The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Each year, prescription drug abuse becomes a more pervasive problem in the United States. The misuse and abuse of these potentially addictive drugs can interfere with every aspect of your life, potentially costing you your job, your family and sometimes even your life.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health lists the general category of prescription drugs that have the high rate of abuse.

  • Pain Relievers (Opioids)
  • Depressants
  • Stimulants

Below, we explore some of the most commonly abused types of medications. If you or a loved one is at risk of or currently experiencing a substance abuse problem, getting help from a professional recovery center is the best way to overcome these challenges.


With over 3 million users, pain killers are the most widely used of the medicines with high abuse potential. Opioids, which are prescribed to treat both chronic and acute pain, make up an important part of many medical procedures. These medications have an effect on the nervous system’s opioid receptors that reduces the strength of pain signals perceived by the brain, including emotional reactions to painful input.

The drugs in the opioid category are chemically related to heroin and morphine. Because opioids also affect how your brain regulates your breathing, they can be dangerous when taken in high doses – even fatal as high doses can slow breathing and cause suffocation.

Opioids also interact with the dopamine centers in the brain, a reward region that causes a sensation of euphoria. This effect causes a strong potential for misuse and abuse of the drug.

The most commonly abused opioid medications include:

  • Codeine and Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine and Morphine

Morphine is commonly used to alleviate severe pain, while codeine is prescribed for lighter pain and also used as a cough suppressant. Codeine is the most prescribed, and most misused, opiate in the world.

Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Roxicodone)

Oxycodone is a form of opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. Sometimes this drug is mixed with another painkiller, as in Percocet, which blends oxycodone with acetaminophen or Percodan, which combines oxycodone with aspirin.

Oxycodone is also available by itself, both in immediate-release form, such as Roxicodone or in controlled-release form, such as OxyContin. This form is often prescribed by doctors for chronic pain, as a single dose of the medicine lasts many hours. Despite being time-released, this form of opiate is one of the most commonly misused. Frequently it is crushed, which circumvents the timed-release function and allows the drug to release into the system all at once. This type of misuse can not only lead to addiction very quickly, but it can also be deadly.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet)

Hydrocodone is another opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. Like oxycodone, it is available in combinations with other ingredients. For example, combined with acetaminophen, its brand name is Vicodin, which is among the most abused prescription drugs. Misusing this drug can lead to excessive side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, confusion, unconsciousness and even death.

Combining any opiate with alcohol or sedative is extremely dangerous.


Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid, 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. It is used to treat severe pain and to manage pain around surgeries. Its potency, however, makes it a very lethal drug when misused for recreational purposes. Fentanyl kills more than 1,000 people per year in the US.

Depressants (Tranquilizers and Sedatives)

The Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants are medicines that slow brain activity; they are used to treat anxiety disorders and to help regulate sleeping cycles. While tranquilizers generally calm nerves, sedatives and hypnotics are used to induce sleep. There are three popular families of depressants:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Non-Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines, or just benzos, are tranquilizers generally used to quell anxiety. They are prescribed for the anxiety disorders, as well as for seizures, and sometimes for a single stressful event, such as taking a flight or visiting the dentist. Examples of well-known benzodiazepines include:

  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)

Taking too high a dose of benzodiazepine can decrease the oxygen that reaches your brain and have long-term effects on the health of your nervous system, including coma and brain damage.

Benzos can also lead to substance abuse disorders and dependence. Withdrawal symptoms may be severe and should be undertaken with the help of a medical professional.

Sleeping Medicines (Non-Benzodiazepine Sedative Hypnotics)

While not true benzodiazepines, these drugs (often called the Z-drugs) have similar effects as the true benzos. They are primarily prescribed to provide relief from sleeping difficulties. Three of the more well-known ones are:

  • Ambien (zolpidem)
  • Lunesta (eszopiclone)
  • Sonata (zaleplon)

Although these drugs are purported to not create the tolerance, dependence or addition of the benzos or the barbiturates, many users report a similar level of adverse effects, particularly difficulties when quitting the drug. There are also some side effects of these drugs, like amnesia and sleepwalking.


The barbiturates once called the major tranquilizers, are another type of central nervous system depressant. Like the benzodiazepines, they are used to handle anxiety, to aid in sleep, and to stop convulsions. However, these drugs have more potential for dependence and addiction and more serious side effects than the benzos and the Z-drugs.

These drugs are the famous “downers” from the 60s, produced in brightly colored capsules and given street names like “Red Devils”, “Yellow Jackets” and “Blue Angels”.

The real name of some of the more popular ones are here:

  • Amytal (amobarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Pentothal (thiopental)

High doses of these drugs can be extremely dangerous and stop vital bodily functions, such as breathing. They do not mix well with other drugs; in the 50s and 60s, these drugs were often misused in combination with amphetamines, producing an often-deadly combination. Mixing with alcohol makes them even more dangerous.

The withdrawal symptoms can also be life-threatening. If you need to stop using barbiturates, it is important for you to seek out a medical drug detox program. Give us a call to chat about what recovery options are available to you.


The third major category of commonly abused prescription drugs is Central Nervous System (CNS) stimulants.

In general, stimulants are drugs that balance the chemicals in the brain to increase alertness, physical energy and mental attention. They are prescribed for Attention Deficit disorders, sleep disorders and obesity.

Amphetamines (Adderall Dexedrine)

Amphetamine is a powerful stimulant mostly prescribed to treat ADHD. There are two variations of amphetamine: Dextroamphetamine alone is marketed as Dexedrine, while Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

Amphetamines are very widely misused – they are one of the most abused prescription drugs. Misusing amphetamines can cause side effects ranging from high blood pressure and heart attacks to paranoia and hallucinations.

As tolerance develops quickly, regular users require more of the drug to achieve the same energized feeling. Severe depression, suicidal thoughts can eventually occur. Illness, sexual dysfunction, and even death are not uncommon results among people who abuse amphetamines.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Methylphenidate (brand name Ritalin) is another stimulant similar to amphetamines. Often prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy, like amphetamines, it can also have similar negative side effects and potential for abuse.

Finding Help in Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction

If you’re struggling with substance abuse of any type, help is only a phone call away.

At Moonlight Mountain Recovery, our caring, professional counselors are committed to helping find and address the underlying causes of addiction and substance abuse. If you or someone you know is regularly misusing prescription drugs, the first step is reaching out for help. Please contact Moonlight Mountain Recovery today to access the support you need to overcome dependence and treat an addiction to these dangerous and potentially life-threatening substances.

Call Now 208-505-9990

Recent Posts

Related Articles:

Brain Damage Risks From Drug Overdose

Brain Damage Risks From Drug Overdose

There are several notable risks present during any kind of opioid or other drug overdose, and one of the most significant here is the [...]

Read More
Common Signs of Meth Addiction to Know

Common Signs of Meth Addiction to Know

Different forms of substance abuse give off somewhat differing signs in the person who is abusing them, and methamphetamine is a good example. While [...]

Read More
Drug Addiction Really a Disease

Is Drug Addiction Really a Disease?

There are a few common phrases you may have heard with regard to the world of addiction and recovery, and some of these involve [...]

Read More
Cocaine Addiction

Knowing the Signs of Cocaine Addiction

For those who struggle with it, cocaine addiction is a serious issue that can impact people across numerous walks of life. The help of [...]

Read More

How Long Does it Take to Become Addicted to Alcohol?

There are many questions that often arise about alcohol addiction, and some of these surround the time it takes to truly set in. When [...]

Read More

What is Inpatient Addiction Rehab?

There are several vital resources available to those looking to overcome addiction, and various addiction treatment and rehab programs are some of the most [...]

Read More

What to Do For Alcohol Poisoning Emergencies

There are a few forms of emergency that can arise due to overconsumption of various drugs or substances, and sadly one of the most [...]

Read More
many tablets with a glasbeghäter. symbolic photo for addiction and costs in medicine and medicines.

Is Drug Addiction a Genetic Issue?

There are several issues or conditions that many people deal with any may wonder if they have a connection to their genetics, and the [...]

Read More
Suboxone for Opioid Treatment

Basics on Suboxone for Opioid Treatment

There are several ways to treat various forms of substance abuse addiction, and the use of medication is a common example. Suboxone, for [...]

Read More
Prescription Drug Abuse

Correcting Myths on Prescription Drug Abuse

There are a number of areas of our world where various misconceptions have sprung up through the years, and sadly the realm of addiction [...]

Read More