Prescription Medication

About Prescription Medication Misuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines prescription medication misuse as ” taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high). When misused, prescription medications can be as dangerous as “street” drugs, with similar effects on the brain, including the possibility of addiction and overdose.

Prescription medication misuse is illegal, even though most people who misuse prescription drugs get them from friends and family. According to results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 14.3 million Americans reported “misusing any prescription psychotherapeutic drug in the past 12 months.” *

* From the National Institute on Drug Abuse

Commonly Abused Prescription Medications

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have a problem with abusing prescription medications?

If you think you may have a problem abusing prescription medications, we encourage you to take our brief assessment, above. This assessment is anonymous and is intended to provide insight to your own level of prescription medication use.

What are the signs of prescription medication abuse?

The following are all characteristics of those abusing prescription medications. However, some of these characteristics could also indicate other physical and emotional problems. Signs and symptoms of prescription medication abuse also depend on the particular medication a user is abusing.

Behavioral Characteristics

  • Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Poor decision making
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
  • Continually “losing” prescriptions so more prescriptions must be written
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor

Physical Characteristics

Opioid Painkillers – Drugs such as oxycodone (OxyContin) and those containing hydrocodone (Vicodin)

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decrease respiratory rate
  • Confusion

Depressants – Sedatives and tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan)

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady walk
  • Poor judgment
  • Involuntary and rapid eye movement

Stimulants – Drugs that are used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders

  • Weight loss
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat

If you think someone is abusing prescription drugs, there is help available. Visit our Treatment Page to learn more about your options.

Where can I get help for an addiction?

Visit our Treatment page for more details on how to get into treatment and what options are available.

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Links to additional resources on medication misuse