Last updated: August 8, 2022
Prescription drugs are the second-most abused category of drugs, after marijuana. According to results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the rate of current non medical use of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs was 2.6% in men and 2.3% in women.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the three classes of prescription drugs that are often abused include:
- Opioids used to treat pain
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
- Stimulants, such as amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin) used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder)
Many people think that prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a physician, dispensed by a pharmacist, and manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. While production by a pharmaceutical company and distribution via pharmacies may ensure the quality of the drug, once a person starts abusing the drug, it is no longer safe. In 2014, more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription painkillers—1,206 in Georgia. The problem has only gotten worse since then.
Combining alcohol and medications can be an even greater health risk. Alcohol can cause adverse reactions to many prescription and over-the-counter medications. Read warning labels, and ask your treatment or service provider about the effects of drinking alcohol while using your medications.
The risks for addiction to prescription drugs increase when they are used in ways other than as prescribed (e.g., at higher doses, by different routes of administration, or combined with alcohol or other drugs). Physicians, their patients, and pharmacists all can play a role in identifying and preventing prescription drug abuse. For example, patients can take steps to ensure that they use prescription medications appropriately: always follow the prescribed directions, be aware of potential interactions with other drugs, never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with a healthcare provider, and never use another person’s prescription. In addition to describing their medical problem, patients should always inform their healthcare professionals about all the prescriptions, OTC medicines, and dietary and herbal supplements they are taking, before they obtain any other medications. Additionally, unused or expired medications should be properly discarded per U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines or at U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration collection sites.
Years of research have shown that addiction to any drug (illicit or prescribed) is a brain disease that can be treated effectively. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual. Successful treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and sometimes the use of addiction medications. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed for the patient to make a full recovery.
The two main categories of drug addiction treatment are behavioral and pharmacological. Behavioral treatments help patients stop drug use by teaching them strategies to function without drugs, deal with cravings, avoid drugs and situations that could lead to drug use, and handle a relapse should it occur. When delivered effectively, behavioral treatments, such as individual counseling, group or family counseling, contingency management, and cognitive behavioral therapies, also can help patients improve their personal relationships and their ability to function at work and in the community.
Some addictions, such as opioid addiction, can be treated with medications. These pharmacological treatments counter the effects of the drug on the brain and behavior, and can be used to relieve withdrawal symptoms, help overcome drug cravings, or treat an overdose. Although a behavioral or pharmacological approach alone may be sufficient for treating some patients, research shows that a combined approach may be best.