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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

01-15-19 | By

7 Most Commonly Prescribed Addictive Drugs

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Though, it can be more than welcome when the doctor basically becomes a dealer dressed in white. This article isn’t about apples or healthy eating. It’s about the misuse of prescription drugs.

In the USA, this is a problem. In 2017, approximately 6% of Americans aged 12 and older misused prescription medication.

People become addicted to illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine or meth. To quit, they enroll in rehab programs and use prescription meds to avoid quitting cold turkey. That’s totally understandable, especially for those going through opiate withdrawal. Addiction to prescription medication may develop as a consequence.

Worse yet, people can become addicted to prescription drugs without being addicted to anything else before. This mostly happens when recreational use replaces initial therapeutic use. The most dangerous prescription drugs are those that act on the brain’s reward system by heavily increasing dopamine levels. This will result in the user continuously chasing the “high,” which will end up in using the drug just to feel normal. That’s a surefire sign that addiction has set in.

While it’s best to stay away from prescription meds as much as you can, sometimes they are necessary. However, it’s good to stay informed so that you can prevent potential disasters.

Here are the most common prescription drugs that you should be aware of:

Adderall (Amphetamine)

Adderall is CNS stimulant made of levoamphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It’s commonly prescribed as a treatment for ADHD and narcolepsy. Adderall mainly affects norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, which act on the “fight-or-flight” response and reward system, respectively.

Adderall causes an increase in energy levels, wakefulness, agitation and physical stimulation that feels forced and unnatural. Long-term use can cause serious cardiovascular issues, as well as cravings and mood disorders.

Ritalin (Methylphenidate)

Methylphenidate is also a CNS stimulant. It’s commonly prescribed in the US as Ritalin and its use is similar to that of Adderall. It’s prescribed by doctors to those suffering from ADHD and narcolepsy, among others.

Methylphenidate blocks dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake, leading to increased levels of each. Its potent effects led to considerable off-label abuse over the years. Doctors are to blame for this. Over 13 million prescriptions of methylphenidate were filled in 2012.


Codeine is an opiate. Doctors prescribe it to treat pain, cough or diarrhea. In combination with anti-inflamatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen, it can also be used to treat cold and flu symptoms.

People commonly abuse it by consuming it as cough syrup. Its most common side effects include drowsiness, constipation, urinary retention, itching, nausea or vomiting.


Fentanyl is a short-lasting opiate with a rapid onset. It’s up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and it’s most commonly prescribed to patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous. The CDC has noted that half of all opiate-related overdoses are related to fentanyl. Still, that doesn’t stop people from combining it with heroine and/or cocaine.


Oxycodone is also an opioid medication with effects that can be felt in as little as 15 minutes. However, its effects can last up to six hours. Oxycodone is incredibly addictive and the withdrawal may be life-threatening if the addict suddenly stops taking it. This danger is quite common in short-lasting opiates, as it quickly alters brain chemistry, leading to more intense withdrawals.

Oxycodone is sold as OxyContin or, together with acetaminophen, as Percocet. Oxycodone is heavily prescribed in the US and it’s believed to have contributed to the last two and a half decades’ opiate crisis.

Xanax (Alprazolam)

Xanax is commonly sold in the US as a treatment for panic attacks, anxiety disorders and depression. Alprazolam and its active ingredient, is part of the benzodiazepine class. Xanax causes sedation, anxiety suppression, disinhibition and muscle relaxation. Alprazolam binds to GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitters, and modulates its function.

In 2016, there were more than 27 million prescriptions in the US. Young people misuse it for its fast-acting intoxicating effects. Some combine it with alcohol, which can be very risky, as the two synergize. This can cause extreme disinhibition and amnesia.

Klonopin (Clonazepam)

Klonopin was the 42nd most prescribed medication in the US, with approximately 18 million prescriptions. Clonazepam is the active ingredient and it’s mainly used to treat panic attacks and seizures.

Like Xanax, Clonazepam is abused for its relaxing effects. Taking benzodiazepines for longer than four weeks will result in dependence. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be severe and largely depends on length of time and intake.

Wrapping it up

Prescription drugs can be deceiving due to their therapeutic nature. There’s a fine line between therapeutic use and recreational misuse. Aside from the health risks, prescription drugs can be detrimental to the user’s relationships and quality of life. Once addiction sets in, obtaining the substance becomes the person’s main priority.

If you or a person dear to you is suffering from prescription drug addiction, assess the problem as soon as you can. Learn more about the substance and its dangers and let your loved one know of your concerns. Encourage him or her to go to the doctor or a treatment center and be supportive during the difficult period of withdrawal.


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