How Prescription Drug Addiction Is Treated

In today's medical landscape, prescription drugs provide important solutions to many health problems. But with their increased use comes a growing concern: misuse and addiction. For many people, what starts as a medically necessary prescription can unexpectedly lead to dependence, significantly impacting their overall health and quality of life.

At NorthStar Transitions, we’ve seen the damage prescription drug addiction can do. Beyond the physical harm, it strains emotional well-being and disrupts relationships. While these medications serve vital purposes, their misuse underscores a pressing need for awareness and intervention. Through proper guidance and targeted treatment, recovery remains a promising possibility for those affected.

If you or someone you love is struggling with prescription drug addiction, you might be wondering how it’s treated. Keep reading to learn more.

Prescription Drugs & Addiction

Many find themselves inadvertently on the path to addiction following a legitimate medical need. Some of the most common prescription drugs that may lead to addiction include:

  • Opioids used to treat pain, like codeine, morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
  • Sedatives used for anxiety and sleep disorders, such as diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital and Ambien.
  • Stimulants prescribed for ADHD, such as dextroamphetamine (Adderall), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) and methylphenidate (Ritalin).


Opioids are potent pain-relieving drugs that have been widely prescribed for decades. They work by interacting with the body's opioid receptors, providing relief from acute or chronic pain. However, this effect comes with a downside: they also produce feelings of euphoria, leading to misuse. Over time and with prolonged exposure, the body begins to rely on these drugs to function, leading to physical and psychological dependency. Rapidly stopping or decreasing use can lead to painful withdrawal symptoms, driving addictive behavior.

Chronic misuse can also result in tolerance, or needing more of the drug to attain the same effects. Higher doses increase the risk of overdose, which can be fatal. Opioids are also a significant contributor to the ongoing opioid crisis, which has seen a dramatic spike in opioid-related deaths. According to the Colorado Institute of Health, opioid overdoses in Colorado rose by 54% in 2020 and account for nearly two in three overdose-related deaths. 


Sedatives, or central nervous system depressants, include prescription drugs like benzodiazepines that slow down brain activity to help with anxiety and sleep disorders. However, misusing sedatives can reduce their effectiveness, prompting users to increase their doses. Over time, the body can also grow dependent on these medications, leading to physical and psychological addiction. Stopping use suddenly can result in dangerous withdrawal symptoms that are potentially life-threatening, such as seizures. Moreover, mixing sedatives with other drugs, especially opioids or alcohol, can lead to a lethal overdose.


Stimulants do the opposite of sedatives: they speed up brain activity by increasing dopamine production. This can help people with ADHD with issues like attention, focus and concentration. However, dopamine has also been linked to pleasure, mood, motivation and reward pathways. Flooding the brain with dopamine can reinforce the enjoyable sensations or behaviors caused by substance use, setting the stage for addiction and dependency. 

How Is Prescription Drug Addiction Treated?

Dealing with addiction is a harrowing journey, but the silver lining is that numerous treatments exist to help those suffering find their way back to a healthier, happier life.

1. Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an evidence-based approach that combines behavioral therapy techniques and medications to treat substance use disorders. This method has proven effective, particularly for opioid addiction. The medications involved include:

  • Methadone: A long-acting opioid that eases withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Methadone can only be dispensed in SAMHSA-certified treatment programs (typically a methadone clinic) and is taken daily, most often as a pill or liquid. 
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone): A partial opioid agonist that helps reduce the symptoms of opioid dependence and the cravings it causes. Because it only partially activates opioid receptors, buprenorphine is less likely to cause euphoria or respiratory depression. It can be prescribed by a healthcare provider and is often taken daily as a pill or sublingual films or tablets. Long-acting injections are also available.
  • Naltrexone: A medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain, thereby preventing the euphoric effects of opioids. Naltrexone is administered as an extended-release injection and can also treat alcohol use disorder, reducing the urge to drink.
  • Naloxone (Narcan): An emergency, lifesaving treatment for opioid overdoses, it can rapidly reverse an overdose's lethal effects, such as slowed breathing and heart rate. Naloxone is not an opioid but an opioid antagonist — it works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and “kicking off” other opioids, blocking their effects.

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse): This medication is used to treat alcohol use disorder and works by changing how the body processes alcohol, creating an unpleasant reaction when an individual drinks. Following alcohol consumption, those taking disulfiram experience the effects of a severe “hangover” for 30 minutes to several hours.
  • Acamprosate: Another medication used to treat alcohol use disorder, acamprosate works by reducing the urge to drink. It is thought to work by restoring the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain to make it easier for individuals to avoid alcohol.

2. Facility-Based Treatment Options

Choosing the right treatment environment is a key step in the recovery process. as it ensures those struggling with addiction receive the appropriate care. Understanding these options helps both individuals and their loved ones make informed decisions about the next steps.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment provides individuals struggling with opioid use with a supportive, highly structured environment in which to begin the recovery journey. Both short (7 to 30 days) and long-term (90+ days) options are available. During treatment, individuals receive 24/7 care and monitoring while undergoing intensive therapy, counseling and more to unearth and address the underlying causes of their addiction. This setting can be particularly helpful for individuals with severe substance use disorders or those who have relapsed before. 

Day Treatment (Partial Hospitalization Programs — PHPs)

PHPs, also known as day treatment programs, act as a bridge between residential and outpatient care. While enrolled in a PHP, clients spend their day (usually between 5-6 hours) at a treatment facility before returning home in the evening. This level of care offers therapeutic interventions in a structured yet more flexible environment. Day treatment is ideal for those who need considerable support in overcoming their addiction but have a stable living situation.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs)

IOPs are similar to day treatment but require less of a time commitment. This level of care involves attending therapy sessions, counseling and more several times a week at a treatment facility, with a focus on equipping individuals with the coping skills to manage their addiction in the real world. IOPs are ideal for those who need more support than standard outpatient care but aren’t in a position to commit to a PHP or residential option. 

Outpatient Treatment 

Standard outpatient treatment is the least restrictive of all options, allowing clients to attend therapy and counseling sessions without disrupting their normal routines. It places a greater emphasis on practicing coping skills, relapse prevention and support building for those with mild-to-moderate addictions. However, it can also be used as a transitional level of care to help individuals readjust to daily life after completing a more intensive treatment program. 

3. Therapies For Prescription Drug Addiction

Addiction can be an incredibly isolating disease that’s difficult to overcome without support. Therapy is a useful tool to help individuals connect with others, better understand the roots of their substance use and build new coping skills for resisting temptations and cravings.

Some effective therapies for treating drug and alcohol addiction include:

  • Individual Therapy: One-on-one sessions with a therapist that shed light on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Individual therapy may utilize evidence-based techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to promote healing, depending on each person’s unique needs. 
  • Group Therapy: Group therapy lets others know they are not alone in their struggles. It allows individuals with similar backgrounds to connect and share their experiences in a safe space, often gaining new insights into their own behavior in the process.
  • Family Therapy: Addiction is a family disease that has far-reaching effects on an individual’s friends, family, and loved ones. Family therapy helps to repair the bonds that were broken by substance use, rebuild trust and address ongoing issues.
  • Support Groups: Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery help individuals stay sober and work through problems during and after rehab to promote a healthier, substance-free lifestyle. 

Prescription Drug Treatment at NorthStar Transitions

At NorthStar Transitions, we recognize the unique challenges presented by prescription drug addiction. Our dedicated team is committed to providing comprehensive, evidence-based treatment tailored to meet the individual needs of those seeking to regain control of their lives. In addition to offering a full continuum of care that includes detox, residential treatment, PHP, IOP, outpatient care and alumni support, we also utilize MAT, holistic modalities, proven therapies and more to help individuals build a strong foundation for lifelong recovery.

Other features of our treatment program include:

A highly personalized approach that begins with an in-depth assessment to understand each individual’s substance use, mental health needs, treatment goals and more.

A multidisciplinary team of medical professionals, licensed therapists, counselors and other addiction specialists who work together to ensure that every aspect of an individual's recovery journey — from detox and counseling to aftercare planning — is seamlessly integrated.

Holistic modalities that address the mental, emotional and physical needs of each client. During treatment, clients have access to therapeutic techniques such as yoga, art therapy, meditation, and outdoor recreational activities to heal both the body and the mind.

Aftercare and support that continue even after completing one of our treatment programs. Our alumni network, support groups and periodic check-ins ensure that clients remain connected and feel equipped to take on any challenges that come their way.

A sense of community where clients, alumni and families can connect, share stories, celebrate successes, and support one another during challenging times. This sense of belonging further solidifies the commitment to sobriety and overall well-being.

Prescription drug addiction is a complex challenge to overcome, but with the right support, recovery is within reach. At NorthStar Transitions, we're dedicated to providing each individual with the comprehensive care and support they deserve. If you or a loved one is seeking help, we’re ready to guide you toward a happier, healthier lifestyle free from drugs or alcohol.

Get Help Today

Prescription drug addiction can be a daunting challenge, but no one has to face it alone. At NorthStar Transitions, we provide highly personalized support, cutting-edge treatment modalities and evidence-based therapies to help individuals rediscover a sober lifestyle free from addiction. If you or someone you care about is struggling with prescription drug addiction, take action today. Call us today at 866-407-2240 or complete our online contact form to learn more about our treatment programs and how they can help.

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