Commonly prescribed and addictive prescription drugs are a hot topic. And it’s no wonder why when you consider just a few proven facts.
- Did you know that 55% of Americans regularly take a prescription medication?
- People using doctor prescribed meds usually take an average of four in addition to over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and supplements.
- The United States makes up roughly 5% of the world’s population but consumes 75% of all prescription drugs.
- In the last month, 1 million Americans will have misused a prescription med.
The link between drug misuse and addiction continues to grow. Knowing the most commonly prescribed and addictive prescription drugs is essential. But just knowing their names isn’t enough. It is also critical to understand when and how to use (or not use) these drugs.
The Top Prescribed and Addictive Prescriptions
Medications topping the most commonly prescribed and (potentially) addictive prescriptions list can be divided into three classifications.
- Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
Central Nervous System (CSN) Depressants
CNS depressants are often used to treat anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. Prescription medications falling into this category are some of the most heavily prescribed.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Associate of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. It is estimated they impact 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population, every year.
The ADAA reports major depressive disorder as a condition affecting more than 16.1 million American adults, or 6.7% of the population, annually.
Sleep disorders, which are often caused by anxiety and depression, are estimated to affect more than 40 million Americans.
CSN depressants can provide relief and help people manage anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. Prescriptions are commonly given when any of these conditions negatively impact a person’s ability to function daily.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, and/or a sleep disorder, you might find your doctor recommending one of these medications:
Valium: A prescription sedative that calms the brain. It’s strong calming and anti-stress effects can lead to misuse and addiction.
Xanax: This drug is commonly used to manage anxiety, panic, and sleep disorder. While effective, its “downer” effect induces pleasure and calm, which is why it is sometimes misused and abused.
Ambien: Sometimes used as a “safer” replacement for Xanax, Ambien is not as habit-forming but is still an addictive substance. When abused, it’s euphoric and hallucinatory effects contribute to further misuse and addiction.
Lunesta: This drug is prescribed for short-term, acute insomnia. It has a high-risk factor for addiction, abuse, and overdose.
Zoloft: Used to treat depression, Zoloft provides an improved sense of well-being. Some can develop a psychological dependence on it and think they need to continue taking it after their depressive episode ends.
Prescription opioids work by binding to and activating cell receptors found in the brain, spinal cord, and other organs. Once attached, opioids block the pain signals sent by the brain while releasing a large amount of dopamine.
Opioids are often used to treat and manage moderate to severe pain. Their chemical makeup relaxes the body. The result can be a high-like feeling, which is part of why these addictive prescription drugs are dangerous.
Opioid-based pain medications are often prescribed after surgery to manage pain during recovery or as a chronic pain management aid. The most commonly used include:
Vicodin: This drug was spotlighted in the popular television series House. It is a powerful prescription painkiller that produces a high-like feeling. If misused, a person can believe they need to continually use the drug, even after the pain it treats has been resolved.
OxyContin: Used to manage chronic pain and some types of cancer, OxyContin is the brand name for oxycodone. It has a time-release characteristic, which makes it useful for managing long-term pain. If misused, it can create an intense and addictive high.
Codeine: This drug is often prescribed after invasive surgery to manage pain. It can also be found in some prescription cough medicines. When taken in higher doses than prescribed or for longer than intended, the body can develop dependence.
Demerol: Regular use of Demerol can quickly cause tolerance and physical dependence, which is why it is rarely ever prescribed outside of a hospital setting.
Dilaudid: Like Demerol, regular use of Dilaudid can rapidly result in tolerance and physical dependence. It is one of the most potent synthetic narcotics in the opioid drug category and should only be used under strict medical supervision.
Stimulants are commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The topic of ADD/ADHD is surrounded by a sharp difference in opinion and public stigma. Some believe it is a legitimate medical condition while others think it is an inaccurate label of normal childhood energy and restlessness.
Medical science continues to expand our knowledge of ADD/ADHD, confirming it to be a legitimate medical condition. However, it is one of the most misdiagnosed and even missed pediatric conditions in the United States. According to The A.D.D. Resource Center, 6.4 million children ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with this mental disorder.
ADD/ADHD can be treated with stimulant or non-stimulant medications. Non-stimulants tend to be safer and have fewer risks. Stimulants are a Schedule II controlled substance. Misuse is extremely dangerous. Commonly prescribed stimulants to help relieve ADD/ADHD symptoms include:
Adderall: When a person with ADD/ADHD takes Adderall, the drug helps slow their overactive mind to promote calm, focus, and increased impulse control. It can be a gamechanger, but if misused it can produce a high that introduces the risk of addiction.
Ritalin and Concerta: These drugs are in the same class and are highly addictive. Their chemical makeup is like cocaine and amphetamine. While they produce positive focus, calm, and impulse control for people with ADD/ADHD, misuse by someone who does not have this condition (or without a prescription) is dangerous.
Dexedrine: This drug helps induce focus and calm for people with ADD/ADHD and energy and wakefulness for often co-occurring sleep disorders. If abused, addiction is a major risk.
Safely Using Addictive Prescription Drugs
The prescription drugs we have discussed can be immensely useful when properly prescribed and taken as instructed. Despite these medications having genuine addiction risks, they can help people overcome and manage mental illness and pain.
If you are using (or considering) any of the medication we’ve covered, there are three practical steps you can take to reduce your risk of drug misuse and/or addiction.
Step 1: Make sure you need it.
A medical professional prescribes based on your input and the results of assessments and tests. The margin for error is very real and human. When a commonly abused or addictive drug is prescribed, do what you can to make sure you need it. This may involve seeking a qualified second opinion.
Step 2: Find out if there are safer alternative medications.
Some of the drugs we’ve discussed have safer alternatives. For example, ADD/ADHD can be successfully treated with non-stimulant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Always explore the possibility of safer drug options with your doctor.
Step 3: Educate yourself about your medication.
The best action you can take is to educate yourself about your prescription medication(s). Be aware of the risks associated with them. Take steps to ensure you use them safely.
If you ever feel uneasy about your use of commonly addictive prescription drugs, talk to your doctor. Being open and upfront is an effective way to reduce your risk of substance abuse and addiction.