Exploring the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Not every case of drug abuse involves illicit street drugs. Some of the most widely abused drugs in America might be found in your own bathroom medicine cabinet. The abuse of prescription drugs is a major crisis in this country, and research shows that up to 20 percent of adults in the U.S. have abused prescription drugs at some point.1

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the issue of prescription drug abuse and discuss some warning signs of the problem.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Although many types of prescription drugs hold the potential for abuse, some drugs are more addictive than others. A few of the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

  • Opioid painkillers: Medications such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin are effective at treating pain, but the euphoric effects often lead people to misuse their prescriptions.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Benzodiazepines are usually prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks. These prescription drugs, which include Xanax and Ativan, work by depressing the central nervous system. With extended use, benzodiazepines have a strong potential for abuse.
  • Stimulants: Drugs that are typically prescribed to ease the symptoms of ADHD are frequently used for non-medical purposes. Adderall, Ritalin and other stimulants can be misused by people who take them to improve their mental focus and alertness.

From Use to Abuse

In cases of prescription drug abuse, the path to addiction usually begins with a drug that’s prescribed for a medical reason.2 A person might find themselves taking the drug more often than prescribed, or they may try to borrow pills from a friend or family member when their own prescription runs out.

Before long, they’ve become dependent on the drug and need increasing amounts to achieve the same effects. They might find themselves “doctor shopping,” going from doctor to doctor in order to obtain enough pills to maintain their habit.

Not everyone who misuses a prescription drug for a short time will become dependent, but certain factors increase the risk of addiction. You’re more likely to develop a problem with prescription drug addiction if you’ve already had substance abuse problems in the past, and you also have a greater chance of addiction if you have family members with substance abuse problems.

Knowing the Signs

Over time, abusing prescription drugs can cause a number of health issues: kidney failure, liver damage and cognitive problems are just a few of the long-term consequences. It’s important to recognize the signs of abuse so that a person can get help and avoid these problems. Some common signs of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Forging or stealing prescriptions
  • Taking a drug more frequently or in higher doses than prescribed
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Appearing either unusually amped up or abnormally sedated

Prescription drug abuse or addiction may be part of your past, but it doesn’t have to be part of your future. Recovery can be tough, and a helping hand can make a big difference. Find the help you need to begin the life you were meant to live.


  1. https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/drugs/prescription-drugs
  2. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/prescription-drug-abuse-who-gets-addicted-and-why

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