug Addiction

Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Usually, illicit substances come to mind when thinking about addiction, but people can also get hooked on pharmaceuticals like Vicodin or Xanax. Although prescribed by a doctor, many people are surprised to learn that these drugs can be just as dangerous and deadly as cocaine, meth or heroin. When prescription drugs are abused, a devastating addiction can develop that carries the same risks, dangers and downfalls, jeopardizing the health and wellness of those affected.

Unfortunately, prescription drug addiction can be particularly hard to identify and treat since it often begins with taking a medication for a legitimate purpose, so individuals may feel that this validates their actions. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), prescription drug abuse is on the rise, making it more important now than ever to recognize this type of addiction and provide help for those who need it.

At NorthStar Transitions, our goal is to break the harmful patterns of prescription drug abuse by providing high-quality treatment programs that support individuals as they begin the healing process. Our team of experienced clinicians can help clients forge a path to sobriety by addressing their physical, emotional and mental health needs at every level of care, delivering a deeply therapeutic experience that promotes lasting recovery and a renewed sense of health, happiness and well-being.


Many drugs fall under the umbrella of prescription drug addiction, but some are abused more than others. Drugs like Xanax, OxyContin and Adderall are notorious for their addictive potential, but lesser-known examples also include Ambien, cough syrups and barbiturates. Because prescription drug addiction can take many forms, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) doesn’t single it out as a specific diagnosis. Read more about the types of prescription drugs an individual can become addicted to below and some of the effects and warning signs.

  • Opioid painkillers (Vicodin, Percocet, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, etc.)
    • Opioids are a class of drug that includes heroin, synthetic fentanyl and prescription painkillers. These substances work on the brain’s opioid receptors to produce effects such as euphoria, relaxation and drowsiness. However, opioids also slow breathing and can lead to overdose or death. Signs of opioid painkiller abuse include frequent early prescription refills, doctor shopping, lying or stealing to obtain more and developing withdrawal symptoms when sober. Over time, many people also turn to illicit opioids to satisfy their cravings.
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, etc.)
    • Benzodiazepines are sedatives often prescribed to help with things like anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia. They work by enhancing the effect of certain neurotransmitters in the brain to induce a calmer, more relaxed state. Benzodiazepines are highly addictive and side effects of abuse include drowsiness, confusion, memory problems, behavioral changes, impaired coordination and more. Because a number of deadly withdrawal symptoms can develop when suddenly stopping benzodiazepines, it's recommended to work with a professional to detox safely from these drugs.
  • Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, etc.)
    • Stimulants are commonly prescribed to treat ADHD, but they’re often abused to stay awake, study or party. When taken in high doses or by people who don’t need them, these drugs produce euphoria, increase alertness and boost energy levels. As the brain begins to rely on prescription stimulants to maintain normal dopamine levels, addiction or physical dependence can develop.


  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • Percocet (oxycodone + acetaminophen)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Fentanyl
  • OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Adderall (dextroamphetamine/amphetamine)
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate)


Federal crackdowns on prescription painkillers in response to the growing opioid epidemic has led to a rise in fentanyl, a highly potent and addictive drug that’s being implicated in more overdose-related deaths nationwide. As fentanyl becomes more prevalent, it’s also appearing in fake, pressed pills made to look like legitimate pharmaceuticals. One common culprit includes blue oxycodone tablets, often called ‘blues' or ‘Mbox 30s’ for their stamp and color. 

Unfortunately, these pills have flooded the market and are cheap, abundant and easy to find. They’re in every state and can be hard to tell apart from the real thing. DEA lab testing has revealed that six out of every 10 fentanyl-laced pills contain a potentially lethal dose. In Colorado, fatal fentanyl overdoses have increased by 70% between 2020 and 2021.

Because of their high potency and short half-life, counterfeit opioids can create a more disruptive habit and be harder to stop using, but recovery is possible with the right help.


Prescription drug abuse can lead to addiction, which the DSM-5 defines as a problematic pattern of drug or alcohol use that leads to clinically significant levels of impairment in daily functioning. When addiction takes hold, individuals must exhibit at least two of the following symptoms within a one year period to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder:

  • Prescription drugs are often taken in larger amounts than directed or for longer than intended
  • Unsuccessful efforts to stop, cut down or control prescription drug use
  • More time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use or recover from the effects of prescription drugs
  • Recurrent prescription drug use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home
  • Prescription drug abuse results in a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school or home
  • Prescription drug use continues despite persistent or recurrent social, personal or financial problems, which are either caused or exacerbated by addictive behavior
  • Using prescription drugs in dangerous or physically hazardous situations
  • Continued drug use despite knowledge of physical or psychological harm that’s likely to have been caused or exacerbated by prescription drug abuse
  • Developing a high tolerance for prescription drugs
  • Experiencing withdrawal when prescription drug use is stopped or reduced

If you or a loved one is addicted to prescription drugs, you might be wondering what this looks like in real life. Prescription drug addicts typically prioritize using over everything else in their lives and choose getting high over school, work or their relationships. They may also prioritize prescription drugs over their own health and wellness. And despite the consequences of their behavior, they will often continue to abuse prescription drugs because they don’t know how to function without them. While substance abuse of any kind is a serious disorder, recovery is possible, so don’t hesitate to seek help as soon as possible if you suspect someone you care about is struggling with a prescription drug addiction.


Treatment for prescription drug addiction can vary depending on each individual’s needs but typically happens over a three to 12 month period. Before beginning treatment, many prescription drug addicts first require a medical detox to eliminate traces of harmful substances from the body and manage withdrawal symptoms, which occur when drug use is abruptly stopped or decreased. Some prescription drugs, like opioids or benzodiazepines, can be uncomfortable or dangerous to detox from at home and require medical supervision for a safe experience. Detox usually lasts between two to seven days, but our addiction specialists will ensure that each client has enough time to stabilize and prepare for the next step of their recovery.

WARNING: Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be deadly. Always seek medical attention or advice before stopping the use of drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium and choose a medical detox for your safety.

After medical detox, many of our clients choose to enter a residential (or inpatient) drug treatment program. Residential treatment for prescription drug abuse typically lasts around four weeks, but some clients may need more or less time to reach their recovery goals. During residential treatment, clients are assessed by professional counselors and physicians to determine their needs and participate in a range of therapeutic activities. At NorthStar Transitions, this includes individual and group counseling sessions, proven psychotherapies, holistic therapies, relapse prevention training, recreational therapies and more. Because many people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) during their recovery, we also continue to monitor clients closely and provide additional support as needed to effectively manage any lingering symptoms that may interfere with the healing process.


After completing a residential program for prescription drug addiction, many clients step down into day treatment, also known as a partial hospitalization program (PHP). Day treatment programming typically occurs during the weekdays for up to six hours a day (30 hours per week) and consists of ongoing individual and group therapy sessions. Clients in day treatment will also meet with their psychiatrist regularly to monitor PAWS symptoms and address any other issues that may arise. Day treatment usually lasts for about four weeks.

After day treatment, the next recommended level of care is an intensive outpatient program (IOP). While enrolled in IOP, clients continue to participate in group therapy for three hours a day at least three times a week (nine hours total) and may see their individual therapist or psychiatrist as needed for additional support. Clients at the IOP level of care can continue living at home while in treatment and maintain their daily responsibilities.

At NorthStar Transitions, we recommend that all clients step down into lower levels of care as they progress through the recovery process. Healing from addiction takes time, and along the way, individuals may encounter challenges, setbacks and temptations that could derail their progress without the ongoing support that these programs provide. Our experienced and compassionate addiction specialists are prepared to offer each client highly individualized care throughout each stage of recovery to help them achieve lifelong sobriety without relapse.


Drug and alcohol testing is an essential component of prescription drug treatment and should be performed as medically indicated at all levels of care. NorthStar Transitions provides sobriety monitoring to help clients readjust to life without drugs or alcohol and stay on track as they progress through treatment. We've found that this helps reinforce healthy behaviors and keep clients accountable for their actions throughout each level of care, setting the stage for lifelong recovery.

Healing Starts Today

At NorthStar Transitions, we know how drug and alcohol use can negatively affect your life. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we can help. Reach out today to find the support you need to achieve and maintain lifelong sobriety. You can get in touch by calling us at 866-407-2240 or completing our online contact form.

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