The Most Common Forms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Abuse

The Most Common Forms of Prescription Drug Abuse

We’ve dealt with a lot of uncertainty over the last year. Mental health suffered and prescription drug abuse elevated. Many still seek gainful employment. If people can’t work, they can’t pay mortgages or rent. COVID-19 presented those struggling with opioid addiction with additional stressors.

We can find a way forward through the pandemic. And we can heal from prescription drug abuse. But before we do, we’ll have to understand what we’re up against.

In this article, you will learn:

● What is drug abuse?
● What is prescription drug abuse?
● What are the most common forms of prescription drug abuse?
● What are the consequences of prescription drug abuse?
● How can a person struggling with prescription drug abuse get help?

What Is Drug Abuse?

In recovery circles, you’ll hear the terms abuse and addiction frequently. While they can be part of the same problem, they have different definitions. Addiction refers to the process of feeling compelled to use a certain substance. And also being unable to stop using it. But abuse means using a substance for something other than its intended purpose. So, you can abuse a substance without becoming addicted to it.

Here are a few examples of abusing substances:

● Consuming a substance because it makes you feel good
● Consuming a substance to escape problems
● Taking too much of a substance
● Mixing a substance with any amount of another substance (i.e. alcohol)
● Using substances that you know are illegal

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Abuse is using a substance for something other than its intended purpose. But what about prescription drugs? Can you abuse your own medications? Yes. Absolutely, you can. Many 2020 overdose statistics indicate that COVID-19 contributed to an astronomical increase in drug overdose deaths. The reason? A rise in the availability of prescription opioids.

Opioids include drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin, and morphine. They work as numbing agents for pain. If a person experiences severe pain, as many people have in the last year, that person will seek relief. Is it any wonder so many have turned to opioids to ease their agony?

Prescription drug abuse, like the above opioid example, occurs in a few different ways:

● Taking more than the prescribed dose
● Mixing a prescription with another drug (called polysubstance abuse)
● Taking someone else’s prescription, with or without their knowledge
● Consuming a prescription in a way other than the method prescribed (i.e. snorting, injecting, etc.)
● Selling your own prescriptions, or portions of your prescriptions, to others

What Are The Most Common Forms Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

The three most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids, benzodiazepines, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants.


At root, opioids work as painkillers. You may hear the terms opioids and opiates used. Like abuse and addiction they have some similarities. But they do not mean precisely the same thing. Opioids is a very broad term, including both natural and artificial substances. But the term opiates specifically refers to natural substances.

Some examples of natural opioids (opiates) include codeine, morphine, and heroin. Synthetic opioids are made in labs. These include oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, and fentanyl. Though these drugs do have legitimate medical uses, they accounted for about 75 percent of all drug overdose deaths during the pandemic.


Benzodiazepines (benzos) help offset insomnia, seizures, and anxiety. Benzos work by stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma amino butyric acid (GABA). Our brains produce GABA to help reduce stress and get us to sleep. You may hear the term sedative used when discussing benzos. Benzos can cause intense feelings of relaxation.

Several common benzodiazepines include clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and iorazepam (Ativan). Though benzos can provide help and relief, they do cause physical dependence. Often, this dependence becomes so severe that the medical community coined the term benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

Your brain and your spinal cord comprise your central nervous system (CNS). Any signals from your brain travel through your nerves. Your brain bears numerous responsibilities. It stores your memories, influences your emotions, helps you make decisions, and controls your habits.

CNS depressants work similar to benzodiazepines. They increase the amount of the neurotransmitter GABA, which slows down your brain’s processes. While benzodiazepines have this effect, CNS depressants include other drugs. Sedative hypnotics (sleeping pills) like zolpidem (Ambien) depress the functions of the CNS. like phenobarbital (Luminal) also make up part of this group.

What Are The Consequences Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

For prescription drug abuse, consequences abound. First, there are the consequences to one’s physical health. Some side effects of abusing prescription opioids include constipation, nausea, and drowsiness. Opioids can also slow down your breathing. When too little oxygen reaches your brain, you experience hypoxia. And hypoxia can be fatal.

Second, consider the ramifications of benzodiazepine dependence. Quitting cold turkey can be lethal. Anyone wanting to reduce their dependence on benzos should consider tapering.

Abusing prescription drugs places you at risk for addiction. Substance use disorders (SUDS) can aggravate pre-existing mental health issues. Even if you’re taking your own prescription for improved mental health, abusing that drug places your mind (and body) in jeopardy.

How Can A Person Struggling With Prescription Drug Abuse Get Help?

Not everyone’s journey involves addiction. Remember, abuse and addiction have differences. If you’ve taken more than your prescribed dose, that counts as drug abuse. If you’ve taken something not prescribed to you, that also counts as drug abuse.

If you’re struggling with the temptation to abuse prescription drugs, help is available. It will take work. It will involve increasing your awareness of your own life. Your habits. Your processes. It will take sacrifice. But treatment plans exist that can help you live a life free of prescription drug abuse.

Help means admitting that you have a problem. It means contacting Midwood Addiction Treatment now. Once evaluated, you’ll meet with a doctor or therapist. There, you’ll learn about a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific circumstance.

Don’t wait any longer. Call Midwood Addiction Treatment now at 888-MAT-1110.

What Are Barbiturates?

What Are Barbiturates? | Midwood Addiction Treatment

Barbiturates are synthetic central nervous system (CNS) depressants used as sedatives and to treat anxiety and seizures. They range in action from inducing mild sedation to general anesthesia and may result in coma.

Barbiturates are pharmaceutical drugs that can be short-acting, intermediate-acting, or long-acting. Common barbiturates include phenobarbital (Luminal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), secobarbital (Seconal), and amobarbital (Amytal).

Although they are most commonly prescribed for sleep difficulties, these drugs are also regularly misused. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that as many as 330,000 people were currently using a sedative drug recreationally in the month before a 2014 survey.

Barbiturates can be misused by taking pills without a prescription or medical need or by tampering with the form of the medication, such as crushing it and diluting it in water for injection. These depressants are sometimes called “downers” and are often misused for recreational purposes to induce pleasant sensations of relaxation and feelings of euphoria, not unlike alcohol intoxication. They are also used to offset “uppers”—stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Barbiturates can remain in a person’s system for 4-16 hours, depending on the length of action of the drug used. They are very easy to overdose on and are also considered to be highly addictive, as a person can rapidly develop tolerance and become physiologically dependent on them. As such, barbiturate misuse is quite risky, both in the short-term and long run.

Risks of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate Overdose

The use of barbiturates can prove fatal even in small doses. Due to the long-acting properties of some barbiturates, these drugs can stay in a person’s system for an extended period, and if a person takes more during this time, it may then lead to a toxic accumulation.

Also, the more barbiturates the person uses, the more tolerant of their mind-altering effects he or she becomes. The same is not true of an individual’s tolerance to the drugs’ life-threatening effects, however, and frequent, repeated use of these drugs skyrockets the risk for a lethal overdose.

The Global Information Network About Drugs (GINAD) reports that an estimated 3,000 people die from an overdose related to barbiturates in the U.S. each year. Furthermore, approximately 60% of those overdoses are accidental, while the other 40% are reported as attempted suicides.

Signs of a barbiturate overdose include the following:

  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weak pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma

Since barbiturates are CNS depressants, just like alcohol, they can reduce a person’s inhibitions, promote sociability and increase the risk of engaging in potentially impulsive and dangerous behavior.

What Are Barbiturates? | Midwood Addiction Treatment

Barbiturate Side Effects

Other side effects of barbiturate intoxication include the following:

  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slow or unsteady movement
  • Mental fogginess
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor judgment
  • Headache
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Aggressive behavior

Mixing these drugs with other substances, especially other CNS depressants such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines, increases all risk factors. Doing so can diminish respiration and cardiovascular functions to perilously low levels, which can be life-threatening.

Those who abuse barbiturates via injection may also be at an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, as the result of sharing unclean needles. The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease due to impaired judgment and unsafe sexual behavior is also increased by excessive barbiturate use.

Effects of Long-Term Barbiturate Use

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), in 2011, nearly 20,000 people in the U.S. received care in an emergency room for an adverse reaction to barbiturate abuse. Using these drugs regularly can result in breathing problems and lead to bronchitis and pneumonia.

Other effects caused by the long-term use of barbiturates include the following:

  • Memory impairments
  • Reduced attention span
  • Impaired reflexes
  • Bone aches and pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle weakness
  • Liver damage
  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Jaundice

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the long-term abuse of these drugs can result in barbiturate-induced residual psychotic disorder, a form of dementia characterized by memory, learning, language, judgment, calculation, and comprehension problems. Also, other higher cortical and cognitive functional deficits may become persistent and irreversible.

Barbiturate Addiction and Dependence

Among the most pronounced side effects from regular and continued abuse of barbiturates is the development of tolerance and physiological dependence. Tolerance occurs as the body grows accustomed to exposure to these drugs, and the person will then be forced to use higher or more frequent doses to keep experiencing the desired effects.

Furthermore, the fact that tolerance to depressant effects does not grow at the same rate as psychoactive effects can be particularly concerning because people may consume higher doses in an attempt to feel better and accidentally overdose as a result.

When a person takes a barbiturate drug, the action of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain is increased. GABA works to relieve anxiety by diminishing physical and emotional reactions to stress. Physiological dependence occurs when the body adapts to the presence of barbiturates such that it can no longer function normally without them.

Barbiturate Withdrawal

What Are Barbiturates? | Midwood Addiction Treatment

Unpleasant withdrawal symptoms accompany dependence on barbiturates as the drug is eliminated from the body. Because barbiturates hinder functions of the CNS and interfere with brain chemistry, when these drugs are abruptly absent after dependence has developed, the body can experience a rebound. These resulting effects referred to as withdrawal symptoms.

Complications of barbiturate withdrawal can be life-threatening, and for this reason, these drugs should never be stopped suddenly or “cold turkey.”

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include the following:

  • Seizures
  • Extreme confusion
  • Fever
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drug cravings

Hallucinations and delusions are also a possible result of barbiturate withdrawal. This withdrawal syndrome is comparable to that of alcohol-induced delirium tremens (DTs) and can onset as long as a week after discontinuing use and result in death. Barbiturate withdrawal should be closely supervised and treated by highly trained medical or addiction professionals in a clinical detox facility.

Barbiturate Addiction

Drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms are not synonymous with addiction, although a person who is addicted is almost always dependent. A person who is dependent on barbiturates does not necessarily suffer from addiction, however.

Drug dependence is a physiological manifestation, while addiction also includes a set of compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and uncontrollable drug-taking despite the incurrence of adverse consequences. People battling addiction may spend a considerable amount of time using drugs, figuring out how to obtain them, and then recovering from their use.

Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction

Addiction is now commonly accepted as a chronic brain disease that can result in many physical, emotional, behavioral, interpersonal, social, financial, and legal consequences. Barbiturate addiction can be effectively managed, however, through participation in an integrated treatment program at a specialized facility, such as Midwood Addiction Treatment.

Our center offers evidence-based services facilitated by highly-skilled, compassionate addiction professionals who deliver therapies to clients with care and expertise. We provide clients with the tools and support they need to achieve sobriety and enjoy long-lasting happiness and wellness.

No matter what you have done or suffered through, you deserve so much better. Contact us today to find out how we can help you begin your recovery journey. We are dedicated to helping people pull themselves free from the grips of addiction so they can reclaim healthy, productive, and satisfying lives!