Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is the use of prescription drugs that 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 else’s 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. In fact, we consume about 80% of the world’s supply of prescription opioid painkillers each year. There is some astounding math in that 4.25% of the world’s population is using 80% of the world’s oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, Dilaudid, and more. Learn more about:



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 as little as a week of taking it. It depends on the person, but 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. 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 with 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 afterward. 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.

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 the 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 the 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 that have potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms. The other two are alcohol and barbiturates. It is absolutely essential that 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, contact us


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