Side Effects Of Taking Multiple Medications | Polypharmacy Risks

In 2017, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency. The opioid epidemic in America was recognized as a serious health and social problem and, despite some progress, it’s a problem that persists today. In fact, many Americans are impacted by prescription abuse and some even experience the negative side effects of taking multiple medications.

Families across the country are living with or alongside prescription drug abuse. A medication intended to improve the health of a person ends up causing harm — to both the person suffering from drug addiction and to those around them.

It’s not just opioids either. The abuse and misuse of prescription stimulants, antidepressants, sedatives, and hypnotics add to the problem. When these drugs are taken at too high a dose, without consulting a doctor or alongside other medications, there’s an increased risk of addiction, side effects, and even death.

Are you struggling with a prescription drug addiction? Contact our addiction specialists any time on (855) 281-5588 for professional and compassionate support.

Impacts Of Multiple Medications

What Risks Are Associated With Prescription Drugs & Polypharmacy?

For many people, prescription drugs are a way to manage pain, mental health, and sleep problems. However, they are not without their risks.

An average of 38 people died each day from a prescription opioid overdose in 2019. Addiction is also a serious problem, with 10.1 million people misusing prescription opioids in the past year, according to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Which Prescription Drugs Are Most Commonly Misused?

The most commonly abused prescription drugs can be grouped into the following categories.


Opioids are made from the poppy plant or a synthetic alternative. They are used to treat pain. Some –– like Oxycontin and Percocet –– contain oxycodone. Others –– like Norco –– contain hydrocodone.


Stimulants are used in the treatment of ADHD and some sleep disorders. Examples include methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and a mixture of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall and Mydayis).

Sedatives and Hypnotics

These drugs are used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Examples include benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin) and nonbenzodiazepines like zolpidem (Ambien).

Side Effects Of Multiple Medications

How do People Become Addicted to Prescription Drugs?

Taking prescription drugs as instructed and continually being assessed by a doctor shouldn’t cause problems. However, because all of these drugs work by changing messages in the brain, they can be addictive when used incorrectly or for long periods of time. Additionally, polypharmacy, or the use of multiple medications can carry certain risks. It’s imperative that you speak with a licensed physician about use of multiple medications and how best to manage each.

The brain can become used to a prescription drug, meaning that a person decides to take more of the same drug or take an additional drug in order to experience the same effect.

Alternatively, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking a prescription drug. This leads them to continue taking the drug even when it isn’t necessary or advised by a physician.

How do Prescription Drugs Cause Overdose?

In 2020, drug overdose deaths rose by almost 30% from the previous year. Overdose deaths from prescription medication were part of this picture.

You can overdose on prescription drugs by:

  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Taking prescription drugs without medical supervision
  • Taking prescription drugs in combination with other medications or substances

Harmful Side Effects of Taking Multiple Medications

Taking multiple medications increases the risk of dangerous side effects and unwanted drug interactions. It can affect your cognitive abilities, your breathing, and your heart function. It can even cause death.

The effect different drugs and different medication combinations will have on a person depends upon the type of medication, level of dosage, and the health of each individual person. This is why any combination of prescription or over-the-counter drugs should be approved by a medical professional before you take them.

Here are a few medication and substance combinations that are known to increase your risk of side effects.

Opioids and Benzodiazepines

Taking both an opioid and benzodiazepines is dangerous. In 2019, 16% of opioid overdose deaths also involved benzodiazepines.

This combination is particularly lethal because both types of drug work as a sedative. Together they impair cognitive function and suppress breathing. The latter is the primary cause of overdose death.

Opioids and Alcohol

Alcohol is also a type of sedative. As with benzodiazepines, mixing alcohol with opioids can depress the respiratory system and increase a person’s risk of overdose death.

Stimulants and Alcohol

Stimulants help to mask the depressant effect alcohol has on the body. This makes it possible to drink more than you usually would, causing alcohol poisoning.

Even if you don’t have underlying risk factors, combining a drug like Adderall with alcohol increases your risk of serious heart attack, cancer, stroke, and drug overdose.

Risks Of Taking Multiple Medications

How To Prevent Prescription Drug Addiction

The responsibility falls on medical practitioners to conscientiously prescribe medication and be aware of its addictive potential. But their patients also need to be alert to the risks associated with prescription medication.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you take prescription drugs safely:

  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medication you are currently taking.
  • Remember that the same drug can come by lots of different names. For example, oxycodone is known as Oxycontin and Percocet.
  • Only take prescription medication as instructed by a doctor. Never take more than advised and never stop or change your dosage without talking to your doctor first.
  • If you have leftover drugs, take them to a drug take back site. Never share drugs with someone else or take leftover drugs recreationally.
  • Understand which type of drug you are using and be aware of how other substances, such as alcohol, interact with it.

Worried About The Way You Use Prescription Drugs?

If you feel your relationship with prescription drugs isn’t what it should be, you may need professional help and support to overcome your addiction.

Here at AspenRidge, we provide leading prescription drug addiction treatment. Our programs are tailored for individual needs that address both prescription abuse as well as underlying mental health issues that may impact long-term recovery. Our holistic and evidence-based approach helps to address the needs of individuals and families. Take the first step towards a drug-free life today by calling our addiction specialists on (855) 281-5588.