A Rapidly Growing Problem
Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs after alcohol and marijuana. Taking a medication without a prescription, taking more than prescribed, or using it for a different reason than prescribed are all forms of abuse. And prescription drug abuse doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all ages and backgrounds.
Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Amphetamines are the most commonly abused prescription drugs. They are stimulants doctors prescribe to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Examples include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and combination amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall). Abusing or misusing these drugs can cause high blood pressure, seizures, heart attack, stroke, paranoia, aggressiveness, and hallucinations.
Vicodin / Hydrocodone
Hydrocodone is available in combination with other ingredients. Its brand name is Vicodin when it’s combined with acetaminophen. Vicodin is an opioid pain medicine and it’s among the most abused prescription drugs. Misusing this drug can lead to excessive side effects like drowsiness, dizziness and nausea, as well as confusion, low blood pressure, unconsciousness, coma, and even death. Combining it with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants like sedatives is extremely dangerous.
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants—they slow down brain and nervous system activity. They fall under the category of sedatives or mild tranquilizers. Doctors prescribe them to treat insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks. Examples include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and clonazepam (Klonopin). Abusing them can cause confusion, dizziness, impaired coordination and memory, and low blood pressure. Combining them with alcohol increases the risk of breathing problems and possibly even death.
Barbiturates are another type of central nervous system depressant. They are also a type of sedative or tranquilizer. Examples are phenobarbital, pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). These drugs may be prescribed for seizures, anxiety and insomnia. In addition to having the same risks as benzodiazepines when abused, barbiturates can also cause fever and life-threatening withdrawal.
Oxycontin is a slow-release form of the narcotic drug oxycodone, which is also an opioid. Doctors commonly prescribe it for chronic pain because it lasts for many hours. But it’s also commonly abused. Oxycontin is highly addictive. It’s also extremely dangerous when abusers crush it. Crushing it destroys the timed-release formulation and releases huge amounts of narcotic—amounts that should have been slowly released over 12 hours. This type of abuse can be lethal.
Methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin) is a commonly abused stimulant. Like amphetamines, doctors prescribe methylphenidate to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. In addition to the risks of abusing other stimulants, methylphenidate can lead to increased or decreased blood pressure, digestive issues, decreased appetite, and weight loss.
Prescription cough medicines often contain opioids, such as codeine, and powerful antihistamines to help quiet a cough. Like Vicodin, abusing these products affects the central nervous system. Over-the-counter cough medicines can also lead to problems. They often contain the stimulant drug dextromethorphan. Taking too much can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, slurred speech, and paranoia. Remember, over-the-counter does not mean “safe.” It is possible to overdose on these products.
Page Sources / Acknowledgements
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Sarah Lewis: Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice.
Prescription HELP Hotline
Moral Reconation Therapy (MRT) is a type of behavioral therapy designed to decrease the likelihood of someone returning to abusing chemical substances, alcohol or both.
It teaches people with substance use disorders how to focus on the moral aspects of their illness, and the social consequences associated with using drugs and alcohol. Learn More
The Importance of Mental and Emotional Health in Sobriety
(Colusa County Recovery) - Achieving and maintaining sobriety is a complex journey that requires ongoing commitment and support. While abstaining from substance use is a critical component of recovery, it is equally important to address the underlying issues that may have led to addiction in the first place. This is where mental and emotional health comes into play.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), "Recovery from mental disorders and substance use disorders is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential." In other words, true recovery goes beyond simply stopping substance use; it involves healing and growth in all areas of life.
One of the most important aspects of mental and emotional health in sobriety is developing personal resilience. This includes building coping skills and healthy habits to manage stress, anxiety, and other difficult emotions that can trigger a relapse. As Susan Wagenaar, founder of Colusa County Recovery, points out, "In order to achieve long-term sobriety, individuals must focus on their well-being and personal resilience, which involves developing healthy habits that support their recovery journey."
“In addition to building resilience, addressing mental and emotional health issues through therapy, drug counseling, and support groups can also be crucial in maintaining sobriety,” says Wagenaar. “This can help individuals process past traumas or negative experiences that may have contributed to their addiction, as well as develop healthy communication skills and coping strategies.”
Ultimately, the journey to sobriety is a unique and personal one, but it is important to remember that mental and emotional health are integral components of the recovery process. With the right support, resources, and focus on mental and emotional health, individuals can achieve lasting sobriety and live their best life.