Prescription Drug Abuse

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What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription drugs which are mind and mood altering in a way other than prescribed. If a medicine is prescribed to you, but you take more than the amount indicated on the bottle, or if you take someone elses prescription or buy pills off the street, this is prescription drug abuse. This type of addiction is much more common than most people realize.

The United States uses more controlled prescription drugs than any country on earth. In fact, we consume about 80% of the world’s supply of prescription opioid painkillers each year.  If there was any doubt in your mind whether or not prescription drug abuse is a problem in America, that should put it to bed. There is some astounding math there. Somehow 4.25% of the world’s population is using 80% of the world’s oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, dilaudid and the rest. So, there can be little doubt that there is a prescription drug abuse problem in America.

How Does Prescription Addiction Happen?

Prescription drug abuse can happen in a number of ways. One of the most common occurs when someone has been prescribed an opioid analgesic for chronic pain, an injury or following surgery. Doctors are a lot savvier about the risk of prescription drug abuse now than in the past, but it’s still an issue. Through no fault of the patient, they can become dependent on an opioid medication after a little as a week of taking it. It depends on the person, but absolutely no one is immune to physical dependence on opioids.

Whether it’s 5 days or 10, if you take opioids regularly for a period of time, you will develop a dependence upon them. What this means is that if you abruptly stop taking the medication, you will experience physical (and likely psychological) withdrawal symptoms. With opioids these symptoms usually manifest as yawning and watery eyes at first. As time goes on you may develop flu-like symptoms including nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps and chills. People in opioid withdrawal also often experience anxiety and fatigue. These physical symptoms can last anywhere from 5-8 days, but the less intense side effects like anxiety, depression or insomnia may linger for weeks afterwards. It depends largely on the individual and what they were taking, for how long and in what quantity.

While no one is immune from addiction, some people are at higher risk of prescription drug abuse than others.  Here are some risk factors to consider.

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Some Risk Factors for Abusing Prescription Drugs Include:

  • History of depression or anxiety
  • Prior history of addiction (with any substance)
  • Family history of addiction
  • Youth, lower emotional maturity
  • Tendency towards risk-taking behaviors
  • Heavy tobacco use (nicotine addiction)
  • Trauma or stressful circumstances

Which Prescription Medicines are Most Often Abused?

There’s a long list. Essentially any controlled substance has potential for prescription drug abuse. Most doctors do a good job of informing the patient of the risks before prescribing these medications, but not all do. Even when the risk of addiction is explained, it’s not unusual for people to underestimate the danger or imagine they won’t have a problem. Some people are overconfident because they haven’t had a problem with alcohol or drugs in the past and they imagine only some people are vulnerable to addiction. With that said, here is a list of some of the controlled prescription drugs which have potential for abuse.


  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin, Percodan, Tylox)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Xodol, Zohydro)
  • Morphine (MSContin, Kadian, Avinza)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze)
  • Codeine (Tylenol 3, Antituss AC)
  • Methadone


  • Alprazolam (Xanax, Niravam)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan, Loreev XR)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
  • Midazolam (Versed)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Oxazepam (Serax)


  • Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
  • Dexmethylphenidate hydrochloride (Focalin)
  • Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate (Vyvanse)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)

 An Important Note About Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are one of only three categories of drugs which have potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. The other two are alcohol and barbiturates. It is absolutely essential than you NEVER attempt to detox yourself off of benzodiazepines or stop taking them abruptly without medical supervision. There is a very real potential for seizures in withdrawal and they can be deadly. A benzodiazepine detox or taper must always be done under a doctor’s supervision.

We can Help

If you believe you or someone you love needs help with prescription drug abuse,  or you just have questions about treatment for addiction, give The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center a call at (954) 637-7656

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