Prescription drug abuse is on the rise. In the United States alone, an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons during their lifetime. A 2015 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 18.9 million Americans over the age of 12 misused prescription drugs just in that past year alone.

More people, in fact, use controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine combined. This makes controlled prescription drugs the most commonly used drug, second only behind marijuana.

These are troubling statistics, especially considering that 25 percent of those under the age of 13 who misuse prescription drugs will struggle with addiction later on in life. Prescription drugs are legal, readily available, and doctor-prescribed. This means that misuse can often go undetected until it becomes a full-blown addiction.

Of course, not all prescription drugs have addictive qualities. Some are more addictive — and more harmful — than others. These prescription drugs flood the brain’s reward center with dopamine, inducing euphoria. This can cause overuse, which in turns builds up tolerance, which in turn drives up usage again.

Commonly abused controlled prescription drugs can be categorized into 3 categories: opioids/painkillers, central nervous system (CNS) depressants/tranquilizers/sedatives, and stimulants.


As of a 2016 survey, 3.3 million people in the U.S. misuse prescription opioids/painkillers. An estimated 100 people die daily (37,814 per year) from opioid drugs. The opioid crisis continues, as users become addicted or turn from pills to heroin when their prescription dries up.

Symptoms of misuse include:

  • lethargy/drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • changes in vision
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea/vomiting
  • constipation

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • agitation/irritability
  • runny nose
  • excessive sweating and/or chills
  • digestive problems
  • trouble sleeping

Oxycodone (Brand Name: OxyContin)

Oxycodone changes how the central nervous system (CNS) responds to pain. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found that 58.8 million prescriptions for oxycodone were dispensed in 2013.


Codeine is often prescribed to treat pain, cold, and flu symptoms. It is commonly found in prescription-strength cough syrups and can, when taken in large quantities, have a sedative effect and even cause changes in consciousness.


Fentanyl is a type of synthetic opioid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. The CDC also reported that fentanyl was responsible for over half of all opioid-related deaths across ten states in October 2017.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants/Tranquilizers/Sedatives

As of a 2016 survey, 2.5 million people in the U.S. misuse central nervous system (CNS) depressants, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

Symptoms of misuse include:

  • lethargy/drowsiness
  • irritability
  • memory problems/confusion
  • dizziness/loss of coordination
  • changes in vision
  • slurred speech
  • nausea/vomiting

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • anxiety/panic
  • muscle pain
  • trouble sleeping
  • excessive sweating

Alprazolam (Brand Name: Xanax)

Alprazolam is a type of benzodiazepine prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. According to the CDC, incidents of death by benzodiazepine overdose more than quadrupled from 2002 to 2015 in the U.S. alone. Benzodiazepines are especially dangerous when combined with opioids. Additional symptoms of alprazolam misuse include tremors and swelling of the hands and/or feet.

Clonazepam (Klonopin) & diazepam (Valium)

Clonazepam and diazepam are types of benzodiazepines prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as seizures. It can induce euphoric effects similar to that of alcohol. Benzodiazepine prescriptions have increased 67 percent (8.1 million to 13.5 million) from 1996 to 2013. Additional symptoms of misuse include paranoia, hallucinations, and constipation.


As of a 2016 survey, 1.7 million people in the U.S. misuse prescription stimulants.

Symptoms of misuse include:

  • aggression
  • paranoia
  • hallucinations
  • nausea/vomiting
  • changes in vision
  • rapid heart rate
  • weight loss
  • reduced appetite

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • extreme fatigue

Amphetamine (Brand Name: Adderall)

Also known as “speed,” amphetamines are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Between 2006 and 2011, misuse of Adderall rose 67 percent and Adderall-related emergency room visits rose 156 percent, even as the number of treatment visits remained the same. Additional symptoms of amphetamine misuse include increased energy and alertness, increase in body temperature, and rapid breathing.

Methylphenidate (Brand Name: Ritalin)

Methylphenidate is prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It increases dopamine levels in the brain, therefore improving attention. The DEA reported that over 3 million prescriptions for methylphenidate were filled in 2012. Additional symptoms of misuse include agitation and trouble sleeping.

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse can be tricky to identify. Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse. If you suspect a loved one may have a problem, voice your concern and encourage them to talk to their doctor, a mental health profession, or visit an addiction treatment center. If you yourself are unsure of whether your prescription drug use is becoming or has become a problem, do not be ashamed to reach out. Death due to prescription drug overdose is preventable with the right intervention and support. Waiting will only make the dependence more difficult. But still, it is never too late to reclaim your health.

For help and information, call Fort Recovery at 844.332.1807, or visit our website at


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