Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in modern society, with detox and rehabilitation often required to break the bonds of addiction. The vast majority of prescription drug abuse falls into three classes: opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants. Prescription drug abuse affects people from all walks of life, with an estimated 52 million Americans misusing prescription medications according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Comprehensive treatment for prescription drug abuse includes detox, behavioral therapy and relapse prevention, with medication therapy also used in some cases.


An estimated 52 million people in the United States have abused prescription drugs at some point in their lifetime. Six million people have used legal drugs for non-medical reasons during the last month, with the United States consuming 75 percent of the world's prescription medications. The majority of people who misuse prescriptions source medications freely from friends and family, representing 54.2 percent of this demographic. 18.1 percent obtained drugs from one doctor, 16.6 percent purchased or took drugs from a friend of family member, and 1.9 percent used more than one doctor in a practice known as "doctor shopping". The vast majority of abused drugs fall into three categories, with 5.1 million of 8.76 million current users misusing painkillers, 2.2 million misusing tranquilizers, and 1.1 million misusing stimulants.

Prescription Opioid Abuse

Opioid painkillers are the most widely abused type of prescription medication, with people taking drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone for their euphoric qualities. While opiates refer to naturally occurring alkaloids in the opium poppy, such as morphine, opioids refer to both opiates and synthetic substances related to and derived from these alkaloids. While opioids do not cause many adverse physical effects, the non-medical and recreational use of opioids does create tolerance and the existence of a withdrawal syndrome when drug use is stopped. Psychological issues are also a concern for long-term opioid users, with rates of depression influenced by continued opioid use. Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid drugs prescribed to recovering heroin addicts in the context of opiate replacement therapy, with these substances also causing tolerance and addiction over time.

Prescription CNS Depressant Abuse

Depressants or central depressants are widely used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, with common examples including benzodiazepines and barbiturates. These drugs are abused for their sedative and hypnotic qualities, with some users also experiencing feelings of euphoria and dissociation. Commonly abused benzodiazepines include Valium and Xanax, with popular barbiturates including Amytal, Nembutal and Seconal. Cross-tolerant relationships between CNS depressants can be dangerous, with users sometimes combining these drugs with alcohol and opioids to increase their effect. While CNS depressants are generally believed to be safe for short-term medical use, long-term medical use is controversial and recreational use can be extremely dangerous.

Prescription Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants are the third most commonly abused class of prescription drugs, with drugs like Adderall and Ritalin used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Prescription amphetamines are sometimes used by recreational drug users as an alternative to methamphetamine, with drugs available both through the medical system and on the black market. Stimulant abuse can lead to dependence over time, with medical detox and drug treatment sometimes required to enable a sustainable and long-term recovery.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from prescription drug abuse, call Alcohol Treatment Centers Washington at (877) 804-1531.

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