Prescription Drug Abuse


Most people take their prescription medications properly-to relieve pain, anxiety, or attention deficit. Increasingly, however, that’s not always the case. Some people choose to abuse medications that are not prescribed to them. They are often obtained from friends or family members who may have prescription medications on hand, or bought from drug dealers on the street. Some people will also abuse medications that are prescribed to them.

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What drugs are likely to be abused?

Three kinds of prescription drugs are most often abused without a prescription:

  • Opioids. These are for pain relief. They include morphine, codeine, OxyContin, Demerol, and Vicodin.

  • Tranquilizers. These are for anxiety and sleep disorders. They include Xanax and Valium.

  • Stimulants. These are for narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. They include Adderall, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.

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What are the symptoms of prescription addiction?

Signs of addiction include loss of control over taking a medication, hiding pills, obsessively counting them, and finding ways to get more of a medication by making unnecessary emergency room or doctor visits. Other symptoms include taking a drug or medication more often than directed, taking higher doses than instructed usually because the previous dose did not provide the same effect, taking it with other drugs or alcohol or, as is often the case with OxyContin, crushing and snorting the pill instead of swallowing it.

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Who’s at risk for prescription addiction?

Both women and men abuse prescription drugs at approximately the same rate. Women are twice as likely to become addicted as men. People at the highest risk for addiction to prescription medications are those who have other addictions or who have abused prescription drugs in the past.

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What steps can be taken to avoid addiction?

Take medications only as prescribed. Get potentially addictive medications only from one doctor and one pharmacy. If you have opioids, tranquilizers, or stimulant prescription medications, keep them in a safe place, lock them up to keep them secure, and do not share them with anyone else. The prescription is for you only.

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How is Prescription Drug Abuse Treated?

A variety of treatment (or recovery) programs for substance abuse are available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Programs considered are usually based on the type of substance abused. Detoxification (if needed, based on the substance abused) and long-term follow-up management or recovery-oriented systems of care are important features of successful treatment. Long-term follow-up management usually includes formalized group meetings and psychosocial support systems, as well as continued medical supervision. Individual and family psychotherapy are often recommended to address the issues that may have contributed to and resulted from the development of a substance abuse disorder.

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