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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Rx Drug Abuse: Common and Dangerous

What are the most abused prescription drugs, and what are the risks?
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Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse continued...

"As people try these substances, some of them will find that they really like them," he says. "They take more of them and they continue to take them, even when they no longer want to. And that's the hallmark of addiction. It creeps up on people in very subtle and unexpected ways. No one starts out taking a drug, saying, 'I want to be an addict.'"

Besides addiction, prescription drug abuse can bring on a host of health problems, such as irregular heartbeats, seizures, hostility, and paranoia -- even infections with HIV or other agents if someone dissolves and injects pills to get a quick high. Overdoses can be fatal. To combat the potential for abuse, some drug companies have marketed newer, timed-release versions that are harder to misuse.

It's important to remember that most people can reap benefits from prescription drugs without problems. But a minority will run into trouble. "Using these substances outside of a doctor's prescription is already a red flag and a warning," Compton says.

Which drugs are commonly abused? Who's most susceptible? How could they be endangering their health? Here's the rundown.

Stimulants

These drugs, which include Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, are often prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By enhancing brain activity, stimulants increase one's attention, alertness, and energy.

Typically, high school and college students abuse these drugs for different reasons, "both for what I consider typical drug abuse reasons, for its intoxicating or inebriating qualities, to feel good or feel high," Compton says. "But they're also taking it as a performance-enhancing substance to increase their ability to stay up late and to work and concentrate."

Not only are these older students abusing stimulants, so are junior high students, Compton adds. The rates are much higher in high school and college, he says. "But even in the younger group, we see significant abuse."

According to the NIDA, health risks include: addiction and elevated blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. In high doses, stimulants can cause irregular heartbeats and dangerously high body temperature, heart failure, or deadly seizures. Some stimulants can also cause hostility or paranoia.

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