What Are the Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs?

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Prescription drug abuse is a massive problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States is currently going through a prescription drug abuse epidemic. In 2017 alone, there were more than 72,000 drug overdose deaths, which is six times higher than in 1999. And starting in 2013, the CDC detected the third wave of opioid overdose deaths, which has already far exceeded the deaths by heroin deaths. Even more, these are only some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs out there today.
The problem is that while many of these deaths are caused by illicit drugs, for most people, abusing prescription medication is a more accessible option. Instead of going to a drug dealer, most people can get prescription drugs from friends or family.

How Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Taking prescription medication as prescribed by your doctor is not drug abuse. However, any deviation from their prescription can become a form of drug abuse. This can mean taking medicine more often, less often, just taking more, or taking it when you feel like it.
Often times, drug abuse comes from taking too much of a drug, or taking someone else’s prescription medication.
Under a doctor’s prescribed plan, some medicines can help you find relief from pain or illness. However, drug abuse can quickly exasperate many health issues, including serious ones like death. So it’s vital to spot drug abuse quickly in yourself, your friends, or family.
Furthermore, drub abuse can lead to physical dependence and tolerance. Meaning that more of the drug is required to achieve the same positive results. This can easily lead to addiction or more drug abuse.

Why Do People Abuse Drugs?

There are many reasons why people may abuse prescription drugs:

  • To get high
  • Try to relieve tension and relax
  • Experimenting with substances
  • High tolerance to medication for actual medical conditions
  • Prevent withdrawal during addiction
  • To be accepted socially
  • Weight loss or appetite suppression
  • Attempt to become more alert or aware
  • To improve concentration in academics or the workplace

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Drug abuse in teens and young adults is becoming a significant problem. This is especially true for college students, where 1 in 5 have abused drugs in the past month.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Though any drug can be abused, the most commonly abused drugs fall into three categories: stimulants, opioids, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants.


Stimulants are often prescribed by doctors for weight control, concentration issues like ADHD, or narcolepsy. They increase brain activity which causes alertness, greater attention, and higher energy.
There are many stimulants that are often abused. The most popular stimulants are amphetamines and methylphenidates. However, these two stimulants go by several different names.
Medical Names: Biphetamine, Dexedrine, Adderall, Dextroamphetamine, Methylphenidate, Amphetamines
Street Names: bennies, black beauties, crosses, hearts, LA turnaround, speed, truck drivers, uppers

Symptoms of stimulant abuse include:

  • Increased alertness
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling high
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid breathing
  • Hallucinations

In extreme cases, stimulant abuse can cause seizures and heart failure.


Opioids are most often prescribed to treat pain and chronic conditions. According to the CDC, 20.4% of US adults suffer from chronic pain. Over the last few decades, opioids have become the preferred option for managing chronic pain. With proper care, opioids can effectively manage the pain. However, with long-term use, opioids can easily be addictive.
The most common opioids are codeine, methadone, morphine, and fentanyl. Like most medicines, though, they have several other names.
Medical names: methadose, dolophine, sublimaze, tylox, oxycontin, percodan, percocet, vicodin, lortab, lorcet, dilauded, opana, numorphan, numorphone, demerol, meperidine hydrochloride, darvon, darvocet.
Street names: captain cody, cody, schoolboy, M, miss emma, monkey, white stuff, fizzies, amidone, apache, china girl, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, etc.

Symptoms of opioid abuse include:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Poor coordination
  • An increasing dose required for pain relief
  • Increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses
  • Weakness
  • Itching
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Clammy skin

Severe complications included slow pulse, low blood pressure, respiratory arrest, coma, and death.
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Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

CNS depressants are typically used as an anti-anxiety medication and for sleep disorders. Depressants work by slowing down brain activity, which makes them the ideal choice to treat any panic, anxiety, or stress-related issues.
The most common depressants are barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications. However, it’s essential to know the various names CNS depressants go by.
Medical names: ativan, librium, valium, xanax, klonopin, ambien (zolpidem), sonata (zaleplon), lunesta (eszopiclone)
Street names: bars, zannies, reds, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets, candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks

Symptoms of CND Depressants abuse include:

  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Feelings of well-being
  • Poor concentration
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired coordination
  • Unsteady walking
  • Slowed breathing
  • Memory issues

Serious complications include slow pulse, low blood pressure, tolerance, respiratory arrest, and death.

Tips for Preventing Drug Abuse to Prescription Drugs

Luckily, there are several steps you can take to ensure that you don’t abuse prescription drugs.

Make Sure You’re Getting the Correct Prescription

Your doctor should know everything about your condition, not just what you believe is relevant. Make sure they know any medications you’re currently taking, including over-the-counter medicine, and detail all your symptoms.

Schedule Regular Check-ups

Check back in with your doctor frequently to ensure that the medication is working and what you’re taking it as prescribed. This will also allow them to adjust your dose and/or medication to prevent abuse, physical dependence, and addiction.

Take Note of How The Medication Affects You

Keep a log of all the ways the medication is affecting your body, especially the first few days of use. Medication can react to everyone’s body differently, so these notes will help your doctor adjust your prescription accurately whenever you visit them.
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Follow Directions Carefully

Make sure you are following the directions on how to take the medication as carefully as possible. Talk to your doctor before you change or stop a prescription, even if it seems not to be working. They will guide you on the safest path.

Know What Your Medicine Does

Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about all the side effects of your medication. Know what to expect and how to detect if you become physically dependent. Also, check if there are other medications or activities you should avoid while taking the prescription.

Never Use Someone Else’s Prescription

Even if a friend or a family member has the same medical condition, don’t take their medicine. Everyone reacts to medication slightly differently, so consult your doctor before taking any new medicine.

Recreational Abuse of Prescription Drugs

Sometimes it can be common to use the above mention drugs for recreational purposes. Things like parties, raves, live music shows, and even high school hangouts can involve medical prescriptions used with the intention to alter the mind.
Probably the most commonly abused prescription drugs for non-medical related interests include:

  • Xanax
  • Oxycontin
  • Amphetamines
  • Adderall
  • Opioids
  • and more

Sometimes even one or several uses of recreational drugs can trigger a tolerance and eventually a substance dependency. Anyone who tries various types of drugs should be aware of the dangers, addiction potential, and his/her habits when it comes to substance abuse. Recreational drug use is a major leading cause of addiction in today’s society.
Prescription drug abuse is no joke. It can have long-lasting negative effects on the mind, body, and nervous system. Furthermore, addiction itself can impact individuals, families, and communities. Recovery is possible, though! If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

If you or a loved one needs help recovering from an addiction to prescription drugs, call us at 949-625-4019.

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