Prescription Drug Abuse

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 16 March 2021

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug misuse occurs when you take a prescription for a reason other than the one for which it was approved by the doctor.

Abusing medications, including prescription drugs, will alter the way your brain functions. The majority of people begin by deciding to take these drugs. However, improvements in your brain over time have an effect on your self-control and ability to make sound choices. You have strong desires to take more medications at the same time.


Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Three types of prescription medications are often abused, according to the National Institute on Substance Abuse:


Doctors have been prescribing a lot of prescription painkillers like codeine, hydrocodone, morphine (Astramorph, MS Contin, Oramorph SR), and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin); since the early 1990s. This is partially due to the aging of the American population and the fact that more people are suffering from chronic pain.

When you take these medications according to your doctor’s orders, they will help you increase your quality of life. When you take opioids for a brief period or under the supervision of a doctor, it’s possible, but not likely, to get addicted or dependent on them. However, if used for an extended period of time, they will lead to substance misuse, dependency, and addiction.

Overdosing on opioids can also be fatal. You have a greater risk of respiratory problems or mortality if you combine them with drugs that affect the central nervous system, such as alcohol, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), or diazepam (Valium).

Opioids can make you feel a little happy. To get the result quicker, certain people who use them illegally snort or inject them. When you inject medications, you increase the risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.


Central nervous system (CNS) depressants

Benzodiazepines (Ativan, Valium, Xanax) are used by millions of individuals to relieve anxiety and sleep problems, including insomnia. They have an effect on GABA, a brain chemical (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA decreases brain function and makes you sleepy or relaxed.

Barbiturates, such as amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), phenobarbital (Luminal), and secobarbital (Seconal), all depress the central nervous system. Doctors administer them for anaesthesia and to treat epilepsy.

CNS depressants will make you feel relaxed and tired for a few days or weeks. However, after a while, you can need higher doses to achieve the same effect. When combined with alcohol, they can result in a slowed heartbeat, shallow breathing, and even death.

If you take CNS depressants for a long time and then unexpectedly stop, you can suffer life-threatening side effects like withdrawal seizures.



These medications give the body a lift, resulting in increased alertness, stamina, and focus. They increase your blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate. They also expand your airways while narrowing your blood vessels.

Stimulants were initially used by physicians to cure asthma and obesity. They’re now used to treat disorders like ADHD, ADD, addiction, and narcolepsy. Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine, Dextrostat, ProCentra), lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse), methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin), and a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin) are examples of stimulants (Adderall).

Abuse of stimulants, such as consuming them in larger doses or crushing and snorting drugs, can lead to addiction. Strong doses will cause you to become overheated. Irregular heartbeat may occur if stimulants are misused or combined with decongestants.

Prescription Drug Abuse Risk Factors

According to research, certain characteristics of yours might make you more likely to abuse prescription drugs. There are some of the risk factors:

  • Age
  • Influence of friends’ or colleagues’
  • Underlying mental health
  • Genetics
  • Knowledge about prescription drugs


Prescription Drug Abuse Signs and Symptoms

The signs of substance addiction vary depending on the drug. Someone who abuses opioids may have the following symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Slow or shallow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression or anxiety

CNS depressants abuse can cause:

  • Changes in mood
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor judgment
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Memory loss
  • Slow breathing

Symptoms of stimulant abuse include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Paranoia



Medication-assisted therapy for opioid abuse may help patients regain control without increasing their chances of becoming addicted.

Buprenorphine is used to treat opiate overdose and addiction. To avoid relapse, doctors sometimes pair it with the medication naloxone.

You could get some kind of buprenorphine injected under your skin if you’ve been taking buprenorphine in pill form and your body has gotten rid of all of the medication you’ve been abusing. This substance is known as probuphine. For six months, it delivers a consistent dosage of buprenorphine. Sublocade, a monthly shot of buprenorphine, is also available.

Methadone and the blood pressure drug clonidine are two other opiate overdose therapies. Naltrexone works by blocking the symptoms of opiates which can help to avoid relapsing. It’s available in two forms: orally (Revia) and as a monthly injection (Vivitrol).

Doctors advise patients who abuse heroin to have naloxone on hand, a drug that can reverse an overdose. It’s available as a shot (Evzio) or a nasal spray (Narcan).

Experts agree that “medication-assisted care” of methadone, naltrexone, or suboxone, combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy, is the most effective treatment for most drug users.

Addiction to CNS depressants or stimulants is most commonly treated with counseling. You will also need to detoxify (or “detox") the body under the supervision of a doctor.

Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

The FDA provides the following recommendations for proper prescription drug use:

  • Always pay attention to the instructions.
  • Do not change your doses without first consulting your doctor.
  • Do not quit taking the drug on your own.
  • Pills should not be crushed or broken, particularly if they are time-released.
  • Be sure you understand how a drug can impact your driving and other everyday habits when taking it.
  • Learn what can happen if you combine a medicine with alcohol or other prescription or OTC medications.
  • Tell your doctor what you know about your medical or family history of drug abuse.
  • Do not allow anyone else to use your prescription drugs, and likewise do not use anyone else’s.


Warnings for Use of Prescription Drugs

Opioids can never be mixed with CNS depressants, according to the National Institute on Substance Addiction. These are a list of CNS drugs that should not mix with opiods:

  • Alcohol
  • Antihistamines
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Sleeping medications
  • General anesthetics

Do not combine CNS depressants with other central nervous system depressants, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription opioid pain medicines
  • Some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications

Use caution when mixing stimulants with other drugs that activate the nervous system, such as:

  • Antidepressants, as supervised by a doctor.
  • Decongestants that can be purchased over-the-counter.
  • Any medicines for asthma.



Prescription drug misuse may have serious or fatal consequences, particularly when combined with the drugs mentioned above:

  • Opioids can induce nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, coma, or death.
  • CNS depressants can cause the heart rate or breathing to slow down. Seizures can occur if you interrupt or delay the dosage too fast.
  • Abuse with stimulants can cause elevated body temperatures, irregular heartbeats, aggression, anxiety, heart failure, and seizures.

You are more likely to become dependent on or addicted to a drug if you misuse it. You’re much more likely to commit a crime, be a victim of a crime, or be involved in an accident.


Why is there a rise in prescription drug abuse?

Some researchers believe that since there are more opioid pills available, more people are consuming them. Doctors claim to be writing more prescriptions than they have in the past. It’s also simple to locate online pharmacies that sell these medications.

Teens may take drugs from their parent’s medicine cabinets for themselves or their families. Many teens have no idea what medications they’re on or which ones when mixed with other drugs or alcohol, may cause severe complications, even death. They may also feel that since these medications are prescribed, they are safe.


How to Support Someone with a substance abuse problem

Consult a doctor if you suspect a family member or personal friend is abusing prescription drugs. They will be able to refer you to opioid rehab facilities that may be of assistance. You can also contact the Alcohol and Substance Abuse hotline at +603-2727 7434.

Inform the individual of your issues so that they are aware of the problem. Get ready for a lot of denial and opposition. Many addicts must endure severe consequences before they realize they have a problem and seek treatment. Then, as they work to overcome their addiction, stand by their side.


Referenced on 2.3.2021:

  1. FDA: “Prescription Drug Use and Abuse," “FDA approves first buprenorphine implant for treatment of opioid dependence."
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Topics in Brief: Prescription Drug Abuse."
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Trends in prescription drug abuse."
  4. Mayo Clinic: “Prescription drug abuse.”
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Misuse of Prescription Drugs,” “Drug Facts: Prescription Opioids.”
  6. American Academy of Family Physicians: “Opioid Addiction.”
  7. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: “Prescription Sedative Misuse and Abuse.”
  8. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology: “Prescription Stimulant Medication Abuse: Where Are We and Where Do We Go From Here?”
  9. TeensHealth/Nemours: “Prescription Drug Abuse.”

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