The Forge Recovery Center

What Is Prescription Abuse?

Prescription drugs are safe when used correctly. When they’re abused, they’re anything but.

Prescription stimulants and tranquilizers have allowed millions of people to live happier lives. Stimulant drugs like Adderall help people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) focus on their tasks; prescription sedatives help those recovering from alcohol abuse or suffering from panic disorder treat their symptoms.

When they’re abused, however, these can be a fast path into tolerance and addiction.

What Is Prescription Abuse?


Prescription Stimulants: What Are They?

For much of the 20th century, amphetamines were used to treat a wide variety of health problems, including obesity. Their potential for abuse became far more widely understood in the 1970s, and tight controls were placed on them during that decade. Although chemically similar to methamphetamines, amphetamines are less powerful.

Nowadays, these drugs are used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. While drugs such as Adderall, Ritalin and Dexedrine are effective and safe when used as prescribed, these drugs are addictive and dangerous when abused.

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Why Do People Abuse Prescription Stimulants?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), prescription stimulants increase the body’s production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter used in the nervous system’s reward system.

This is similar to how other addictive drugs work: increased amounts of dopamine in the system create an intense, pleasurable rush. This rush fuels the repetitive behaviors of addiction.

But dopamine rushes aren’t the only reason these drugs get abused – they’re also incorrectly called “study drugs” for the perceived notion they boost brainpower and allow people to study more intently. This isn’t the case; studies have yet to show a relationship between grades, memory, or athletic performance and the abuse of these drugs.

What most people wind up with is addiction and side effects, including high blood pressure, a higher bod temperature, heart failure, and seizures. Over a period of abuse, additional side effects develop, including paranoia, psychosis, and wild mood swings.

Prescription Sedatives: What Are They?

Prescription sedatives come in three basic varieties:


Largely supplanted by the following drug times, barbiturates were once popular tranquilizers. The use of these drugs has largely been discontinued over their high potential for abuse and high risk of overdose.


Nicknamed “benzos,” these drugs are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the US. They include medications such as Xanax and Valium.

Sedative Hypnotics

The so-called “z-drugs” are made up of medications like Lunesta and Ambien. These medications are never intended for long-term use.

Benzodiazepines are by far the most commonly abused of the three. Benzos increase the amount of GABA, gamma-aminobutyric acid, in the brain. GABA slows brain activity, which is why benzos are effective at treating sleep and panic disorders as well as withdrawal from alcohol.

Benzos are also incredibly powerful. First-time users can find themselves becoming very sleepy and uncoordinated when they use the drugs, and it’s possible to develop a tolerance to benzodiazepines even when used as prescribed.

Tolerance means a person needs to take more of a substance to feel the same effects. It’s easy to develop a tolerance to their effects – especially when they’re abused – and benzos are incredibly dangerous when mixed with other drugs and alcohol. In 2019, a combination of benzos and opioids were responsible for 16 percent of that year’s fatal drug overdoses, according to NIDA. Benzos tend cause death via suffocation from slowed breathing.

How Is Prescription Addiction Treated?

Sedative addiction is treatable, but somewhat difficult. Professional, medically-supervised detox must be the first step – if benzo use isn’t tapered off there’s a serious risk of seizures, heart abnormalities, and other potentially fatal risks. Amphetamine addiction is not as serious, but still requires professional help for the best chance at success.

Rehab is ideal after detox – rehab addresses addiction at the roots, helping people find the emotional reasons behind their drug abuse. Various therapies help people see it’s possible to have a life worth living without abusing prescription drugs, and provides a great foundation for a lasting recovery from drug abuse.

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We’re here to help you find your way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.