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4 Prescription Drug Abuse Facts You Probably Didn't Know

By Marta Manning
Prescription drug abuse can be deadly. These little-known facts could save a life.

Prescription drugs are relatively easy to get, legal to possess and simple to use. It is no wonder that prescription drug abuse is becoming an increasing problem. Although prescription medications don’t have the same stigma as illegal drugs, they still have high abuse potential. Read on for some key facts on prescription drug abuse.

Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs.

Even though many see prescription drugs as safer than street drugs, prescribed medications with high abuse potential have similar ingredients as illegal substances. Prescription opioids contain active ingredients similar to heroin, while stimulants like Adderall are forms of amphetamine. These powerful chemicals in prescription drugs can cause overdose and even lead to death if used in large amounts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Many individuals hold the belief that since prescription medications are legal, regulated and prescribed by doctors that they must be safe,” addiction specialist Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, tells WebMD Connect to Care. “One of the most important things for people to know about prescription medications is that they can be just as addictive and dangerous as more nefarious drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.”

Even when taken as prescribed, prescription drugs can be addictive.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that long-term prescription drug use can lead to substance use disorder (SUD) by changing the brain and causing cravings for the drugs. Over time, people with substance use disorder experience health problems and start to abandon responsibilities like work or school. Substance use disorder can turn into addiction and lead to withdrawal symptoms if drug use stops suddenly.

Abusing prescription drugs can lead to unwanted side effects.

You might assume that the purity of prescription drugs lowers their potential for side effects. Although they are much less likely than street drugs to contain contaminants, prescription drugs still affect the whole body and can cause troubling side effects.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, people abusing prescription opioids may experience these issues:

  • Drowsiness
  •  Confusion
  • Nausea
  •  Constipation
  • Slowed or shallow breathing

Counseling and rehabilitation are effective treatments for prescription drug addiction.

Substance abuse recovery programs are not just for illegal drug users. If you are struggling with prescription drug abuse, the Mayo Clinic says rehab, detox, counseling and peer support programs like Narcotics Anonymous can help.

“If you struggle with prescription drug addiction, speak with an addiction specialist about stopping,” Sternlicht says. “Withdrawal from many medications can be extremely challenging, and in some cases, it can be fatal.” 

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Treatment & Resources for Prescription Drugs