5 of the Most Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

It’s easy to imagine that the extent of drug abuse and addictions are limited to illegal street drugs. That is not true. Approximately 48 million Americans have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in their lifetime. After marijuana, legal prescription drugs are in fact the most commonly abused drugs in the US.

As we know, the country is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with more than 2 million Americans abusing opioids. It’s no surprise that opioids, along with stimulants and sedatives, are the top three categories of misused prescription drugs.

It’s a bit more difficult to drill down to which individual drugs are most popular to abuse, but below are five examples of commonly abused prescription or over the counter medications.

Opioid Painkillers

Examples include: OxyContin, Percocet

Why people misuse them: These medications are prescribed to treat patients suffering from terminal illnesses like cancer, chronic pain, or severe pain after breaking a limb. Opioids are highly addictive. Users tend to enjoy the feelings of overall contentment, relaxation, and calmness that come on a high from opioid painkillers.

Hydrocodone Painkillers

Examples include: Vicodin, Lortab

Why people misuse them: Hydrocodone is another opioid, and these painkillers are also mixed with acetaminophen. Like their cousins OxyContin and Percocet, painkillers like Vicodin and Lortab increase feelings of overall well-being, calm and relaxation, and reduce feelings of anxiety.


Examples include: Adderall, Mydayis

Why people misuse them: Adderall and Mydayis are commonly prescribed as a treatment for ADHD, but they’re commonly abused by young people because they cause a boost in confidence and alertness. Students may abuse amphetamines to help them study for exams.

Sleeping Pills

Examples include: Ambien, Sonata

Why people misuse them: Most people initially begin using sleeping pills to treat short-term issues sleeping. However, these drugs are quite addictive, and many people end up relying on them to sleep properly. At high doses, sleeping pills produce similar drowsy, feel-good effects to benzodiazepines. Common side effects of sleeping pills include reduced anxiety, lack of coordination, and hallucinations.

Cough Syrups

Examples include: Dextromethorphan (DXM)

Why people misuse them: DXM is available over the counter and is commonly abused by teenagers, as it is one of the easiest drugs for them to get. DXM is an opioid and, at high doses, can produce a hallucinogenic effect similar to ketamine.

Misuse of any of these drugs carries the risk of developing an addiction. If you or someone you love have been abusing the above or any other prescription or over-the-counter medications, help is available.

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