Prescription drugs treat a number of diseases and ailments. Conditions like depression and anxiety are managed through the use of prescription antidepressants, while the pain associated with chronic illness and diseases like cancer are managed with prescription painkillers (opioids).
There are people who misuse prescription drugs by taking them recreationally, or in a way other than prescribed.
Many people falsely believe that because these drugs are available through a pharmacy, they are somehow safer than illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin. However, this is not the case. Prescription medication abuse is dangerous and can have serious consequences.
Prescription Drugs Of Abuse
The three most commonly abused categories of prescription drugs are opioids, central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, and CNS depressants.
While opioids do fall into the CNS depressant category, opioids also have a significantly different effect on the brain, opioid receptors, and addiction.
Opioids are commonly called “painkillers”. These drugs act on specific areas of the brain and essentially trick the mind into believing the pain is gone.
The problem with opioids is that while they cloud the brain and reduce pain, they also cause a surge of dopamine, resulting in euphoria, increased happy feelings, and intense relaxation.
These sensations and dopamine surges are both extremely addictive. Over time, people will take more and more opioids to feel those same sensations, which is very dangerous and can result in dependence, addiction, or even death.
Prescription opioids of abuse include:
- Percocet (oxycodone)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone)
- OxyContin (oxycodone)
- Opana (oxymorphone)
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Prescription medications that belong to this class stimulate or boost activity in the brain. This is a result of the added release and blocking the reuptake of chemicals in the brain responsible for focus, attention, and reward.
These drugs tend to make people jittery unless they are trying to manage the symptoms of an attention disorder. Individuals with ADHD take CNS stimulants that allow them to be more focused and attentive.
Individuals who are prescribed CNS stimulants usually do not abuse their medications, however, they may be convinced to sell or give them to people who only want to abuse them.
List of common prescription stimulants are:
- Adderall (amphetamine, dextroamphetamine)
- Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- Concerta (methylphenidate)
- Focalin (dexmethylphenidate)
- Daytrana (methylphenidate)
- Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)
Prescription medications that slow down, or depress brain function, are called CNS depressants. The majority of these drugs accomplish this by manipulating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain.
Altering GABA levels makes it difficult for the cells in the brain to communicate, which slows the system as a whole. This is beneficial for people with different anxiety disorders.
Disrupting GABA in the brain can also increase dopamine levels, which can cause euphoria and sedation. People can find these effects addictive, which leads to the abuse of these medications.
It is not uncommon for people abusing CNS depressants to mix with other drugs or alcohol. Combining these drugs can cause breathing to slow and, in some cases, become fatal.
CNS depressants are not always easy to stop taking. If dependence has occurred, stopping a CNS depressant can make a person very sick as withdrawal symptoms kick in. People abusing CNS depressants may need help if they want to stop abusing the medication.
Some commonly prescribed CNS depressants include:
- Valium (diazepam)
- Xanax (alprazolam)
- Klonopin (clonazepam)
- Ambien (zolpidem)
- Lunesta (eszopiclone)
- Sonata (zaleplon)
- Luminal (phenobarbital)
- Nembutal (pentobarbital sodium)
Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
While it is important to know the different types of prescription medications, it can be helpful to know what specific medications are being abused. This is especially useful to individuals who have family members who are abusing prescription drugs.
Having this knowledge can help families understand how the person came to develop the addiction, what type of intervention may be needed, and the type of treatment to search for.
Vicodin is a prescription painkiller that belongs to the opioid family. It treats moderate to severe pain and is a combination of both hydrocodone and acetaminophen.
Hydrocodone-containing prescriptions are the highest prescribed opioid in America. Over 83 million prescriptions were written in 2017.
Individuals who abuse Vicodin may crush, snort, chew, or inject the pill. This can be dangerous since it causes the drug to take effect within minutes, instead of slowly.
Additionally, the acetaminophen in Vicodin can cause liver damage when taken in high doses for a long period of time. Some common street names for Vicodin include vikes, norcos, hydros, lorries, vicos, or Watsons.
Fentanyl is one of the most powerful prescription opioids available. It can be fatal in extremely low doses, especially if the person has not taken any opioids previously. A dose of fentanyl smaller than a few granules of table salt could cause a fatal overdose.
Fentanyl is the active ingredient in Duragesic, Fentora, and Actiq. It is used to treat the severe pain associated with cancer, as well as chronic pain that has stopped responding to other opioid medications.
Prescription fentanyl is usually available as a lozenge, patch, or injection. A person abusing fentanyl may boil or cut the patch and pull out the fentanyl, or even chew up the patch.
A recent development in drug trafficking is that clandestine labs (illegal drug labs) have started making unregulated fentanyl. There is no way to know the potency of this type of fentanyl, and it could be fatal in less than a two-microgram dose.
Morphine is a potent synthetic opioid that is used to treat moderate-to-severe pain. Morphine is the active ingredient in several prescription medications, such as Kadian, MS Contin, and Roxanol.
Morphine does not last as long as other opioids, like fentanyl or OxyContin. People who abuse morphine tend to binge on the drug, taking more and moreover a period of time just to stay “high.”
This medication is designed to treat unmanageable pain, with effects that last up to 12 hours. Without any additional medications (like the acetaminophen in Vicodin), OxyContin contains only painkilling narcotic drugs.
People addicted to opioids, like OxyContin, typically snort or inject the crushed pills, raising the risk of accidental overdose and possible fatality.
Methylphenidate is the active ingredient in Ritalin, a prescription CNS stimulant used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Many people who abuse this drug either swallow the pills or crush and snort the powder. Common doses of Ritalin are 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg.
Rates of abuse of Ritalin are highest among college-aged students. The drive to stay focused and complete a variety of tasks is very high in this age group. Additionally, abusing Ritalin can result in feelings of euphoria and lead to addiction.
Methylphenidate is also in a number of different name-brand medications used to treat ADHD, including Concerta, Daytrana, and Metadate.
Another CNS stimulant used to treat ADHD, Adderall contains both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Those who have a prescription for Adderall rarely abuse the medication.
However, Adderall is commonly known as a type of cognitive enhancer and is sought by students seeking to increase focus and attention. A person with an Adderall prescription may be tempted to sell their Adderall for a variety of reasons.
As a fast-acting benzodiazepine, Xanax (alprazolam) is helpful to people with panic disorder. The intensity and quickness associated with Xanax is another reason Xanax has a high risk of abuse and addiction.
Benzodiazepines are all generally fast-acting, however, Xanax is much more potent than other benzodiazepines. Xanax is approximately 10 times stronger than Valium (diazepam).
Xanax, as with other benzos, has interactions with other drugs, like opioids, stimulants, and alcohol. Some people mix Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, or Valium with other substances on purpose, not realizing the risk of overdose.
Ambien is a CNS depressant that is helpful for those who are struggling with insomnia. Ambien works by soothing the circuits in the brain and by causing brief amnesia and euphoria.
Abusing Ambien places individuals at high risk for overdose because Ambien stays in the body for a long period of time and a person may take another dose before the previous dose has worn off.
Prescription Drug Dependence
Dependence on prescription drugs usually happens gradually, and often not on purpose. Once tolerance and dependence have occurred, it can result in both physical and mental discomfort.
Some of the signs of drug dependence include:
- loss of control
- inability to stop
- being hyper-focused on drug use
- continuing to use despite consequences
Treatment For Prescription Drug Addiction
Substance abuse treatment facilities are available to help people stop taking a number of drugs, including prescription medications.
Individuals who are addicted to prescription medications often benefit the most from specialized care. The physical dependence that occurs from prescription drug addiction can be very difficult to manage, especially without the services of a substance abuse treatment program.
A medical detox program can help ease the discomfort associated with withdrawal, in addition to providing supplements and holistic care to make the person more comfortable.
Rehab facilities usually combine a variety of services that include behavioral therapies, support groups, individualized sessions, and community resources tied together with a treatment care plan.
Many programs also offer thorough aftercare planning to help decrease the chances of relapse. Providing support and planning can make all the difference when a person is in the early stages of recovery reenters their community.
Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment At Vertava Health of Massachusetts
Struggling with prescription drug addiction can be a burden and difficult to manage. However, there is help available.
At Vertava Health of Massachusetts, the professional staff is ready and able to assist you as you take your first steps toward recovery. The multi-faceted services offered through our rehabilitation program will be beside you through the journey into sobriety.
Finding a rehab program that meets the unique needs of prescription drug addiction is not always easy. Contact us today to hear about our services and how we can help you stop abusing prescription medications.
- Drug Enforcement Administration — Drug Scheduling
- Food and Drug Administration — Adderall Prescription Insert
- Johns Hopkins University — Adderall Misuse Rising Among Young Adult
- Drug Enforcement Administration — Benzodiazepines
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Medications and Counseling Treatment
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — Key Substance Use: NSDUH Report 2017
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — FDA approves the first non-opioid treatment for management of opioid withdrawal symptoms in adults
- Genetics Home Reference — Opioid Addiction