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Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drugs, though intended for legitimate use by those in need, are more widely abused than any other drug. When used improperly, prescription drugs have the potential to cause an array of complications and serious side effects including increased tolerance, physical dependence and addiction. The dangers of prescription drug abuse range from short-term side effects to serious health complications, overdose and even death in some cases.

Types of Prescription Drugs Abused

prescription drugs

There are many different types of prescription drugs that are diverted for abuse.

There are literally thousands of different prescription drugs on the market, many of which have little potential for abuse, some which have a very vast potential for abuse. Generally, prescription drugs that are abused fall into one of the following categories:

CNS Depressants

Central Nervous System depressants work by slowing down normal activity that takes place in the brain. According to NIDA for Teens, these drugs are often provided to patients who are anxious, nervous or who have trouble sleeping at night. When they are taken as prescribed, CNS Depressants are not highly dangerous and can provide wonderful treatment. However, when they are abused these prescription drugs have the potential to cause:

  • Increased tolerance
  • Withdrawal
  • Physical dependence
  • Overdose
  • Death

Opioid Painkillers

Opioid or opiate painkillers are derived or synthesized from the opium poppy and used in the treatment of moderate to severe pain. When these medications are taken as prescribed, they can provide profound pain relief for those who have been injured, suffered an illness or have some other means of chronic or acute pain which cannot easily be relieved. Unfortunately, these prescription medications can also cause addiction, physical dependence, strong cravings and serious side effects for the user. When abused, opioids can cause:

  • Constipation
  • Labored breathing
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Withdrawal
  • Death


Barbiturates, such as Mebaral and Nembutal are often abused for their ability to produce sedation and relaxation. Known on the streets as Barbs, reds, red birds and yellow jackets, these prescription drugs are less widely abused but still equally as dangerous. Often times, people who are already addicted to CNS depressants will take barbiturates when they cannot find other drugs to abuse or when they cannot get their hands on their own drug of choice. Regardless of why they are taken, or the method of use, these medications can cause an array of complications for the user include:

  • Strong sedation
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Coma
  • Death


Diazepam, Alprazolam and similar benzodiazepines are taken to reduce anxiety and panic attacks but they are also abused by drug users. These prescription drugs are often referred to as downers or sleeping pills for their ability to reduce tension and to promote relaxation. Unfortunately, when benzodiazepines are abused they can cause:

  • Sedation
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Overdose
  • Tolerance
  • Addiction
  • Death


Many different prescription stimulants are abused by users. The most common of them include Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. Most of these drugs are most commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADD, ADHD and a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy. When they are taken as prescribed, stimulants can provide beneficial treatment which includes improved focus but when abused they can cause an array of complications including:

  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Overdose
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Death

Is Prescription Drug Abuse Really a Problem?

Are you still wondering if prescription drug abuse is really a significant problem in the United States? According to a recent survey conducted by NIDA, more than 2.4 million Americans report having used prescription medications for non-medical purposes in the past year. This growing epidemic affects more men, women and children than any other drug of abuse.

This problem affects the young, the old, the rich, the poor and everyone in between. Prescription drug abuse is not discriminatory, everyone who has ever taken a prescription medication is at risk; everyone who chooses to take a prescription medication is at risk; and everyone who has been prescribed medicine by a doctor will continue to be put into the risky situation of potentially becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

Why People Abuse Prescription Medications

Unfortunately, people abuse prescription medications for a variety of different reasons. Some resort to the drugs in an effort to self-medicate. Others use to cover up emotional upset or trauma. Others choose to use prescription drugs as a way of coping with stress. Studies have shown that people abuse prescription drugs for the following reasons:

  • To feel good or to get high
  • Because they don’t want to feel pain or stress
  • Because they think that a prescribed drug is safer or more acceptable for misuse than an illicit street drug such as heroin or cocaine
  • Because they are unaware of the dangers associated with prescription drug abuse
  • Because they believe that they are treating a legitimate problem
  • Because they don’t realize that what they are doing is wrong
  • Because they can more easily obtain prescription drugs than they can street drugs
  • Because they want to fit in with others

Recognizing Prescription Drug Abuse

There are some telltale signs that you can be on the lookout for if you suspect that someone you know may be addicted to prescription drugs. First off, if the drug is prescribed to the individual, the easiest way to spot a potential problem is with checking the status of their medication. Users who are abusing prescription drugs will often run out of their medication before the due date, will seek more than one medication at a time from more than one doctor, and will sometimes seek medication from other sources. Additional signs of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Developing a tolerance to the drug
  • Spending more time focused on the drug
  • Spending more time under the influence
  • Noticeable changes in attitude, mood or behavior
  • Asking others for medication
  • Going through great lengths to get medication
  • Making sacrifices in order to obtain prescriptions
  • Being sick or otherwise unhealthy as a result of the medication use
  • Suffering from legal problems as a result of prescription drug use
  • Avoiding responsibility or neglecting responsibilities in order to use

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

If you or someone you know is using prescription drugs, seeking help is the first step to getting sober. Fortunately, there are a number of options that can assist you in getting sober including:

  • Detox
  • Medical intervention
  • Individual counseling and therapy
  • Group counseling and therapy
  • Residential treatment communities
  • Outpatient treatment programs
  • Support groups

Each of these methods of treatment provides you with a different level and type of care. Usually, detox is the first step in the recovery process—and it’s also the most difficult and dangerous step for most addicts. Depending on the type of prescription drug that was abused, the severity of the addiction, and various other factors, medical detox may be required in order to facilitate a safe, comfortable withdrawal for the patient. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help in this matter—your life depends on it!

Counseling and therapy can be received on either an inpatient or outpatient basis, again based on the severity of the addiction and various other individual factors. When residential or inpatient counseling is received, the patient will live in a facility and receive around-the-clock monitoring and support while they recovery. When outpatient counseling and therapy is chosen, the patient will live at home or in a sober living community and attend regularly scheduled meetings, sessions with a counselor and drug or alcohol screenings.

Regardless of the type of prescription drug abuse treatment that you choose, the goals will be much the same—to get sober and prepare for living life without the use of these dangerous medications. Ultimately, it will take time, and commitment from you in order to get well; but the results you see, the sobriety you achieve and the lifelong happiness that comes from living drug free will be worth the effort.

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline will be answered or returned by one of the treatment providers listed, each of which is a paid advertiser.

By calling the helpline you agree to the terms of use. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses. There is no obligation to enter treatment.

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