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When doctors prescribe a prescription drug to a patient, it is assumed it will be taken as directed by the doctor. However, for various reasons, some people take more of the prescription drug than prescribed. Some patients have built up a tolerance over time and feel they need more of the drug to get the desired effect. Some are searching for the “high” that prescription drugs often give in the beginning.

Ten of the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

  1. Oxycontin (Oxycodone): an opioid
  2. Xanax (Alprazolam): a benzodiazepine
  3. Adderall (Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine): a stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Narcolepsy.
  4. Ritalin (Methylphenidate): a stimulant used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Narcolepsy.
  5. Vicodin (Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen): an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain.
  6. Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen): an opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain.
  7. Valium (Diazepam): a benzodiazepine that treats anxiety, sleeplessness and muscle spasms.
  8. Ambien (Zolpidem): a short-acting sedative-hypnotic used to treat insomnia.
  9. Promethazine/Codeine Syrup: an antihistamine and opiate cough suppressant used to treat cold symptoms, allergies, and upper respiratory infections.
  10. Phenobarbital: a barbiturate prescribed as a sedative-hypnotic and anticonvulsant.

Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Opioid Pain Relievers – Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Fentanyl

Opioid pain relievers are prescribed to help treat pain when over-the-counter medications are not strong enough. Opioids tend to be the most abused prescription drug because they are easy to get, either by a regular doctor, an emergency room physician or a friend or loved one with a prescription. Those who abuse, or misuse opiates tend to develop a high similar to heroin. Vicodin, one of the many abused prescription drugs is a mixture of acetaminophen (Tylenol) and hydrocodone and is prescribed after surgery or to those with injuries that cause moderate to severe pain.

Typically prescribed for cancer patients or chronic pain sufferers, the fentanyl patch slowly releases medication to provide relief throughout the day, or “time-released.”

There are many ways to abuse these prescription drugs: Vicodin generally taken orally, morphine injected, and fentanyl taken orally, injected or administered by a patch. Some individuals abuse these drugs by taking them in a large quantity, crushing and snorting them, or by injection.

Benzodiazepines – Valium, Xanax, Klonopin

Benzodiazepines are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that work with the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) to calm nerves, sedate and relax muscles. Also used as a type of tranquilizer, benzodiazepines are also prescribed to treat panic disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, sleep disorders, and to help manage anxiety.

Even when taken as prescribed, they are highly addictive. When taking any benzodiazepines long-term, the body can build up a tolerance leading to drug abuse. When taking these drugs in large quantities, it often creates a sense of comfort, happiness, and a euphoric feeling and at the same time decreases personal reservation and causes more spontaneous activity. Benzodiazepines can lower blood pressure or cause slow breathing. The most commonly prescribed and abused benzodiazepines are Xanax and Valium.

Individuals who choose to misuse or abuse benzodiazepines may tend to mix them with opioids and alcohol, which can increase the effects. Mixing drugs can cause dangerous side effects and even lead to an overdose or death.

Amphetamines – Ritalin and Adderall

Amphetamine is a prescription stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), some forms of depression, and narcolepsy. These help patients with mental and psychiatric disorders to gain concentration, awareness, and decrease mood changes. Amphetamines are highly addictive and often abused by college students who use them to stay awake and enhance focus during finals or other school activities.

These stimulants can be misused by taking it in pill form, crushed and snorted, or even injected.

Side Effects of Abusing Prescription Drugs

Abusing stimulants can lead to dangerous side effects and can even be fatal. Increased blood pressure and heart rate are two serious side effects which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. Other less deadly side effects may include anger and paranoia, putting the abuser at risk for neurocognitive disorders, trouble sleeping, and lack of appetite causing malnutrition. Abusing prescription drugs could cause a person to become violent or unpredictable to themselves or others around them.

Prescription opioids are now considered the third most abused drug class in America. Alcohol and marijuana are first and second on the list. While the prescription medications listed above help treat different medical disorders and are considered safe to use under the supervision of a doctor, abusing them could lead to drug addiction, now called substance use disorder.

Abusing prescription medication is a growing problem in the United States. Increasing awareness and knowledge of this problem and recognizing the signs can help reduce the risk of drug addiction and drug overdose. If you know someone who struggles with prescription drug abuse, alcohol dependency, or another form of substance use disorder, you can offer them your support and help. Serenity Acres can help you or your loved one fight addiction and help create a path to a clean, healthy, and happy lifestyle.