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5 of the Most Commonly Abused Prescription Medications

Many people would associate drug abuse with illicit substances like cocaine or heroin. But the truth is, many people are actually addicted to prescription medication. The definition of medication abuse is someone who takes prescription drugs in an incorrect way. This includes:

  • Taking medication that you’re not prescribed
  • Using medication in a different way to your doctor’s instructions, including higher or more frequent doses
  • Using prescription drugs recreationally

It goes without saying that America is experiencing a pill addiction epidemic. 119 million Americans use prescription drugs— that’s almost half of the country. Because of this, many people find themselves addicted to medication. Prescription drug addiction statistics reveal that opioid abuse is particularly concerning and affects more than 2 million Americans.

How and Why are So Many People Getting Hooked on their Scripts?

Some people are more at risk of developing a substance abuse problem than others. For example, people with an anxiety disorder are twice as likely to abuse drugs— and that includes prescription medication. While abusing medication may numb the symptoms of disorders like anxiety, this relief is temporary, and will only worsen the issue in the long-run. Of course, not everyone with a prescription drug addiction self-medicates or intentionally abuses their medication. Some substances — especially opioids and benzodiazepines — are highly addictive. When certain prescription drugs are taken for a prolonged period — for example, to treat an ongoing chronic pain condition — the brain can become physically addicted. This kind of addiction can be hard to break. Prescription drugs can also be psychologically addictive. The facts show us that prescription drug addiction is a problem that affects not only the individual, but all of society. In 2010, drug problems cost the economy almost $215 billion. That was seven years ago, and the amount of people addicted to prescription drugs has only increased. Why is the cost so high? Drug abuse causes the following expensive problems:

  • Health-related side effects that require health care
  • Less people able to work and contribute to the economy
  • Higher crime statistics that put pressure on the justice system

Prescription drug abuse has an incredibly damaging effect on society. It places unnecessary strain on important resources, which affects everyone.

The Dangers Of Abusing Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug addiction can have many long-term effects on a person’s body, mind and entire life. Every medication affects the body differently. Prescription drug abuse has a strong effect on the brain, which can lead to physical addiction. However, you don’t have to be addicted to feel the negative symptoms and effects of prescription drug abuse on the body. Improper use of medication can easily take a serious physical toll, and these symptoms can last long-term. The effects of prescription drug abuse on the body can include:

  • Breathing problems
  • Heart and blood pressure issues
  • Liver and kidney disease or failure
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Drowsiness or restlessness
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss of libido
  • Abdominal cramps and digestive issues

But while these symptoms are serious, many people neglect to consider the additional emotional consequences of prescription pain medication. These substances can really damage the mind. Some mental effects of prescription pain medication are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Memory loss
  • Trouble concentrating

Prescription drug abuse also has serious social effects. Living with addiction is never easy, and it can impact everyone around you. Your relationships with your friends, family and coworkers can all suffer. You could even risk losing your job, or become cut off from your loved ones. Many students abuse medication in an effort to improve their performance at school. But this kind of drug use can negatively affect your studies and jeopardize your future. Not to mention that abusing medication can put you in financial dire straits. You might even yourself in trouble with the law. All of these factors can easily sway people’s willingness to be around you and help you, and you might find that your drug abuse causes you to lose your support network. People might label you a “pill addict” and be reluctant to get close to you.

What Are Some Of The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Medications?

With 119 million Americans currently using prescription drugs, it’s little wonder so many people are developing medication abuse issues— especially considering how many common prescription drugs are physically addictive. The following list includes prescription drugs that many people abuse:

1. Benzodiazepines

What are they?

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for mood disorders, such as anxiety. They can also be used to treat insomnia and even seizures. Despite their medical usefulness, benzodiazepines (or “benzos”) are one of the most physically addictive prescription medications. They have a strong effect on the brain and are easily habit-forming. Dependence can form in as little as a few weeks. Many people who use benzos for longer or higher doses than prescribed find themselves addicted to them. Some people even abuse them for the euphoric high they offer. More and more people are dying from benzodiazepines every year. Combining benzos with other substances, such as alcohol, can cause breathing problems and is extremely dangerous.

Common benzodiazepines:

  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Xanax (Alprazolam)
  • Halcion (Triazolam)
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam)
  • Restoril (Temazepam)
  • Ativan (Lorazepam)

2. Opioids

What are they?

Opioids are painkillers, and are available in a variety of strengths. They are very physically addictive. Abuse can easily lead to a fatal overdose. Like benzos, may people who develop an addiction to prescription opioids are prescribed them to manage pain. Unfortunately, some people also abuse these medications to experience their euphoric side effects. America is currently in the grips of an opioid epidemic, and many people die from these drugs each year. Because the brain builds up a tolerance to opioids over time, people who abuse prescription opioids sometimes turn to stronger, more dangerous drugs, such as heroin. In fact, 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. Opioids carry a high risk of blood-borne disease transmission when injected intravenously. These diseases can include HIV and Hepatitis C. This is especially common in illegal use of medications such as fentanyl. Opioid withdrawals can be very uncomfortable, and it’s important to seek out professional treatment if you want to overcome your addiction.

Common opioids:

3. Stimulants

What are they?

Stimulants are prescribed to people with attention disorders, such as ADHD, in order to help them concentrate. These medications allow the user to focus and calm their erratic mind. This is especially useful for children and teenagers with ADHD, as they can find it hard to concentrate during school and fall behind in their studies. Prescription stimulants are often abused, both by people with prescriptions and people with no medical need to take them. This is common amongst students, who might take them to stay awake while studying (stimulants increase wakefulness). Unfortunately, this can produce sleep disorders, as well as many other unhealthy side effects. Some people take stimulants to suppress their appetite, leading to dangerously unhealthy weight loss. Abusing these drugs is not a sustainable way to lose weight. As with opioids, injecting prescription stimulants can expose the person taking them to diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Common stimulants:

  • Adderall (Amphetamine/Dextroamphetamine)
  • Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
  • Dexedrine (Dextroamphetamine)
  • Focalin (Dexmethylphenidate)

4. Sleep medication (sedatives)

What are they?

Non-benzo sedatives are often prescribed to treat sleep conditions. They’re very effective in helping people with insomnia achieve long periods of sleep. They produce similar effects to benzos, but interact with the brain in a different way. However, their distinction from benzos doesn’t make them harmless. Because of how strong they are, they’re also addictive. Some people end up taking more and more over time, since the body can build up a tolerance to them. These sedatives should only taken before bed, but people do abuse them by taking them and staying awake. This can be very dangerous, especially when tasks such as driving are involved.

Common sleep medications:

  • Ambien/Stillnox (Zolpidem)
  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
  • Sonata (Zaleplon)
  • Imovane (Zopiclone)

5. Anabolic steroids

What are they?

Anabolic steroids (not to be confused with corticosteroids) are used to treat hormonal conditions, as well as other diseases such as certain kinds of cancer. Anabolic steroids have gained quite the reputation for their misuse. Some people in the body building community abuse steroids in order to build muscle faster when “bulking”. Anabolic steroid abuse has gained notoriety for the way they can influence emotions when abused. They can cause severe irritability and anger issues, known as “roid rage”. These medications also have a number of negative side effects, including the possibility to form tumors. There’s a reason anabolic steroids are banned in the sporting world. People who use anabolic steroids to grow their muscles can become hooked on the way these drugs make them look. This is called psychological addiction. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of using steroids to become bulkier with less work put in. But taking steroids is as dangerous as it is unsustainable.

Common anabolic steroids:

  • Anadrol (Oxymetholone)
  • Revalor (Trenbolone )
  • Delatestryl (Testosterone Ethanate)
  • Winstrol (Stanozolol)
  • Deca-Durabolin (Nandrolone)

How To Know If Someone Is Addicted To Prescription Drugs

Are you concerned that you or a loved one might be showing warning signs of prescription drug abuse? Are you afraid that you might be becoming addicted to pain pills or other similar substances? The signs of prescription drug abuse are quite similar to many other drugs, and can be found in both adults and adolescents— including teenagers. The common warning signs for medication abuse and addiction are:

  • Sudden changes in weight
  • A runny nose
  • Red, bloodshot eyes, possibly with unusually large or small pupils
  • Inability to concentrate or communicate properly
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness and shaking
  • Physical marks on the body (in case of injection, especially with anabolic steroids)
  • Behaving suspiciously and acting unusually secretive
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Acting irritable or depressed
  • Voicing paranoia
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Criminal activity
  • Constant money problems

Some of the first signs of addiction can be concerning. But noticing them is the most important step to deciding to overcome it, or simply stopping abuse before it can develop into an addiction. The right drug addiction treatment center will be able to provide you with useful information on prescription drugs, including how to overcome a habit. Many people have found rehab to help immensely when it comes to pain pill addiction, as these drugs are very physically addictive and can have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Treatment for prescription drug addiction may include an inpatient stay, but it doesn’t have to. Rehab centers like Northpoint Seattle offer an intensive outpatient program (IOP) so that you can keep living your normal life and get healthy at the same time. This kind of treatment includes cognitive-behavioral therapy to help you maintain your sobriety long-term. With IOT, you can become a stronger person who’s equipped to deal with the challenges that addiction can present. Are you ready to take the first step to ridding your life of drug abuse? Do you think one of your loved ones could use some help getting control of their addiction to prescription medication? Get in touch today and see how we can help.


NPR NPR US Department of Justice National Institute of Drug Abuse National Institute of Drug Abuse CNN National Institute of Health