Blog - Beach House Rehab Center
prescription drugs
June 28, 2019

Prescription Drugs Most Commonly Abused in America

prescription drugs

As the number of prescriptions written in the United States continues to rise, so does prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse involves taking a prescribed medication in any other way than the prescribing doctor intended. Whether this is because access to medications has increased, teens and young adults are hosting “ prescription parties”, and/or there’s a false perception that prescription drugs are safe in all circumstances since they’re prescribed by a doctor, there’s not a definitive answer. The bottom line is that the problem is multi-faceted and prescription drugs are increasingly involved in drug overdose deaths. 

The following are considered forms of prescription drug abuse:

  • taking a prescription medication that’s not intended for you; 
  • taking the medication in a higher dose or more frequently than prescribed; 
  • and/or ingesting the medication in another way than prescribed. 

Not only are these forms or drug abuse, but they’re also illegal. 

Teens and Prescription Drug Abuse

Teens abuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons. Some do it because they think it will help them study and concentrate more effectively, some abuse the drugs to have more fun and socialize easier, some hope to lose weight, and some do it to help fit in with friends. Other reasons for prescription drug abuse among teens include relieving stress and anxiety management and helping with sleep issues (to stay up longer or to help them fall asleep easier). 

Although most teens get these drugs from a family member’s medicine cabinet, from a friend, or at a prescription party, some are available and sold on the street. In 2017, one in seven teens surveyed had taken a prescription drug without a prescription; over 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs every day.

Adults and Prescription Drug Abuse

Adults also have a tendency to abuse prescription drugs. According to a study done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 11.5 million adults misused prescription pain relievers at least once in 2015, representing 4.7 percent of all adults. About 5.7 million adults misused prescription tranquilizers at least once in 2015. Roughly 4.8 million adults misused prescription stimulants at least once in 2015, and about 1.4 million adults misused prescription sedatives at least once in 2015. 

Reasons for prescription drug abuse among adults include: 

  • To relieve physical pain
  • To relieve tension
  • To help with sleep
  • To help stay awake and focus
  • To feel good or get high
  • To increase or decrease the effects of other drugs

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Perhaps the most frequently abused prescription drug type in America are pain relievers/opioids. Opioid overdoses account for roughly six out of 10 overdose deaths. The US Department of Health and Human Services found that the rise of opioid-related morbidity and mortality directly coincides with the rise in opioid prescription rates. Other drug types frequently abused include central nervous system depressants (sedatives) and stimulants. 

Pain Relievers/Opioids

General purpose: to treat pain.

Examples: oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and meperidine (Demerol), Percocet, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Oxymorphone (Darvon), morphine


General purpose: to help manage anxiety and sleep disorders. 

Examples: phenobarbital (Luminal), diazepam (), and alprazolam (), zolpidem (Ambien), pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), sertraline (Zoloft).


General purpose: to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), to reduce or control weight, increase wakefulness. 

Examples: methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine).

Seek Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse

Using prescription drugs for the wrong reasons has serious risks for a person’s health. Health risks vary based on the type of drug abused.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has an issue with prescription drug abuse, seek help. Speak with a medical professional, and remember not to be embarrassed or ashamed. This is a common issue, and addiction treatment professionals are trained to deal with this scenario. It’s best to tackle an issue as soon as possible before it leads to more serious consequences, like dependence, overdose, and death.