Prescription Drug Abuse: The Dangers of Prescription Opioid, Stimulant, and Depressant Abuse

Almost half of the American adult population uses prescription drugs, and almost six percent of Americans misuse prescription drugs. When abused, prescription drugs can disrupt one’s ability to carry out daily activities and enjoy a fulfilling life. Additionally, the abuse of prescription drugs can have dangerous and fatal consequences. 


Intending to recreate the feelings that prescription drugs can induce, individuals may begin taking prescription drugs for these properties, instead of for the condition the drug was prescribed to treat. Through repeated use and abuse of prescription drugs, individuals can develop a tolerance that induces them to increase their intake. 

Prescription drug abuse involves:

  • Using medication in a way or dose other than prescribed
  • Using someone else’s medication
  • Using medication for reasons other than to treat an issue the medication is intended for

The most commonly used prescription drugs fall into the categories of opioids, stimulants, and depressants. Each category of prescription drugs carries different implications as it relates to abuse. 



Frequently prescribed for pain, opioids, which include fentanyl, codeine, and other pain relievers, can create a feeling of euphoria by activating the pleasure-inducing neurotransmitter dopamine. When used with alcohol, opioids can increase one’s risk of death. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 3.3% of Americans misused prescription pain relievers in the past year, and an estimated 2.3 million Americans had a prescription opioid use disorder.

Opioid abuse may result in:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Overdose, coinciding with slowed or stopped breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed breathing

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Rapid heartbeat


Commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, types of stimulants include amphetamines, such as Adderall, and methylphenidate, such as Ritalin. Stimulants generally increase one’s alertness and energy. According to NIDA, 1.8% of Americans misused prescription stimulants in the last year and almost half a million have prescription stimulant use disorders.

Stimulant abuse may result in:

  • Anger
  • Heart, nerve, and stomach problems
  • Heart attack
  • Overdose
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping


Prescription depressant drugs fall into the categories of barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications. Typically, these drugs are prescribed for anxiety, muscle spasms, seizures, and trouble sleeping. When combined with alcohol, depressants can be fatal. According to NIDA, 3.9% of Americans misused prescription depressants in the past year, and an estimated 1.2 million Americans are addicted to prescription depressants.

Depressant abuse may cause:

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Low blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Overdose, resulting in slowed or stopped breathing
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor coordination
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech

Withdrawal from depressants may include: 

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature 
  • Seizures
  • Severe cravings
  • Shakiness
  • Trouble sleeping


Because prescription drug abuse can limit one’s ability to function normally when a person becomes addicted to prescription drugs, their relationships, career, education, and other aspects of their life may deteriorate. 

By attending detox and addiction treatment, individuals heal the root causes driving their prescription drug abuse, develop healthy, effective coping mechanisms, and create enriching lives in sobriety. 

At Wasatch Crest, our addiction treatment specialists compassionately guide clients to recovery. Reach out to learn more about our addiction treatment programs located in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range. 

Schedule A Consultation

  • This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
    * All indicated fields must be completed.
    Please include non-medical questions and correspondence only.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Accessibility Toolbar

Scroll to Top