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Common Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse is a huge problem in the United States. Millions of people in the country regularly abuse some type of prescription drug. Some abuse the drugs they’ve been prescribed, but the majority of people abusing prescription drugs get the medication from someone else. So many people have starting abusing prescription drugs that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have labeled the U.S. prescription drug abuse problem a nationwide epidemic [1].

There are different prescription drugs involved in the epidemic. Some common prescription drugs have a higher rate of abuse than others, but any prescription drug abuse can lead to serious, even life-threatening, problems.

The Widespread Problem Of Prescription Drug Abuse

In 2010, approximately 12 million people over the age of 12 reported that they used a prescription drug for non-medical reasons [2]. About 70% of people who abuse prescription drugs said that they get those drugs from friends or family [3]. Those that don’t get their drugs from loved ones can abuse their own prescription drug, or they can buy the prescription drugs they abuse off of other people.

Prescription Painkiller Abuse

One of the most common prescription drugs people abuse are opioid painkillers [4]. This includes commonly prescribed drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, Hydrocodone, and Morphine. All opioid painkillers are highly addictive. People who abuse opiates even once may feel the urge to abuse them repeatedly. Continuous prescription painkiller abuse can be hard to maintain, though. The drugs are expensive and can be hard to get. That’s why some people who abuse prescription painkillers switch to a different substance later on. In 2011, it was reported that prescription painkillers were involved in the most drug exposure cases nationwide [5]. While they can choose any drug, many decide that their best alternative is heroin. Approximately 4 out of 5 people who use heroin say their drug abuse started with a prescription painkiller [6].

More Common Prescription Drugs

Prescription painkillers are far from the only prescription drugs that are abused. Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium are very commonly abused. So are amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin [7].

Any prescription drug abuse can be dangerous. Approximately 140 people die of drug overdoses every day [8]. Around 40 of those deaths are directly caused by prescription drug abuse [9]. Poison centers have experienced a 7% increase in severe cases involving prescription drugs [10].

People who don’t overdose can also have serious health problems though. Prolonged prescription drug abuse cause brain, liver, or kidney damage [11]. People can also develop mental health problems like anxiety, delusions, depression, hallucinations, paranoia, or psychosis. It’s also possible for prescription drug abuse to lead to an addiction [12]. Prescription drug addiction is a huge problem that can disrupt every part of someone’s life, including their health, their work, and their relationships.

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

People struggling with prescription drug abuse will show signs of it. There are a lot of signs of prescription drug abuse that people can show. No one will show all the signs, but even one of several signs can indicate that a drug abuse problem is developing. If someone shows multiple signs of prescription drug abuse, they’re probably already struggling with one or more common prescription drugs.

People who abuse prescription drugs will have behavioral changes [13]. Some of those changes can be serious. For instance, people who abuse prescription drugs will spend lots of their time trying to get the drugs they’re abusing. That time might be spent forging prescriptions, stealing prescription drugs from loved ones, stealing from a pharmacy, buying prescription drugs online, or making numerous appointments with different doctors so they can be prescribed a drug multiple times. Some may even fake injuries or seriously injure themselves in order to get prescription drugs at a hospital. People who are desperate enough may buy prescription drugs on the street or switch to a cheaper alternative.

Long-term prescription drug abuse can also lead to money problems. People who need money for their drugs are likely going to steal, sell personal possessions, or ask loved ones for the money they need [14].

It’s common for people who abuse prescription drugs to have strained relationships with others [15]. Their personal and professional relationships might start to fall apart. This can be caused by several things. People who struggle with prescription drug abuse have a hard time meeting obligations and arriving to events on-time. They likely will also leave events early. It’s possible they won’t show up at all.

Students that abuse prescription drugs likely will fail to turn in homework, they may leave class early, or they may not go to class at all [16]. This can cause a significant drop in grades, detention, and they can even be expelled from school. People in the workforce will have similar problems. They can fail to meet work requirements, call in to work, and, ultimately, get fired.

In some cases, people that abuse prescription drugs can have legal problems. Forging prescriptions and stealing can get them arrested. They can also be charged with a DWI if they’re driving while they’re under the influence.

Mood changes are also common with people who abuse prescription drugs [17]. Some of these changes can be classified as mild mood swings. Other times, though, someone may develop a serious mood disorder like depression or anxiety, which can lead to extreme sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and panic attacks [18].

There are also physical and psychological effects of prescription drug abuse. These effects can be mild to life-threatening, depending on how much of the drug is taken and how long someone has been abusing it. Each type of prescription drug will have different effects on people. The people who abuse opioids, for instance, will experience constipation, confusion, hypotension, and respiratory depression [19]. Benzodiazepines will only cause confusion, dizziness, impaired judgment, and nystagmus [20]. Amphetamine abuse can lead to weight loss, irritability, hypertension, insomnia, and cardiac arrhythmia [21].

Prescription Drug Withdrawal

Anyone who abuses prescription drugs long enough will also go through withdrawal when they go without the drug for too long. Like the effects of drug abuse, withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the drugs involved. Opioids are all going to cause the same withdrawal symptoms, but those withdrawal symptoms are going to be different from the symptoms for benzodiazepines and amphetamines. Common withdrawal symptoms for opioids include [22]:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating


Benzodiazepines and other sedatives have more dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Some of the common ones include [23]:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • High core body temperature
  • Tachycardia
  • Seizures
  • Coma


Withdrawal symptoms from amphetamines can be milder than benzodiazepines. Normal withdrawal symptoms for amphetamines include [24]:

  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Behavioral changes
  • Psychosis

While the withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepines have the most health risks, any withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms for any prescription drugs can be incredibly uncomfortable. That discomfort can be too much for people who are trying to get sober and they could relapse. Any relapse is incredibly dangerous.

Prescription Drug Tolerance and Overdose

When people abuse prescription drugs, they slowly develop a tolerance [25]. Someone who becomes tolerant of any substance will need more of it in order to get the same effect they experienced during their first use. When someone stops using, their tolerance for the drug will immediately start to decrease. If they stay sober, this isn’t a problem. People who relapse, though, will likely use the same dosage of the prescription drug they used before their attempt as sobriety. Because their tolerance for the drug isn’t as high, people who relapse are at a higher risk for an overdose [26].

Getting Help For Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse recovery can be difficult, especially if people try to get sober on their own. If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug abuse, you should give us a call 877-720-9595

For many, prescription drug abuse recovery starts with detox [27]. In detox, people can work through their withdrawal symptoms with trained personnel that make the experience more comfortable.

Detox won’t be enough for people to stay sober after prescription drug abuse though. People who want to maintain their sobriety need to developing coping mechanisms and other skills so they can deal with cravings, stress, and other life issues without relying on prescription drugs.

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug abuse, Northern Arizona Center for Addiction can help. We provide you or your loved one with inpatient and outpatient rehab programs, as well as caring staff members and a supportive network of people that can help you achieve lasting sobriety. Before you start treatment with us, you’ll go through a physical examination so we can determine if there are any other health problems you have. If there are, we can help you recover from those conditions during treatment as well. That includes mental health disorders and physical health problems.