Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Every year, millions of prescription drugs are prescribed for various medical conditions. While many medications help alleviate pain or help people with certain conditions, these same drugs can be addictive. Unfortunately, prescription drugs can be abused when they are used recreationally or in ways that were not originally instructed.

It’s important to be aware of the signs of prescription drug addiction as well as some of the most abused prescription drugs out there. On average, more than 18 million people have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in the past year. Whether a person is actively trying to use recreationally or has lost control of their use, prescription drug addiction can cause many problems for a person’s body and mind. 

Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States

Unfortunately, prescription drug addiction continues to run rampant in the United States and abroad. Over 16 million people over the age of 12 abuse prescription drugs every year (6%).  Around 45% of adults used a prescription drug in the past 30 days (legally or illegally).  When it comes to demographics, teens end up most commonly abusing painkillers while stimulants are abused more by college students and older teens. 

In some cases, a person may not be actively seeking to become addicted or abuse a prescription drug. In other cases, people may experiment with certain prescription medications for recreational use. Opioids in particular continue to make up a large portion of prescription drug addiction. It is important to follow the instructions of medical professionals closely when using prescription drugs like opioids or benzodiazepines.

Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction

Since drug addiction, in general, tends to change how a person thinks and acts, several telling signs may arise. When it comes to prescription drug addiction, several signs may indicate a problem. It is important to get help as soon as possible because drug use can begin to take control of a person’s entire life. 

The signs of prescription drug addiction depend on the type of prescription drug. There are three main types of prescription drugs – opioids, CNS depressants, and stimulants. Each of these has its own set of symptoms and signs. Let’s take a look at each of these individually. 

When it comes to opioids, some of the symptoms/signs include:

  • Inconsistent mood (mood swings)
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting, constipation, or upset stomach
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed or shallow breathing
  • Decreased coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constipation

For CNS depressants, physical symptoms include:

  • Trouble walking
  • Poor coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Problems with memory
  • Lowered reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Concentration problems
  • Slowed breathing

For stimulants, physical symptoms include:

  • Paranoia
  • Altered heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Nervousness
  • Uncontrollable muscle movements
  • Hyperactivity
  • Dilated pupils

Along with these symptoms are the behavioral and societal symptoms – changes in appearance, failure to complete responsibilities, and lowered performance at work (among other problems).  It is important to be able to spot the signs of prescription addiction to get proper help. Centers like Little Creek provide comprehensive support for people of all walks of life. 

What are the Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The most commonly abused prescription drugs usually fall under 3 categories – painkillers, depressants, and stimulants. Let’s take a look at the most abused prescription drugs out there today and how to spot the signs of prescription drug addiction. 


Some of the most commonly abused benzodiazepines include Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium (among other forms). Benzos are typically used for cases of anxiety, sleep problems, and panic attacks. As with all other prescription drugs you will read about in this list, benzos can be particularly addictive in some cases. Other benzos include:

  • Prosom
  • Doral
  • Restoril
  • Ativan
  • Librium
  • Tranxene
  • Info
  • Halcion

Codeine and Morphine

Both codeine and morphine are considered to be extremely addictive painkillers. Both morphine and codeine are prescribed to dull pain. Morphine in particular can be used for severe or mild pain relief. When abused at large doses, both can create a euphoric high. Some common brands of morphine include Zadian and Avinza. Opioids such as codeine and morphine should be used as instructed due to their addictive natures. 

Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Oxycodone is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs out there and comes in several different forms. Oxycodone is used to help with moderate to severe cases of pain. Oxycodone comes in many forms with Oxycontin (tablet form) being the most commonly used. Some of the most common brands of Oxycodone include:

  • Oxycontin
  • Dazidox
  • Xtampza
  • Roxicodone
  • Percolone

Oxycodone is very addictive and can be habit-forming if a person does not follow their prescription exactly. In some cases, people may crush Oxycodone and snort it, which substantially increases the chances of overdosing.  As with other prescription drugs on this list, it is crucial to take prescription drugs as instructed to avoid severe consequences like an overdose. Overdoses occur when a person takes too much of a drug in a short period of time. Call 9-11 immediately if you think you or a loved one is experiencing an overdose. 

Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Ortab)

Hydrocodone is a form of opioid that is a combination of different opioid-related chemicals. Hydrocodone includes several well-known opioids including Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet. When taken at higher doses, these opioids can end up causing several problems, including breathing issues. Vicodin, in particular, is abused and goes by street names (vike, Watson-387, etc.). It is best to stop use if you or a loved one begins to experience side effects. 

Amphetamines (Adderall)

Stimulants include some of the most abused prescription drugs out there. Amphetamines in particular are usually used for specific conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Some of the most widely known amphetamines include:

  • Adderall 
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Mydasis
  • Adderall XR

Some people end up abusing Adderall to get high, to keep their weight down, or to increase their energy/alertness. A person can get addicted to amphetamines if they are abused or taken outside of their prescribed directions. When taken at higher doses, amphetamines can cause dangerous side effects which can lead to fatal consequences. It’s important to regulate amphetamine use and follow your doctor’s orders. 

Fentanyl and Analogs

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat cases of severe pain. Fentanyl is extremely potent and can be addictive in many cases. Fentanyl is considered to be 100 times more powerful than morphine. As a result, it should be used as instructed. Unfortunately, people tend to abuse Fentanyl – it goes by many street names including ‘China girl’, ‘China Town’, ‘Tango & Cash’, ‘Apace’, and ‘Poison’. Due to its potency, Fentanyl in particular opens up the door for dangerous symptoms and overdose. 

Fentanyl brands include:

  • Subsys
  • Duragesic
  • Abstral
  • Ionsys

Sleep Medications

Even prescription drugs used to help people sleep can be abused. Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata are popular brands of sleeping medications that are used. If a person begins to take more than needed or continues using when not needed, they can become addicted to these prescription medications. It is recommended to rely on healthy sleep hygiene to deal with sleeping problems. While sleep medications aren’t nearly as addicting as other medications on this list, it is still possible to become addicted. 


When it comes to commonly abused prescription drugs in the U.S., barbiturates must be mentioned. These sedatives are typically used to treat cases of anxiety, seizures, and sleeping problems. Barbiturates include:

  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Phenobarbital
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)

When taken at high doses a person can begin to experience breathing problems and other symptoms, especially if a person is drinking and using these drugs. As always, it’s important to be aware of the signs of prescription drug addiction and withdrawals. 

Ways to Prevent Prescription Drug Addiction and Abuse

When taking prescription drugs, it is imperative that a person only take the amount instructed by their doctor. Under no circumstance should a person take these medications without the consent of a doctor or abuse them for recreational use. Oftentimes, people tend to become dependent on a drug and thus take it in higher doses or for longer than they should. 

Another important aspect of stopping prescription drug abuse is being able to spot the signs of prescription drug addiction. Understanding that there is a problem is crucial to overcoming addiction, for you and your loved ones. 

Getting Professional Help at Little Creek

If you or a loved one has become addicted to prescription drugs, it may be time to get help. When it comes to the most commonly abused prescription drugs out there, it’s important to understand the effects they can have on you and your family. At Little Creek, we provide personalized and effective treatment for all our clients. Don’t wait to get help, start living a better life – give us a call today to start the journey towards a better life.

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