How Prescription Drug Addiction Is Treated

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

In 2020, 1.2 million people in the U.S. misused prescription pain relievers. Prescription drug addiction often starts with medically-prescribed needed use, such as following surgery or injury. Gradually, use becomes misuse, resulting in substance use disorder or addiction. When that occurs, prescription drug addiction treatment is necessary.

Read on to learn about prescription drug addiction treatment options, including inpatient, outpatient, medication, and community support.

Prescription drug bottles

Jeffrey Hamilton / Getty Images

Prescription Drugs and Addiction

The most common prescription drugs that lead to addiction include:

Opioids

Opioids are pain-relieving drugs derived from opiates, such as opium, morphine, and heroin, that come from the opium poppy plant.

Opioids activate the receptors for the brain's neurotransmitter dopamine, causing euphoric feelings.

Opioids treat severe pain from surgery, illness, medical procedures, and childbirth.

Some examples of opioids include:

  • Codeine
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Meperidine

What Is the Opioid Crisis?

In the late 1990s, new opioids entered the market. They were increasingly prescribed based on misinformation that they were less addictive. They were, in fact, highly addictive. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died due to opioid-involved overdoses. Provisional data estimates over 75,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021.

Central Nervous System Depressants

Depressants calm the nervous system and have sedative effects. They are used for treating anxiety and sleeping disorders.

They include:

  • Benzodiazepines, such as Valium (diazepam) and Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Chlordiazepoxide
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Ambien (zolpidem)

Stimulants

Primarily prescribed for ADHD, stimulants stimulate the brain's pre-frontal cortex and increase dopamine.

They include:

  • Amphetamines, such as Adderall
  • Methylphenidates, such as Ritalin

Medication-Based Treatment Options

Medication-assisted treatment helps manage the severe symptoms of withdrawal, which can make a significant difference toward long-term recovery.

A 2020 study investigated the use of medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine in people with opioid addiction and found a 76% reduction in overdose at three months, and 59% at one year.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Some medications used for medication-assisted treatment include:

  • Methadone: A long-acting opioid agonist (chemical that activates a receptor) that reduces opioid craving and withdrawal. It blunts or blocks the effects of opioids. By law, only a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA-certified treatment program can dispense methadone, usually at a methadone clinic. Methadone is prescription-only, taken daily, and available in liquid, powder, or tablets.
  • Buprenorphine: An opioid partial agonist that causes euphoria and respiratory depression at low-to-moderate doses. These effects are weaker than full opioid agonists such as methadone. Buprenorphine is the first medication that can be prescribed or dispensed in a healthcare provider's office, which increases access to treatment. It is taken daily, and available in tablets, implants, and extended-release injections.
  • Naltrexone: Binds and blocks opioid receptors and suppresses opioid cravings. Naltrexone is an extended-release intramuscular injection, typically administered by a healthcare provider in a medical office.
  • Naloxone: Naloxone is a temporary treatment created to quickly reverse opioid overdose. It also binds to opioid receptors. It can be given as a nasal spray, intramuscular injection, or under the skin injection.

Facility Treatment Options

Treatment options for prescription drug addiction also include inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Inpatient, where a person stays overnight, is also known as rehabilitative residential treatment or rehab. Outpatient treatment is usually a clinic that a person visits by day for treatment, but returns home at night.

Long-Term Residential Treatment

Long-term residential treatment facilities provide 24-hour care for an inpatient stay from six to 12 months. They can include hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and non-hospital settings.

Treatment is typically highly structured and may include employment training and other support services.

Short-Term Residential Treatment

Short-term residential treatment options are designed to provide intensive treatment with a shorter stay, usually a week, or 30, 60, or 90 days.

Once the inpatient portion of the program is completed, you will engage with outpatient programs, including individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and support groups.

Outpatient Treatment Facilities

Outpatient treatment facilities are lower-intensity but offer individual, family, and group therapy, allowing the person to be engaged with regular work and home routines.

These programs are often designed to treat those with dual diagnoses, including substance use disorders and mental health disorders and conditions.

SAMHSA Treatment Locator

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Helpline1-800-662-HELP (4357), is a free and confidential information service for people facing addiction, as well as their family members. It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in both English and Spanish. They also offer a treatment locater that provides referrals to local treatment options in your area.

Therapy for Prescription Drug Addiction

Living with drug addiction can be very isolating. Therapy can be a useful tool to help over come drug addiction.

Some effective therapy methods for drug addiction include:

  • Individual therapy: One-on-one sessions, typically weekly, with a therapist trained in addictions. May include talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to examine automatic or negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier thoughts.
  • Group therapy: Hearing the experiences of others with similar experiences can be significant to recovery and sobriety. Research has shown that group therapy leads to positive outcomes.
  • Family therapy: Family therapy encourages all family members to make specific positive changes while the person in recovery works through their issues.
  • Support groups: Support groups can include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training). Support groups are often available at community centers and online.

Studies show that social connections with family, groups, community, and friends have positive impacts on recovery.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine, while not a replacement for addiction treatment, can offer additional support.

  • Quality sleep: Over 75% of people with opioid addiction struggle with sleep. Sleep impacts many aspects of opioid misuse, including the reward centers in the brain, mood regulation, stress management, and perception of pain.
  • Yoga: In a study of hatha yoga practiced by people receiving opioid agonist therapy, mood improved along with decreases in anxiety and pain.
  • Mindfulness: One study indicated that mindfulness increased response to natural rewards, decreased response to opioids, and decreased cravings.

Summary

Prescription drug addiction often starts with medically-prescribed use following surgery or injury. Over time, use can lead to misuse and become addiction. When addiction occurs, treatment is necessary.

Treatment to address prescription drug addiction includes medication, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, therapy, and support groups. People can also benefit from alternative therapies such as yoga, mindfulness, and getting high quality sleep.

A Word From Verywell

It's nearly impossible to overcome prescription drug addiction alone. The first step of admitting you need help may be the most difficult one of all. In seeking treatment, you'll find the support, resources, and social connection that is necessary in overcoming addiction.

If you are struggling with prescription drug addiction and want to seek help, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

22 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Highlights for the 2020 national survey on drug use and health.

  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Commonly abused prescription drugs.

  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioids.

  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription opioids.

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What is the U.S. opioid epidemic?.

  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opioid overdose crisis.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. top 100,000 annually.

  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Central nervous system depressants.

  9. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription stimulants.

  10. Wakeman SE, Larochelle MR, Ameli O, et al. Comparative effectiveness of different treatment pathways for opioid use disorderJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(2):e1920622. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.20622

  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Methadone.

  12. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Buprenorphine.

  13. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Naltrexone.

  14. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Naloxone

  15. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Types of treatment facilities.

  16. McHugh RK, Park S, Weiss RD. Group therapy for substance use disorders. In: el-Guebaly N, Carrà G, Galanter M, eds. Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives. Springer Milan; 2015:873-887. doi:10.1007/978-88-470-5322-9_42

  17. Tracy K, Wallace SP. Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addictionSubst Abuse Rehabil. 2016;7:143-154. doi:10.2147/SAR.S81535

  18. Giacomucci S, Gera S, Briggs D, Bass K. Experiential addiction treatment: creating positive connection through sociometry and therapeutic spiral model safety structures. AAD. 2018;5(1):1-7. doi:10.24966/AAD-7276/100017

  19. National Institutes of Health HEAL Initiative. New strategies to prevent and treat opioid addiction.

  20. National Institutes of Health HEAL Initiative. Sleep dysfunction as a core feature of opioid use disorder and recovery.

  21. Uebelacker LA, Van Noppen D, Tremont G, Bailey G, et al. A pilot study assessing acceptability and feasibility of hatha yoga for chronic pain in people receiving opioid agonist therapy for opioid use disorder. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 2019;105:19-27. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2019.07.015

  22. Garland EL, Atchley RM, Hanley AW, Zubieta JK, Froeliger B. Mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement remediates hedonic dysregulation in opioid users: neural and affective evidence of target engagement. Sci Adv. 2019;5(10):eaax1569. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aax1569

By Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks, LMFT
Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks is a licensed marriage and family therapist, health reporter and medical writer with over twenty years of experience in journalism. She has a degree in journalism from The University of Florida and a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University.