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Misuse of Prescription Drugs: List, Dangers, & Treatment

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The misuse of prescription drugs is a growing concern in the United States. Data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) show that:

  • 14.2 million adults misused prescription drugs in the previous year.
  • 4.6 million adults misused prescription drugs in the previous month.
  • 7.7 million adults developed a diagnosable prescription drug addiction in that year.

Misusing any type of prescription drug can trigger both immediate and long-term complications to physical and mental health. All prescription drugs can induce side effects, and it’s essential to develop an awareness of these before initiating treatment.

Most prescription drugs are controlled substances. While these drugs have medical utility, they also have the potential for dependence and addiction (substance use disorder). Read on to learn more about the different types of prescription drugs, the many dangers of abusing controlled substances, and the most effective evidence-based treatment.

Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

These are the most commonly misused prescription drugs in the United States:

  • Stimulants: Stimulants are prescribed to address conditions like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), narcolepsy, and to aid in weight loss, due to their ability to enhance alertness and energy levels.
  • Opioid painkillers: Opioid painkillers are frequently prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. This class of medication is especially addictive and dangerous.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzos are depressants of the CNS (central nervous system) commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, assist in alcohol withdrawal, and alleviate seizures and muscle spasms through their sedative and muscle relaxant effects. This class of drug is usually prescribed for short-term use due to its potential for dependence and addiction.
  • Z-drugs: Prescription sleeping medications, specifically Z-drugs, are sedative-hypnotics prescribed for the short-term resolution of sleep disturbances like insomnia.
  • Gabapentinoids: This type of medication targets GABA receptors in the brain to provide relief primarily from neuropathic pain and epilepsy. Beyond their prescribed uses, gabapentinoids can be used off-label to manage anxiety and symptoms of other mental health conditions.
  • Barbiturates: Barbiturates have not been commonly prescribed since the introduction of benzodiazepines, but this class of drug is addictive and should be used with caution.
image of man representing misused prescription drugs

Dangers of Misusing Prescription Drugs

Misusing prescription drugs poses significant risks to both physical and mental health.

Addiction and dependence

Many prescription drugs, especially opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants, have a high potential for addiction. Misuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction, where the person cannot function normally without the drug. Dependence is associated with the presentation of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation.

Overdose risks

Misusing prescription drugs increases the risk of overdose, which can be fatal. Overdosing opioids or benzodiazepines can suppress breathing and lead to life-threatening respiratory depression.

Mental health deterioration

Misuse can inflame existing mental health conditions or trigger new ones, such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis. Stimulants, for example, can increase anxiety or lead to paranoia.

Cognitive impairment

Long-term misuse of prescription drugs can impair cognitive functions, affecting memory, attention, and decision-making abilities. This can impact daily life and reduce overall quality of life.

Physical health problems

Aside from addiction, the misuse of prescription drugs can cause many physical health complications, ranging from liver damage in the case of acetaminophen misuse, to heart problems from stimulant abuse.

Withdrawal symptoms

Discontinuing the use of prescription drugs abruptly after prolonged misuse can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, which can be physically uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening.

Legal and social complications

Misusing prescription drugs can also lead to legal issues, including charges of possession or misuse, and can strain relationships with friends and family, leading to social isolation.

Use prescription drugs only as directed by a healthcare provider and seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with misuse or addiction.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse

Treatment for prescription drug abuse is tailored to individual needs and the type of drug involved. A comprehensive approach often involves a combination of medical, psychological, and supportive strategies to help individuals overcome their addiction and reclaim their health. Key components of treatment include:

  • Detoxification: The first step in treating prescription drug abuse is usually detoxification, where the drug is safely removed from the body under medical supervision. This process helps manage withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe depending on the drug and level of dependence.
  • Behavioral interventions: Behavioral therapies are central to addiction treatment. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy help people understand the root causes of their addictions, develop coping strategies to deal with cravings, and learn to thrive substance-free.
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment): For certain types of addiction, such as opioids, MAT can be effective. FDA-approved medications like buprenorphine or methadone can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while naltrexone can block the effects of opioids. These medications are used in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies.
  • Support groups: Participation in support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or other community support networks provides ongoing encouragement and a sense of belonging, which are vital for long-term recovery.
  • Treatment of co-occurring disorders: Many people with prescription drug abuse issues also suffer from co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. Treating both the mental health condition and the addiction simultaneously offers the most effective path to recovery.
  • Aftercare planning: After completing a treatment program, ongoing support is essential to prevent relapse. Aftercare can include regular check-ins with a counselor, continued participation in support groups, or sober living communities.
a man celebrating which represents learning about commonly misused prescription drugs

Find Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction at Drug Rehabs Centers

If you or someone that you care about needs help recalibrating your life from the misuse of prescription drugs, reach out to Drug Rehabs Centers today.

Most people who misuse prescription drugs typically develop physical dependence, which often leads to addiction. Those who are dependent on medications benefit from a tapered reduction in dosage under close medical supervision. We can connect you with licensed detox centers throughout California, enabling you to begin your recovery from the abuse of prescription drugs the right way.

We can also help you find inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, enabling you to address the psychological aspect of addiction during ongoing therapy.

Call 866.559.4256 and move beyond addiction to prescription drugs.

Juan Bonnet
Author: Juan Bonnet

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