Following research which indicated a growing problem with addiction to prescription medications in the UK, a government investigation has been launched into how doctors prescribe these drugs, and to decide if we are too reliant on these treatment options.

There has been a more than 100% rise in the number of antidepressants prescribed in England over the last decade, and almost 9% of patients treated by the NHS last year were prescribed medication known to cause dependency for problems like insomnia and anxiety.

Whilst there is an argument that better understanding of mental health issues has led to more diagnoses of the same, which could partly explain the rising trend, it is also a fact that certain prescription medications pose a very real risk of dependence.

The drugs being looked at by the government include:

  • Benzodiazepines. These are anti-anxiety medications mostly used to control serious anxiety and its related symptoms.
  • Z-drugs. Also known as hypnotics, these medications are used for people with insomnia and other sleep disturbances.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Opioids. One of the most addictive types of drug, opioids are strong painkillers.
  • Gabapentin. This is usually used to treat epilepsy, and is an anticonvulsant.
  • Pregabalin. A relaxant, similar to tranquilisers, pregabalin also makes opioids more potent.

    How do people become addicted to prescription medications?

    Prescription medications are a big risk when it comes to addiction, because people feel safer taking drugs that they have been prescribed, and are thus more likely to be careless with them. Although many associate addiction with homeless people and criminals, a lot of addiction starts with a genuine prescription for a real medical condition.

    The problem with the drugs outlined above is that tolerance can build quite quickly, meaning that, over time, the user does not get the same effect from the prescribed dose. After a while they will have to take more, and this can lead to dependence. Most addictions to prescription drugs occur because the patient is abusing their prescription, either by taking more than they are supposed to, or by mixing the drug with other substances to achieve a ‘high’.

    Whilst it is possible to become physically dependent on a medication and not have this lead to addiction, the dependence needs to be broken through strict medical supervision. Under the eye of a doctor, the medication can be slowly tapered down so that the side effects of withdrawal are lessened and the physical dependence ends. However, if a patient begins to use more of the medication than prescribed, this leads to a psychological dependence which is much tougher to break.

    Psychological dependence refers to a craving for the drug, and a sense that they cannot live without it. In this case even under supervision from a doctor, physical detox will be ineffective.

    What are the dangers of prescription drug addiction?

    If you are abusing prescription drugs, over time the associated risks grow exponentially. These can include:


    One of the first signs of drug dependence and addiction is craving the drug. Although this does not sound particularly dangerous, it is thought to be one of the most difficult barriers to overcome with an addiction. Psychological dependence on a drug is much harder to beat than any physical aspects, and may remain even long after the drug has left your system.


    Tolerance builds quickly with lots of different drugs, meaning that the user has to continuously up their dose to get the same effect. Not only does this quickly build a physical dependence, it also induces serious withdrawal symptoms over time, making it that much harder to quit the drug even if you want to. Tolerance is also part of what makes this kind of addiction so dangerous, as although the brain requires more of the drug to feel high, the body is still having to process massive amounts of the substance, which can lead to serious medical complications.


    A serious focus on either taking or getting hold of a drug can take over your life. This means letting other things fall by the wayside, including family, friends, jobs and so on. Over time this can lead you to feel isolated and feel that you have no one left to talk to, meaning that your only real comfort is your addiction.

    Criminal behaviour

    It is not just illegal drugs that cause people to commit criminal acts. If you are addicted to a prescription drug it will not be easy to get more than you have been prescribed. Common illegal activities associated with prescription drugs include:

    ? Fraud (such as filing a prescription more than once at multiple pharmacies)
    ? Buying drugs illegally online
    ? Identity theft (getting a prescription using someone else’s identity)


    Heroin use

    Heroin is an opiate, coming from the same family as morphine. For those addicted to opioid medications, who have exhausted every avenue of getting their drugs on prescription, heroin is a natural but very dangerous progression. Heroin is cheaper and easier to access than prescription drugs, and is even more addictive. It is an unfortunate fact that many of the people that die from heroin abuse every year start out with an addiction to legal pain pills.


    How to beat prescription drug addiction

    The only way to safely detox from prescription medications, once an addiction has formed, is to use a dedicated rehabilitation centre. At Ocean Recovery Centre we not only help you to detox and lose your physical dependence on medication, we help you to work through the psychological addiction that is preventing you from quitting.

    Benefits of using our dedicated inpatient service include:

    ? Access to both detox and psychological treatment all in one place
    ? Constant monitoring to administer medication, deal with medical emergencies and provide support around the clock.
    ? A range of wellbeing therapies and social activities to help make the process easier
    ? Group and family sessions to help support everyone around you
    ? A dedicated aftercare programme to help ease you back into everyday life at the end of your treatment.

    To find out more and get started on your recovery journey, just call 01253 847 553, or email

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 16, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.