What Are the Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs?

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs | Transcend Recovery Community

Commonly abused prescription drugs are drugs developed for medical use, but with a high addictive potential. These drugs are only available on a prescription basis, and ideally should only be made available by doctors to patients whose diagnosis demands a certain dosage of said drugs as treatment for their condition.

Sadly, commonly abused prescription drugs can make their way into the hands of friends or relatives, and in some cases, they are available on the black market.


What Are Prescription Drugs

Unlike over-the-counter medication, prescription drugs are addictive – but they are also more effective. Sedatives like Lunestra work far better than most over-the-counter sleeping aids, while OxyContin, Demerol and other opiates are far more effective at combating pain than a paracetamol.

While they’re legal under the right precautions, commonly abused prescription drugs are just as dangerous as illicit drugs. Prescription drugs are not to be experimented with, or used for recreation. They’re not meant to act as stress relief or as weight-loss pills – and misusing commonly abused prescription drugs is illegal.

They are still medically important, and very helpful for millions of Americans dealing with pain from cancer treatment, severe insomnia, mental disorders such as ADHD and anxiety, and more.


Why Prescription Drugs Are So Dangerous

The crux behind why commonly abused prescription drugs are only available through prescription is because they can easily lead to health problems. Aside from the dangers of addiction, misuse of prescription drugs also leads to extremely adverse and at times fatal side effects. From nausea to panic attacks, seizures and heart failure, an overdose on commonly abused prescription drugs can very easily ruin your life.

Despite these dangers, the medical benefits of commonly abused prescription drugs outweigh their dangers enough to risk the potential of misuse in certain cases, simply due to how helpful they are. Therefore, there is a large push to find safer alternatives, to take drugs like amphetamine and codeine off the market. Until these alternatives become found and commercially viable, however, commonly abused prescription drugs will continue to be a reality in modern-day health care.


The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs with a common history of misuse include:

  • Among Opioids: Common opioids used recreationally include codeine, morphine, methadone, fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic), and other opioid-based pain relievers (OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Demerol, Darvocet, etc.).
  • Among Stimulants: Common stimulants used recreationally include amphetamines (Adderall, Biphetamine, Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta).
  • Among Depressants: Common depressants used recreationally include sleep medication (Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta), benzodiazepines (Ativan, Halcion, Xanax, Valium, and barbiturates (Amytal, Seconal, Penobarbital).

This is just a general overview of some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Any depressant/sedative, stimulant, or opioid/pain reliever can be used recreationally.


Many Drugs Have Medical (And Other) Uses

Prescription drugs such as opioids and amphetamines aside, many other recreational drugs have medical uses (or other uses). Medical cannabis, wherever legal, can be used to treat seizures, muscle spasms, pain, and nausea. Sedatives act as both a way to combat chronic pain and are a mainstay in antianxiety medication. Anabolic steroids are often used not just to get an athletic advantage in sports, but as a vital tool in the treatment of male hormone problems, muscle loss from certain diseases, or as part of a female-to-male sex conversion.

Many recreational (and exceptionally harmful) inhalants are typically used as industrial glue and paint thinners, and there are plenty of toiletries and medicines abused as alcohol alternatives (mouthwash and even bath soap are common examples that have led to overdose for their high alcohol content). Even cocaine has medical uses, as topical anesthesia.

Drugs are not inherently negative – but their potential for misuse makes them dangerous. Commonly abused prescription drugs are not a bane to society or the root cause of today’s opioid crisis. Neither can it be blamed as the primary cause behind the current rise in opioid abuse. Instead, it’s important to look at the human factors behind the substances.

Excessive prescription of opioids in the 80s and 90s led to a lax overuse of addictive painkillers, and subsequent regulation without proper medical attention led to thousands of people jumping ship from a legitimate prescription to illegal heroin, both domestic and imported. Today, such drugs are cut and mixed with dangerous additives like fentanyl, sending overdose rates through the roof. Yet despite these dangers, opioids like morphine will continue to be extremely important in emergency situations, to eliminate pain.

Much the same way, most drugs have their uses and dangers. Cocaine is a product of the coca leaf, which was used as a cultural psychotropic for centuries before the discovery of its isolated alkaloid. Traditionally, coca leaves are chewed with ash – the ash reacts with the leaf, drawing out cocaine in miniscule amounts, leaving the user’s mouth slightly number while creating a moderately stimulating effect.

Knowing what a drug is, how it works and why it is dangerous (and in what form) is vital to creating a better understanding of addiction in the public. Vilification and stigma don’t have much use in the fight against drugs – instead, we need education and health care to fight on the front lines as well as recovery and sober living programs to help those addicted to these substances.


Why Drugs Are So Addictive

Most people who get caught in an addiction don’t realize what’s happening in the brain each time they drink or use drugs. Instead, what they experience is the high and the immense pleasure that comes with ingesting a new substance. What they experience is something new, a feeling that puts them on top of the world, and perhaps a widening of an otherwise narrow view of themselves.

And of course these experiences are going to draw someone back again and again to using a drug. This is especially true if someone has never experienced anything like it before. Something about the experience captivates them. However, it’s not only the high that gets a person hooked; it’s also the way the brain responds to the high. Experts believe that addictive drugs activate the brain’s reward system. The drug increases the release of dopamine from neurons in critical areas of the brain.

Typically, dopamine is released after pleasurable experiences take place, whether you’re high on a drug or not. For instance, after eating food or after having sex, a person’s brain will release dopamine. However, taking certain drugs can induce dopamine too. In fact, there are certain drugs that artificially induce the presence of dopamine in a person’s brain, which might cause them to want more and more of the drug. And to make matters worse, some people have a genetic disposition that cause the brain to develop an addiction more rapidly than others.

When a person has the beginning elements of an addiction, he or she might go from regular use of the drug to substance abuse. Substance abuse happens when a person consumes drugs or alcohol in amounts that are harmful to themselves or others. This unhealthy use of a substance can further exacerbate the possibility of addiction. Despite popular views of addiction (e.g., that it results from personal failure or that only people who are flawed find themselves with addiction), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has determined that addiction is an illness. Just like other illnesses that come with symptoms and can be treated, so too is addiction a disease of the brain.

Addiction is not like any disease, however. It is a complex brain disease. It comes with compulsive behavior (behavior that a person cannot seem to control), cravings, and substance use that continues despite destructive consequences. Addiction affects a person emotionally, psychologically, and physically. It involves the workings of the brain, an organ that experts are just learning more about. And for all these reasons, addiction may very well continue to be misunderstood. Sadly, when the general public does not understand something, it tends to judge it or fear it. And as long as there is question about what addiction is, then the stigma of substance abuse and addiction might remain.

However, if you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, one thing is clear: treatment works. Millions of people have been able to get sober because of treatment. By attending an addiction treatment center or a sober living home, people can get sober and return to normal living. If you need help, contact a mental health professional today.


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The 10 Most Addictive Drugs to Quit (Part Two)

The 10 Most Addictive Drugs to Quit (Part Two) | Transcend Recovery Community

This article is the second in a two part series listing the top ten addictive drugs, counting backwards from 10 to the top most addictive drug. This list is based upon an article recently published by The Fix magazine.

The first article in this series listed the most addictive drugs, rated 10 through 5. The following completes the list with the top four addictive drugs.

  • Methadone (dependence rating = 2.68) – Methadone has been the standard form of sober living treatment for opioid addiction for over 30 years. It is legally only available from federally-regulated clinics for regular use in order to slowly wean an individual off the opiate addiction. When taken properly, medication-assisted treatment with methadone suppresses opioid withdrawal, blocks the effects of other problem opioids and reduces cravings. However, there is criticism against the use of methadone as a treatment drug because regular use of methadone essentially creates another addiction. Although someone might be taking the drug according to instruction, he or she can grow tolerant to the drug, which essentially indicates that an addiction has developed. Replacing one addiction for another, some argue, should not be a form of treatment.
  • Nicotine (dependence rating = 2.82) – Nicotine is found in the roots of certain plants known as the nightshade family of plants and is considered a stimulant. In small doses, nicotine is used in cigarettes and has a stimulating effect when smoked. However, in large doses nicotine can be harmful. Sadly, the nicotine content found in cigarettes has increased over time. One study found that American made cigarettes had an increase of nicotine of about 1.78 percent. Approximately 1000 people die from nicotine-related illnesses every day, including lung cancer. Another study found that those who smoke are more likely to have symptoms of depression than those who do not. Depression is associated with an increased risk for smoking, and research has found that smoking is often a behavior that depressed adults engage in as a way to self-medicate.
  • Crack Cocaine (dependence rating = 2.82) – Cocaine is derived from the leaves of the cocoa plant. It can be taken into the body in a variety of ways, including snorting, injecting, and smoking. However, when cocaine is converted into crack or free base cocaine and smoked or injected directly into the bloodstream, these methods deliver the drug faster to the brain and leads to a more intense high. Because of this, these methods also have more dangerous effects. Extended use of crack cocaine can lead to thickening of tissues in the heart, heart attacks, and heart failure. If used over a length of time, cocaine can lead to sores in the lungs, throat, and mouth, among other significant physical impairments. Of course, other dangers of cocaine use are criminal activity, such as stealing money to maintain an addiction. Over time, a cocaine addiction could even lead to long-term life of crime.
  • Heroin (dependence rating = 2.82) – Heroin is an opiod that is synthesized from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin can be injected or inhaled by snorting or sniffing or smoking it. Symptoms of using the drug include red or raw nostrils, needle marks or scars on arms, wearing long sleeves at inappropriate times, and medicinal breath. Physical evidence might include cough syrup, bottles, syringes, cotton swabs, and spoons for heating heroin. Long-term symptoms are loss of appetite, constipation, brain damage, and damage to the central nervous system. Heroin is a dangerous drug, not only for being incredibly addictive, but also the drug essentially rewires the brain suppressing all instincts and slowing down the nervous system. The drug can be hard to break, as many news reports, articles, and television programs are revealing. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users almost doubled. In 2007, for example, 337 thousand people were addicted to heroin in America and in 2012 that number jumped up to 669 thousand.

Of course, it should be noted that drugs, regardless of their addictive quality, can produce significant impairment in one’s life when an addiction develops. In fact, addictions can also develop to behaviors, such as gambling and shopping, which can also lead to great harm.  Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that the dependence rating included in this two part article series is one of many factors in the development of addiction.


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The 10 Most Addictive Drugs to Quit (Part One)

The 10 Most Addictive Drugs to Quit (Part One) | Transcend Recovery Community

When you have an addiction to alcohol or drugs or even a behavior, such as gambling, putting an end to that addiction will always be challenging. Of course, the severity of the withdrawal experience will depend up on the severity of your addiction. However, another great factor in the strength of an addiction is the addictive quality of the drug.

Recently, addiction and treatment magazine The Fix created a top ten list of drugs that have the highest dependence rating. The following is a synopsis of that article, ending with the most difficult drug to quit using:

  • GHB (dependence rating = 1.71) – Although frequently abused, this drug is actually used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder which causes frequent sleepiness and daytime sleep attacks. It is a depressant that has the positive effects of tranquility, increased sexual drive, and euphoria. Yet, its negative effects on users include nausea, sweating, hallucinations, amnesia; and it can even induce coma. GHB is also known as the “date rape” drug because of its sedative effects and the inability of a user to resist sexual assault.
  • Benzodiazepines (dependence rating = 1.89) – Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin, are commonly prescribed for anxiety. Benzodiazepines have also been very effective in treating alcohol withdrawal syndrome. The risk with Benzodiazepines, however, is that they are highly addictive and have severe withdrawal symptoms. Yet, if a recovering addict can take Benzodiazepines as prescribed, they usually don’t experience the risk of addiction and instead, the medication greatly facilitates their alcohol detox process. However, if an addiction does develop, the withdrawal process from Benzodiazepines can be severe.
  • Amphetamines (dependence rating = 1.95) – Amphetamines, such as Concerta and Adderall, activate the brain in areas that facilitate attention and focus, which is why they are frequently prescribed for ADHD. Although this drug is not as addictive as methamphetamine, the high of being so elated can also bring feelings of suspicion and paranoia. When taken outside of a doctor’s orders, amphetamines can pose significant risk concerns. The side effects for non-prescription use of stimulants include sleep problems, decreased appetite, delayed growth, headaches, and moodiness. Furthermore, when moodiness or depression sets in, the craving for amphetamines also increases.
  • Cocaine (dependence rating = 2.13) – The intoxication of ingesting cocaine includes feeling very alert, excited, powerful, and happy. Some users of cocaine describe its euphoria as equivalent to orgasm. However, after awhile the high might produce anxious feelings, compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and seeing flashes of light or hallucinations. Cocaine releases chemicals in the brain that lead to higher blood pressure, a faster heartbeat, dilation of the pupils, chills, and muscular palpitations. With high doses, cocaine can cause a cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke, or seizure. Cocaine is a controlled substance, and although it’s illegal, it continues to be used recreationally.
  • Alcohol (dependence rating = 2.13) – Alcohol is a liquid that is colorless, flammable, and comes in various forms. The form that is most commonly known is ethyl alcohol (ethanol), the kind of alcohol used in beverages such as wine, beer, and liquor. It is produced through the fermentation of grains and fruits, which happens when yeast acts upon certain ingredients in food and creates alcohol. Beer and wine are drinks that are fermented and can contain anywhere from 2% to 20% alcohol. And other drinks that are distilled, such as liquor, can contain anywhere from 40% to 50% of alcohol. Of course, it’s well known that alcohol, when consumed, distorts perception and judgment and can affect an individual’s mood. It can also slow down one’s reaction time, making it dangerous to drink before getting behind the wheel.
  • Crystal Meth (dependence rating = 2.24) – This drug is a very toxic and addictive substance that can cause severe damage to the brain and central nervous system. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested orally. The high that meth produces includes excited speech, decreased appetite, increased physical activity, and elevated levels of energy. Consequences of meth use include memory loss, aggression, violence, psychotic behavior, and agitation. Meth can also cause irreversible damage to blood vessels in the brain which can lead to strokes. These are only some of the severe health consequences associated with this drug.

It is known within the drug and alcohol field that some people are more prone to the disease of addiction than others. However, the addictive strength of particular drugs also plays a role. For the remaining top four most addictive drugs, look for the second part of this article series.


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