In the past, when someone thought about drug abuse, they most likely first thought of people who misused illegal drugs like LSD, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. But, in recent decades, abuse of prescription medications has grown, affecting all age groups, from teens to older adults.
While people once thought that all prescribed medications were safe, we now know that is not true if the drug is not taken as directed or if it is taken by someone for whom it was not prescribed. According to one study, non-medical prescription drug use increased by more than 50% between 1991 and 2001. The most abused prescription drugs include anti-anxiety medications, opioids, sedatives, and stimulants.
Both barbiturates and benzodiazepines may aid a person in managing their anxiety, and both types of drugs can be abused. Barbiturates used to treat anxiety, sleep problems and seizures include phenobarbital, pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). Examples include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), and diazepam (Valium) — all benzodiazepines that can also help with panic attacks and sleep issues.
Benzodiazepines, or benzos, may be abused chronically or overdosed on either accidentally or intentionally. Because these drugs impair a person’s ability to function, people use them as a date rape drug. The danger of these drugs increases when mixed with alcohol or opioids. People should only take benzos for short periods or on an as-needed basis. Taking them for more extended periods, or regularly, can quickly result in addiction and lead to withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to stop taking them.
As with benzos, it can be deadly to combine barbiturates and alcohol since both relax the brain, resulting in breathing issues. Determining the correct dosage of barbiturates can be challenging, with only a minor difference between a safe amount that will merely cause drowsiness to a dangerous dose that could lead to death. If this drug is taken daily for as little as a month, it can lead to addiction and withdrawal when the person tries to discontinue use.
Much of the recent news about drug abuse, whether illegal or prescription, has centered on opioids in recent years. Prescription opioids help treat pain but create a sense of euphoria in larger doses. This type of medication contains either oxycodone or hydrocodone. Common names of opioids are Oxycontin, Percocet, and Norco.
In the beginning, opioids can relieve pain. However, the pain-reducing effects of opioids can lessen over time. Anyone prescribed opioids should be carefully monitored by their healthcare provider because addiction or dependence can occur in a short period. Physicians practice extreme caution today when prescribing opioids. Unfortunately, people with a dependence often then turn to illegal forms of the drug. The danger is that too many illicit opioids come laced with contaminants or much more potent opioids, such as fentanyl, which has led to increased overdose deaths.
Some medications prescribed for anxiety also can be categorized as sedatives. Besides barbiturates and benzodiazepines, another sedative given to treat insomnia is selective benzodiazepine receptor subtype agonists, also known as z-drugs. Commonly prescribed z-drugs include zolpidem (Ambien), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zaleplon (Sonata).
Initially, z-drugs appeared to be a safer alternative to benzos, but this has proven untrue, with many individuals misusing these medications resulting in abuse and death. Misuse can result from people who develop a tolerance and then increase their dosage without their health care provider’s consent and those who may have a previous substance abuse issue and take the prescription for recreational purposes only. The long-term, high-dosage use of z-drugs may cause side effects such as insomnia and anxiety, the problems the medication intends to treat, among others.
Typically, stimulants help manage attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They can treat certain sleep disorders, too. The most common examples include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, others), dextroamphetamine and amphetamine (Adderall XR, Mydayis), and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). Illegal forms of stimulants include cocaine, crack, meth, and speed.
All forms of stimulants increase an individual’s alertness, attention, and energy. At the same time, they also elevate a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing. Prescription stimulants typically come in tablet or capsule form. People may crush the tablets or dissolve the capsule powder in water to inject, snort or smoke the powder. Overdose can occur, but even short-term misuse causes dangerous symptoms like psychosis, anger, or paranoia.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.