Prescription Drugs

Most people take medicines only for the reasons their doctors prescribe them. But an estimated 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons. This is prescription drug abuse. It is a serious and growing problem.

In 2010, approximately 7.0 million persons were current users of psychotherapeutic drugs taken non-medically (2.7 percent of the U.S. population), an estimate similar to that in 2009. This class of drugs is broadly described as those targeting the central nervous system, including drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders (NSDUH, 2010). The medications most commonly abused are:

  • Pain relievers – 5.1 million
  • Tranquilizers – 2.2 million
  • Stimulants – 1.1 million
  • Sedatives – 0.4 million

Among adolescents, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the commonly abused illicit drugs by high school seniors.

  • Nearly 1 in 12 high school seniors reported nonmedical use of Vicodin; 1 in 20 reported abuse of OxyContin.
  • When asked how prescription narcotics were obtained for nonmedical use, 70% of 12th graders said they were given to them by a friend or relative (MTF 2011). The number obtaining them over the internet was negligible.

Among those who abuse prescription drugs, high rates of other risky behaviors, including abuse of other drugs and alcohol, have also been reported. (1)

In 2009, 16 million Americans age 12 and older had taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant, or sedative for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Web Site). The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 2.7% of 8th graders, 7.7% of 10th graders, and 8.0% of 12th graders had abused Vicodin and 2.1% of 8th graders, 4.6% of 10th graders, and 5.1% of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.(2)

Prescription drug dependency is a growing concern in our culture. OxyContin, Percoodan, Valium, Codeine, Librium, Morphine and other types of opioids are becoming more popular substances of abuse, particularly with alcohol. Like other forms of dependency, it knows no boundaries, affecting people of all races, educational levels, and economic backgrounds. Teenagers, adults, and even the elderly are all susceptible to becoming dependent to prescription drugs. Many people become dependent to medications that have been prescribed by their physician for post-surgical pain, pain following an injury, or other valid medical reasons.

Prescription Drug Symptoms of Dependency and Abuse

People who fall into prescription drug abuse and become dependent to drugs develop a physical dependence on the drug and will go through withdrawal if they stop using it. The withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and in some cases very serious. Often a medically supervised detoxification program is necessary. Detoxification is not a therapy, but it helps people get through the withdrawal symptoms so that they will be ready to participate in an effective drug treatment and prescription drug abuse program.

Prescription drug dependency involves not only a physical dependence, but also a psychological need or craving for the drug in spite of the negative consequences that come from using it. These negative effects can include loss of control, decrease in social interactions and recreational activities, ineffectiveness and inability to work, an increase in time spent obtaining and using drugs, and risk of overdose.(3)

Prescription Drug Types


Opioids are a class of prescription drugs better known as OxyContin®, Percocet®, Percodan®, Vicodin®, codeine, and morphine. These drugs are prescribed to help with pain management by blocking the brain’s perception of pain. Because of their pain relief capabilities it is relatively easy for individuals to develop an OxyContin®, Vicodin® dependency, or Percocet® dependency. Although these drugs are safe when used as indicated in their prescription, they can be very dangerous when used in high doses. Even taking one large dose of these medications can cause respiratory failure and death. The danger of these drugs becomes even greater when they are used in combination with other drugs or alcohol.

Central Nervous System Depressants

Often called sedatives or tranquilizers, central nervous system depressants slow down the functioning of the brain and can affect people by producing a calm or drowsy feeling. They are used by doctors to treat anxiety and panic attacks. They include barbiturates and benzodiazepines, such as Valium®, Librium®, and Xanax®. Long-term use of this class of prescription drugs can lead to a Xanax dependency, or dependencys to the other drugs of this class. Seizures can occur if people use less of the drug or stop altogether. This can in some cases lead to death.


Stimulants are medications that effect people by making them more alert and have more energy. These drugs are successfully used to treat ADHD and depression. They include Adderall®, Dexedrine®, Ritalin®, and Concerta®. Drugs in this category can give people a sense of euphoria. They increase blood pressure and heart rate and taking large amounts can result in irregular heartbeat and even heart failure.

Dependency Treatment for Prescription Drugs

People who suffer from substance use need a professional treatment center program in order to recover. This is a brain disease and can be treated successfully with the Wells House treatment program. There are many components to our program such as talking with an individual therapist, working in group therapy with other people who suffer from similar dependencies, involving the family members in family counseling sessions.

Our drug treatment program will not only help people to stop using drugs, but will provide education on how to live more fully in a recovery program. People who have successfully completed our treatment program have acquired the tools that they need to handle drug cravings. They have also learned new coping skills that enable them to deal with stressful life situations, along with education to help them recognize the warning signs of relapse.

Information on prescription drugs:


(1) National Institue on Durg Abuse NIH. (2011). Topics in Brief: Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved from

(2) NIH: National Institute on Drug Abuse