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10 Most Abused Prescription Drugs In The US

10 Most Abused Prescription Drugs In The US, Signs of Abuse, Addiction, Risk Factors, Effects, Statistics & Rehab Treatment

About Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Addiction is a disease that affects a person’s behavior and brain; this condition represents a huge problem in the US. Prescription Drug Addiction is a disease that affects a person’s behavior and brain; this condition represents a huge problem in the US.

About 52 million Americans older than 12 have used prescription medications non-medically at some point in their lives. Being addicted to Prescription Drugs is a process that happens slowly.

Some people don’t notice the moment at which they shift from recreational abuse to intense addiction, but when addiction takes hold, it can be serious. Some people don’t notice the moment at which they shift from recreational abuse to intense addiction, but when addiction takes hold, it can be serious.

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Prescription drugs are designed to treat certain medical conditions or ease the discomfort that diseases can bring. For people with medical conditions like asthma or cancer, and for people with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, prescription medications can mean the difference between a healthy and happy life or an upsetting and painful illness. But some people use prescription medications for reasons that have very little to do with illnesses. These people take prescription medications recreationally, and there are a lot of people just like this in the world.

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Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs or symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific substance the person may be taking. That’s because each prescription drug has its own mind-altering properties.


  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Feeling high (euphoria)
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased dose required for pain relief
  • Worsening or increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses (hyperalgesia)

Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteady walking
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with memory
  • Slowed breathing


  • Increased alertness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • High body temperature

  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia

Other side effects include

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

Abuse of Prescription Drugs and The Risk of Addiction

People often fear they might become addicted to medications prescribed for medical conditions, such as painkillers prescribed after surgery. But you can reduce your risk by carefully following your doctor’s instructions on how to take your medication. Prescription drug abuse can happen at any age but commonly begins in teens or young adults.

Risk factors for prescription drug abuse include:

  • Past or present addictions to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco
  • Family history of substance abuse problems
  • Certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions
  • Exposure to peer pressure or a social environment where there’s drug use
  • Easier access to prescription drugs, such as having prescription medications in the home medicine cabinet
  • Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs and their potential harm
most abused prescription drugs in the us
Prescription drug addiction is a disease that affects a person’s behavior and brain. This condition represents a huge problem in the US.

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10 Most Abused Prescription Drugs In The US


 Barbiturates are considered to have a high potential for abuse and addiction. While the use of these drugs has gone down significantly since the 1970s, they are still abused and often used to counteract the effects of stimulant drugs like cocaine. Barbiturates are also one of the drugs most commonly used in suicide attempts. 

Some of the signs of barbiturate abuse can include elation, reduced inhibitions, impaired judgment, and changes in mood or emotion. People using the drug may seem to be very tired, relaxed, or sedated. Other signs of barbiturate abuse can include slurred speech and confusion. Barbiturate abuse doesn’t necessarily mean someone is addicted, but using these drugs recreationally increases the chances of becoming addicted.


Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that cause long-lasting changes in the brain’s ‘reward system’ when taken for long periods. When a user takes benzodiazepines, they alter the levels of reward-producing natural chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Over time, the brain physically adapts so that it is unable to produce these chemicals on its own and becomes reliant on the drugs to feel normal. These effects on the brain can easily lead a person to Benzo Addiction. There are well-recognized harms from the long-term use of benzodiazepines. These include dependency, cognitive decline, and falls. 

This depends on the drug taken, but it is very possible to become addicted to the first use. Benzos are drugs that act on neurotransmitters in the brain causing feelings of relaxation. First marketed in the 1950s, Benzos were used as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia. They work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain, which inhibits signals to the central nervous system.

most abused prescription drugs in the us
Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that cause long-lasting changes in the brain’s ‘reward system’ when taken for long periods.

How long to get addicted to Benzos, might you wonder? Benzos have a high potential for abuse and addiction because they cause euphoria or calmness when taken at higher-than-prescribed doses, especially when used recreationally to “chill out.” Benzo addiction is using it daily for months to achieve these feelings of relaxation. Benzos should not be taken without a prescription due to the risk of physical dependence and addiction.

Like any drug, the more you take, the stronger the sensations are. However, more than other drugs, benzodiazepines can be the basis of low-level, functioning addictions, where the user treats the drug as a pharmaceutical medication, keeping the levels constantly ‘topped up.

Anyone who has struggled to stop using benzodiazepines will be aware of the serious effects they have on the mind and body. The drugs are designed to affect almost every part of the brain – that is why they are so effective as anti-anxiety medication. But it is also why they can be so difficult to quit. 

Sleep Medicines

Although people successfully treat short-term insomnia with sleeping medicines, many become dependent on them. The numbers aren’t in their favor. Approximately 38 million prescriptions for Ambien (a common Sleeping Pill) were written between 2006 and 2011.

With such rampant accessibility and a perceived blessing from medical professionals, it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to the power of sleeping medicines. Many people wrongly assume they can’t get addicted to sleep medicines, and some people even claim to have gotten this information from their doctor. Yet some people find themselves unable to sleep without the help of a sleeping pill. As tolerance increases, many find that they need to take larger dosages to obtain the desired effect.

A lot of people don’t realize they’ve become dependent, or possibly addicted until they stop taking their medication. They may then begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a telltale sign of both dependence and addiction.

Codeine and Morphine

Codeine is a prescription pain medication used to treat mild to moderate pain. It comes in tablet form and is the main ingredient in prescription-grade cough suppressants. Tylenol 3, a popular Painkiller, is Codeine combined with Acetaminophen. Patients who are prescribed Codeine by their doctors may soon find they’ve developed a Codeine addiction.

Codeine is an Opiate and a Narcotic. Other Opiates include Oxycodone, Heroin, and Morphine. Street names for Codeine include Cough Syrup, Schoolboy, Coties, and T-threes.

OxyContin, Percocet

Percocet is the brand name of an opiate pharmaceutical drug that is usually prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Percocet is also prescribed to individuals suffering from chronic pain. It contains oxycodone hydrochloride, which influences the brain’s perception of pain, and acetaminophen, which inhibits pain-related chemicals in the brain.

Percocet drug addiction may induce serious side effects, and it is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Prescription painkiller abuse is a widespread problem in the US and around the world.

Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet

Vicodin is currently labeled as a Schedule II controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after being changed from Schedule III in October of 2014. Because the abuse potential of Vicodin and other Hydrocodone combination drugs is so high, the DEA voted to tighten restrictions to prevent fraud and protect citizens who are using Vicodin from abuse or misuse.

Abuse of Vicodin includes any type of use without a prescription or use other than directed by a doctor. One of the negative complications of Vicodin abuse is liver damage or failure caused by the Acetaminophen in the drug. Typical cases of liver damage involve doses of 4,000 mg or more a day of Acetaminophen.


Amphetamines are abused in several ways. Of course, it is possible just to take the pills and experience a mild high that way. However, some people crush the pills and snort them, creating a faster, stronger high. One of the quickest ways to get high from amphetamine or methamphetamine is to dissolve the powder in water and inject it. This method gets the drug into the bloodstream and to the brain almost immediately, creating an intense high.

most abused prescription drugs in the us
One of the negative complications of Vicodin abuse is liver damage or failure caused by the Acetaminophen in the drug.

Students often abuse amphetamine through off-label use as a study aid. These individuals consider that the high energy and focus that result from using the drug can help them perform better on tests and in school. The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that about 4.8 million people in the US abused prescription amphetamine medications that year, equivalent to about 1.8 percent of the population that is 12 and older. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, on the other hand, reports that about 1.2 million people use methamphetamine; this is about 0.4 percent of the population.


Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant drug that has become the primary drug of choice in treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. Side effects are usually mild and are generally well tolerated by patients. Along with increases in prescribing frequency, the potential for abuse has increased.

Intranasal abuse produces effects rapidly that are similar to the effects of cocaine in both onset and type. The clinical picture of stimulant abuse produces a wide array of psychiatric symptoms. There is little in the literature to differentiate methylphenidate from other stimulants when they are abused. The need for education of all involved with the use of methylphenidate is discussed to help prevent an increasing pattern of methylphenidate abuse.

Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressor found in more than 120 over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications, either alone or in combination with other drugs such as analgesics (e.g., acetaminophen), antihistamines (e.g., chlorpheniramine), decongestants (e.g., pseudoephedrine), and/ or expectorants (e.g., guaifenesin). The typical adult dose for cough is 15 to 30 mg taken three to four times daily. The cough suppressing effects of DXM persist for 5 to 6 hours after ingestion. When taken as directed, side effects are rarely observed.

Unfortunately, DXM is abused in high doses to experience euphoria and visual and auditory hallucinations. Users take various amounts depending on their body weight and the effect they are attempting to achieve. Some users with substance abuse ingest 250 to 1,500 milligrams in a single dosage, far more than the recommended therapeutic dosages described above.


Teens may be more likely to abuse pseudoephedrine and a common practice is to combine it with alcohol. This practice is very dangerous and may result in overdose because the stimulating effects of pseudoephedrine can dampen the effects of alcohol, making a person more likely to drink more than they normally would.

The most common form of pseudoephedrine abuse is using it to make methamphetamine. This involves chemically altering the pseudoephedrine into an ingredient that can be used in the meth “cooking” process. While the process of converting pseudoephedrine to make meth is fairly simple, it’s also extremely dangerous and can cause explosions or fires.

Misusing pseudoephedrine in this way is extremely addictive and meth can cause serious physical and psychological side effects that can last for weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime.

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What Are Over-the-Counter Drugs?

Over-the-counter medicine is also known as OTC or nonprescription medicine. All these terms refer to medicine that you can buy without a prescription. They are safe and effective when you follow the directions on the label and as directed by your health care professional.

Prescription Drugs Abuse Statistics

Some commonly abused medications include cough and cold medicines like dextromethorphan or pseudoephedrine, and motion sickness pills like dimenhydrinate. According to industry statistics, roughly 3.1 million people between the ages of 12 and 25 have used over-the-counter cough syrup to get high, without the need for a prescription.

While these might not be counted as the most commonly abused pills or drugs in the country, there are a growing number of people who are seeking help for over-the-counter drug addiction and abuse as well.

Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment Centers

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the piece ‘Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report. How can Prescription Drug addiction be treated?’, years of research have shown that substance use disorders are brain disorders that can be treated effectively. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual.

Successful addiction treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and medications, when available. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed for the patient to make a full recovery.

The two main categories of drug use disorder treatment are behavioral treatments (such as contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction) and medications. 

most abused prescription drugs in the us
Behavioral treatments help patients stop drug use by changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior. Teaching strategies help manage cravings and avoid cues and situations that could lead to relapse.

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Behavioral treatments

Behavioral treatments help patients stop drug use by changing unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior; teaching strategies to manage cravings and avoid cues and situations that could lead to relapse; or, in some cases, providing incentives for abstinence. Behavioral treatments, which may take the form of individual, family, or group counseling, also can help patients improve their relationships and their ability to function at work and in the community.

Medically-Assisted Rehab Treatment

Addiction to prescription opioids can additionally be treated with medications including buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. These drugs can prevent other opioids from affecting the brain (naltrexone) or relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings (buprenorphine and methadone), helping the patient avoid relapse. Medications for the treatment of opioid addiction are often administered in combination with psychosocial supports or behavioral treatments, known as medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Medication to reduce the physical symptoms of withdrawal (lofexidine) is also available.

Reclaim Your Life From Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription Drug Addiction is a chronic disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, with the tools to recover from Prescription Drug Addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

Prescription Drug Abuse & Prescription Medication Addiction Recovery & Sobriety Story

Jen’s Addiction Recovery Testimonial

Jen talks candidly on video about her prescription medication addiction treatment success and her personal road to recovery.

“I wanted my life back. I was a shell of a person. I wanted to be trusted, I wanted relationships back that I lost, mainly my children and family.

It started innocent enough, I got into a car accident and then I got kind of sucked into the whole, you know, medication issue with the pills. And before I knew it, I was in a cloud.

I was sucked in by addiction and with my mind, I kept thinking it was OK because a doctor was prescribing this for me, a doctor was giving me this, a doctor was giving me that. So, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.

Level Up supports my family and my relationships with my family and they’ve helped me grown as a person. When I first started there, I was so intimidated and kind of scared, you know? But, they’ve taught me, they’ve kind of taught me how to come into my own.

And then, you know, when I get the call at the middle of the day from my twenty-one-year-old daughter, just to say ‘I love you, Mom.’, that’s amazing.”

Does Prescription Medication Addiction Treatment Work?

The good news is that no matter how painful the problem of your addiction may be, most people with alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of professional alcoholism treatment. Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.

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[1] Prescription Drug Addiction – Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) –

[2] ‘Misuse of Prescription Drugs Research Report. How can Prescription Drug Addiction be treated?’ – National Institute on Drug Abuse (

[3] ‘Opioids’ Prescription Drug Addiction – National Institute on Drug Abuse (

[4] Morton, W. A., & Stockton, G. G. (2000). Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry2(5), 159–164.

[5] FDA – Understanding Over-the-Counter Medicines

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