What Are the Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse?

There is often a false belief associated with prescription drugs that they are safer than illicit drugs because they are legal and prescribed by doctors. However, this is a false belief. Several prescription medications are highly addictive and can cause future physical and mental health problems if misused. Unfortunately, there are high rates of prescription drug abuse in the US, with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reporting that almost 17 million Americans over the age of 12 misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in 2018. Of this population, prescription opioid pain relievers “were the third-highest substance with the largest number of initiates of use or misuse.” Although prescribed by doctors, prescription medications are still addictive and should be appropriately monitored.

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines prescription drug abuse as “taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain: or taking a medication to feel euphoria.” Misuse can also include taking prescription drugs in combination with alcohol or other psychoactive drugs.


The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified five “schedules” of drugs based on their potential for abuse and addiction. These include: 

Schedule I

Schedule I includes heroin, marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, peyote, and other substances that are not considered to have medical use in the US. These have a high potential for drug abuse and addiction.

Schedule II

Schedule II includes cocaine, methamphetamine, Oxycodone, Adderall, Hydrocodone, and other substances. These are often prescription drugs that have been approved for medical use in the US. However, these are prescribed with caution due to their high addictive potential. 

Schedule III

Schedule III includes Ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, drugs with

Schedule IV

Schedule IV includes Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and other prescription drugs that can still put the user at risk of addiction.

Schedule V

Schedule V includes Motofen, Robitussin AC, Lyrica, and other prescription drugs. These are considered to have the lowest risk of addiction.

What Prescription Drugs are Most Often Abused?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated that the three most commonly abused classes of medication are:

  • Opioids: typically prescribed for pain management
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants: used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders; includes hypnotics, tranquilizers, and sedatives
  • Stimulants: commonly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

How Addiction Starts

Many individuals may receive prescription medication from their doctor. However, a significant number of people who misuse prescription drugs retrieve them from friends and family through diversion or illegal purchasing. There is no single reason why individuals misuse prescription drugs, but rather general reasons that lead people to abuse them. There are risk factors that may lead a person to use prescription medication, however. These can include:

  • Daily drinking
  • Poverty
  • Poor health
  • Gender (specifically females)
  • Incomplete education
  • Unemployment
  • Marital status (primarily single individuals)
  • Past trauma
  • Introduction at an early age


Once a person begins taking prescription medication, they may enjoy the feeling it gives them and continues to seek them for that sole purpose. The most common reasons for abusing prescription medication include:

  • Getting high
  • Coping with negative emotions
  • Helping one be more social
  • Better sleep
  • Pain management
  • Avoiding withdrawal

Treating Prescription Drug Addictions

Treatment for those struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs will vary from person to person. It will usually last over three to twelve months, depending on the needs of the individual. Ensure you select a proper facility that knows how to help individuals with prescription drug addictions heal properly, such as Northstar Transitions.


At Northstar, you will begin your treatment with medical detox to ease withdrawal symptoms as you stop taking the drugs. Medical detox from prescription medications can last anywhere from two to seven days. This can be a potentially deadly time, especially if you have struggled with benzodiazepine addiction. Ensure that you are detoxing under medical supervision for your overall health and safety. This will help you prepare to participate in later treatment. 


After detoxing, you can enter residential or inpatient drug treatment based on your needs and financial situation. During this time, you will undergo various counseling sessions, group activities, health and wellness treatments, and more. All of this is to help you learn to cope in healthier ways to set you up for long term sobriety. Once you finish the program, you can move onto less intensive treatment, go to support groups, or work on your sobriety on your own, depending on what works best for you. No matter what, your treatment team is there to support you even after you initially get sober.


At Northstar Transitions, we have seen the devastating effects of prescription drug addiction. Anyone can begin misusing prescription drugs and find themselves falling down the rabbit hole of addiction. Our mission is to help you navigate real recovery at our facility and start your new life of sobriety. Through comprehensive treatment methods, we believe you will find success at Northstar. We offer traditional and experiential treatment modalities to help you uncover the roots of your addiction and learn necessary life skills to help you carry your recovery into your daily life after treatment. Right now, you may feel lost, helpless, or confused regarding whether or not you should go into treatment. We are here to answer any questions you may have and get you back on track in life. Give us a call today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more about healing from prescription drug addiction. You don’t have to feel lost forever; find healing at Northstar Transitions.


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