How large is the scope of prescription drug addiction? The statistics may shock you. It’s estimated that 54 million Americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.
With drug addiction being such a large issue, it’s understandable that you want to know more about the drugs that may be most addictive. If you or someone who know is prescribed such a drug, it can help to know ahead of time, especially if there are risk factors for substance abuse.
We’re going to share the ten most addictive prescription drugs on the market. But first, we’ll discuss what it means to be addicted to a prescription drug, and why the issue is prevalent.
What is Prescription Drug Addiction and Why Do We Have a Most Addictive Prescription Drugs List?
Addiction to prescription drugs stems from abuse or misuse of these drugs. Abuse or misuse of prescription drugs can include:
- Taking a drug without the required prescription
- Taking a drug in a way other than what is prescribed
- Taking a drug purely for the experience or feeling it provides
Today’s widespread abuse of prescription drugs is believed to be fueled by many factors, the most common being ease of access. Other possible factors contributing to the epidemic include misinformation about addictive properties and the widespread belief that prescription drugs are less harmful than illicit drugs.
So, what are the most addictive prescription drugs? Painkillers and opioids are the most common, and you’ll find many of these on our list. Let’s explore the ten most addictive prescription drugs available on the market today.
Adderall is an amphetamine and a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. This particular amphetamine is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. It can also be used to treat narcolepsy.
Misuse of this drug is based on the energy effect. In fact, Adderall and other amphetamines can cause euphoric effects similar to those caused by cocaine.
People who are misusing an amphetamine-like Adderall may have increased body temperature, increased blood pressure, or rapid breathing, along with the typical increased energy and alertness
Ritalin and Adderall are often referenced together because they’re both used to treat ADHD. Unlike Adderall, Ritalin is not an amphetamine. Commonly sold under the brand Ritalin, this drug is actually called methylphenidate.
Like Adderall, it is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant and can raise dopamine levels in the brain. People who abuse the drug typically do so for the increased energy levels and ability to stay awake for long periods of time. Withdrawal from a stimulant like Ritalin can cause anxiety and depression.
Valium – generic name diazepam – is a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines are often prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders and can also treat seizures.
These drugs can produce feelings like the effects of alcohol and are often misused because of their sedative effects. Valium may make a person more relaxed and talkative, similar to the feelings associated with drunkenness.
The sedative effects of Valium make it an especially addictive drug. It may be used recreationally by people without a prescription, and those with a prescription may easily find themselves developing a dependence and addiction.
Like Valium, Xanax is a benzodiazepine. The generic name for this drug is alprazolam, though it’s most well-known under the Xanax name.
Xanax is used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It interacts with a receptor in the brain that increases inhibitory brain activity, which then tempers down excitement relating to anxiety. The calming effect is quick, typically within an hour.
If an individual takes Xanax in large quantities or uses the drug for a prolonged period, they can develop tolerance, addiction, and dependence.
Methadone is the first opiate drug to appear on our list of the most addictive prescription drugs. In addition to being used by people safety trying to quit heroin, methadone is also used as a pain reliever. In fact, many addictive opiate drugs are prescribed as pain relievers.
Before we go further, let’s touch briefly on opiates and opioids.
Opiates are drugs naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is one example, which is why methadone – a drug often used by people trying to safely quit a heroin addiction – is also an opiate. An opioid is a broader term that refers to both natural and synthetic drugs that bind to the brain’s opioid centers.
Another natural opiate, Codeine is typically prescribed as a pain reliever. The effects of Codeine last just a few hours, so doctors often prescribe other medications along with it, such as acetaminophen or aspirin.
Codeine provides a sedative effect and is found in many prescription-strength cough medicines. The sedative properties of Codeine can cause users to feel altered levels of consciousness, which is why it’s used as the base for the illicit drug concoction known as “sizzurp” or “lean.”
Young people are most likely to seek out codeine for recreational use and can become addicted. Signs of Codeine addiction include mood swings, weight loss, anxiety, and depression
Percocet contains a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. This drug affects your central nervous system and how it responds to pain, so it’s often prescribed as a short-term pain reliever.
People who abuse Percocet are usually after the euphoric effects it provides. Abusing this drug over a long period can have severe consequences, including ongoing heart problems and heart failure.
Another opiate on our list, fentanyl is one of the most addictive painkillers. In 2016, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that more than half of people in 10 states who died of opioid overdoses had fentanyl in their systems.
Unlike codeine, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. In addition to being abused by those with prescriptions, it’s illegally manufactured and sold as a recreational drug. A fentanyl addict may end up with drugs mixed with heroin, cocaine, or both.
Oxycontin, another drug from the painkiller list, is typically prescribed to patients with moderate to severe pain. It’s a time-released drug, so can be used around-the-clock to treat pain that is expected to last over a long period of time.
When injected, snorted, or crushed, Oxycontin provides a high that makes it the second most addictive drug on our list. The high is similar to that of heroin, as Oxycontin affects the central nervous system.
An opiate-based painkiller, Vicodin tops our list because it comes with a high risk of addiction. Vicodin can cause euphoric effects when it’s abused, but it also causes serious withdrawal symptoms. This makes it especially difficult for people to stop using the drug.
People who abuse Vicodin can crush or snort it, but injecting is the most common method and makes withdrawal especially challenging.
Getting Help for Addiction to Prescription Drugs
Our list only included ten of the most addictive prescription drugs, but there are many more. It’s not rare to know someone who has a substance abuse problem, or to have one yourself. If you’re looking for help – for you or someone you care about – we can help.