Prescription Drug Abuse and GI Complications

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

The misuse of prescription drugs involves the use of medications outside the parameters recommended by a physician and pharmacists.  Because of the widespread availability of prescription drugs, many individuals may have taken a prescription drug on occasion without the recommendation or guidance of a health care professional.  While taking a medication here or there may seem harmless, there are many negative effects that may result from taking a prescription drug outside of the recommendation of a qualified physician, even if taken only once.

Side Effects

rp_doctor-563428_1280-300x200.jpgOne common side effect and complication of prescription drug misuse and abuse is gastrointestinal distress.  The gastrointestinal system involves the digestive part of the body, including the esophagus, stomach, and bowels, including the large and small intestine.  The gastrointestinal tract (GI) is commonly the site of drug-induced complications, associated with 20-40 perfect of drug-induced adverse effects [1].

Many individuals may not fully be aware of the gastrointestinal side effects they are experiencing as a result of prescription drug use and misuse.  Some of the common adverse effects that can be experienced within the gastrointestinal tract include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps, dyspepsia, ulceration, malabsorption and more.  It can be easy to dismiss these effects, but if these physical ailments are the result of prescription drug abuse, it is important that a physician address these concerns immediately.

Because the gastrointestinal system is fundamental to our health and wellness, any abnormal systems should not be taken lightly.  Any amount of time in which the body is experiencing gastrointestinal distress can contribute to malnutrition, as the body is unable to properly digest and absorb crucial nutrients needed to maintain health.  Malnutrition can result in a host of other diseases and complications, which could further exacerbate the physical difficulties a person may be experiencing.

If you are experiencing gastrointestinal distress as a result of an addiction to prescription drugs, be sure to reach out to the appropriate health care professional immediately to receive the treatment you need for recovery.


Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What resources have been helpful to you in the event of adverse GI complications resulting from prescription drug use?


  1. Gatenby RA. The radiology of drug-induced disorders in the gastrointestinal tract. Semin Roentgenol. 1995;30:62-76.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.  

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 18, 2015. Published on