Prescription Drugs

Abusing prescription drugs can lead to severe addiction.

The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Commonly abused prescription drugs fall into four categories: opioids, anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, antidepressants, and stimulants.


Opioids are strong pain relieving drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. They work in the brain to produce a variety of effects but are most commonly used for pain relief. Other positive effects include relaxation and increased happiness. When opioids are abused they can cause drowsiness, confusion, nausea, slowed breathing, and can be fatal.


Antidepressants are used to treat clinical depression. They can also help to treat social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. A individual should speak with their doctor about their specific needs to find the best treatment option. Some individuals attempt to feel a “high” with antidepressants and take much more than they need. Like most drugs, taking large doses of antidepressants can be dangerous and increase the likelihood of overdosing and seizures. Combining alcohol and antidepressants can also have negative health effects on the body.

Anti-Anxiety Medications and Sedatives

Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are usually used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorder and is often prescribed with other therapies. Most of the time these drugs will be used occasionally or short-term. This decreases chances of developing an addiction. The potential risks of these drugs occur when they are taken without the supervision of a psychiatrist or doctor. When they are abused, anti-anxiety medications can create a euphoric “high” or “buzz” followed by a prolonged sedation. If taken improperly, there is an increased likelihood of overdosing resulting in seizures or comas.


Prescription stimulants are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. They speed up the messages traveling between the brain and body- increasing alertness, attention, and energy. While they can help some individuals under a doctor’s prescription, they have the potential of being abused outside of appropriate monitoring to produce a higher “high”. Chronic stimulant abusers will compensate for diminishing highs by taking more and more stimulants. Side effects can result in addiction, heart problems, stokes, convulsions, or fatality.

Frequently Asked Questions

We encourage you to click through to the linked sources to find more detailed information—so you can make informed decisions about your health.

How do people misuse prescription drugs?

Prescription opioids used for pain relief are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they can be misused. People misuse prescription opioids by:

  • taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • taking someone else’s prescription medicine
  • taking large amounts of the medicine for the effect it causes-to get “high”
  • combining prescription drugs with other drugs simultaneously

Prescription drugs were created with the intention of helping treat pain and certain medical conditions to live a more comfortable life. There are ways you can use prescription drugs to help overcome health challenges. To safely take prescriptions:

  • Take your medicine as prescribed with input from your doctor
  • Check with multiple healthcare provides to get a second opinion on a treatment plan
  • Communicate with your doctor if you take any other medications and/or experience side effects
  • Check expiration dates on bottles and safely discard it
  • Tell your doctor about alcohol, tobacco, and drug use
  • Never take someone else’s prescription medicine

Yes. People who abuse prescription drugs—that is, taking them in a manner or a dose other than prescribed, or taking medications prescribed for another person—risk addiction and other serious health consequences.

The symptoms of prescription drug addiction can vary from person to person and depend upon the type of prescription drug that you have been misusing, the frequency of your prescription drug use, and the amount of the prescription drug that you are consuming. Symptoms of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Chronic low mood or flat affect (reduced emotional reactivity)
  • Agitation
  • Confusion and paranoia
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Exacerbation of any existing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or stress

Always communicate your symptoms with your doctor, as some of these symptoms may not indicate that you have an addiction.

Properly Use, Don't Abuse.

Over 60% of adults in the US use prescription drugs. About 6% of the US population reports misusing prescription drugs either accidentally or intentionally. While prescription drugs can help individuals with an array of health conditions, misuse can occur. Make sure to always properly use prescription drugs.

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