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Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Nov 9, 2022

Commonly abused prescription drugs include opioids, depressants, and stimulants. Prescription drug abuse affects nearly every age group in the U.S., with one in four teens reporting misusing or abusing prescription drugs at some point, usually gaining access in family or friends’ medicine cabinets. Treatment is available at Hanley Center for adults who want to begin recovery from this kind of substance use disorder. 

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Even when taking a prescribed dose of medication, there can be side effects and risks involved. These risks increase when someone takes the med more frequently, consumes more of it at a single time, or takes something not prescribed for them. Some medications stand out from others as more frequently abused products, including prescriptions for opioids, depressants, and stimulants.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-841-1033.


The eight most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids prescribed for pain relief.

  • Fentanyl: Also known by its brand name Duragesic, fentanyl is prescribed for severe pain. It’s 50-100 times stronger than morphine, and it’s abused to create an intense, short-term high. Street names for it include Apache, China Girl, China Town, China White, Dance Fever, Goodfellas, Great Bear, He-Man, Poison, and Tango & Cash. Side effects from fentanyl may be sedation, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, urinary retention, pupillary constriction, respiratory depression, overdose, and death. Fentanyl should never be mixed with alcohol as it can lead to additional health risks and complications.
  • Hydrocodone: Vicodin is the most recognizable brand name for this prescription drug, and hydrocodone is the most prescribed type of opioid in the U.S. Its abuse is about achieving a feeling of euphoria. It’s known on the street as Hydro, Norco, and Vikes. Side effects may include constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, and respiratory depression. Taking large amounts of it with acetaminophen can lead to liver damage.
  • Oxycodone: OxyContin is the brand name of this drug, used to treat moderate to severe pain. Side effects may be drowsiness, dry mouth, flushing, headache, mood changes, and stomach pain. More severe side effects may include changes in heartbeat, chest pain, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and more. Overdose and death can be a result of taking large doses.
  • Oxymorphone: Prescribed under the brand names Darvon and Opana, this opioid is prescribed to treat pain. The extended-release version is meant to be swallowed whole and should never be crushed or chewed. Common side effects include minor issues ranging from dry mouth to stomach pain or swelling to nausea. More severe side effects include hallucinations, loss of coordination, changes to heartbeat, and seizures.
  • Hydromorphone: Marketed as Dilaudid, this opioid can produce headaches, heavy sweating, and muscle pain as some of its less severe side effects. Chest pain, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and seizures are among the more harmful consequences of its abuse. Abuse of opioids like this one can also lead to life-threatening breathing problems. Anyone with a history of slowed breathing or asthma should never experiment with hydromorphone or any opioid.
  • Meperidine: Sold as Demerol, this type of opioid produces many of the same side effects as the others mentioned. Accidental abuse of meperidine can come when someone takes two doses too close together to make up for a missed dose. They can lose their sense of coordination, shiver, become nauseated, and experience more health risks from taking two quantities quickly.
  • Diphenoxylate: Available as Lomotil, this prescription differs from the opioids above as it’s used to treat diarrhea by decreasing bowel activity. Side effects from its use include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. More severe side effects may be numbness in arms and legs, stomach bloating, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
  • Morphine Sulfate: Marketed as Roxanol, this prescription medication is used to treat both chronic and acute pain. Its side effects include drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea. More severe side effects can be shallow breathing, chest pain, hallucinations, and other serious issues.

Central Nervous System Depressants

  • Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal) is a sedative used to treat tension, anxiety, and insomnia and is an anticonvulsant for people with seizures. Side effects can be as mild as headaches, nausea, and vomiting and as serious as fever, slowed breathing and swelling of the eyes, lips, or cheeks.
  • Diazepam (Valium) is a sedative that’s used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures. Dry mouth, nausea, and constipation are among its milder side effects. More severe side effects include loss of control of bodily movements, uncontrollable shaking, and slowed breathing and heartbeat.
  • Alprazolam (Xanax) is a sedative used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. Common side effects include irritability, talkativeness, and difficulty concentrating. Emergency medical attention should be a priority if more severe side effects, such as shortness of breath, seizures, or a severe skin rash appears.
  • Zolpidem Tartrate (Ambien) is a sedative used to treat insomnia. Lightheadedness, unsteady walking, and difficulty keeping balance are among its milder side effects. More severe issues can develop from its abuse and include blurred vision, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
  • Sertraline (Zoloft) is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other disorders. Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, weight changes, and loss of appetite are among its milder side effects. More severe issues from abuse of this drug can include abnormal bleeding or bruising, difficulty breathing, and seizures.


  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) is a stimulant prescribed to treat ADHD. Side effects from its abuse may be as mild as headaches, dry mouth, and constipation and as severe as paleness or bluish color of fingers or toes, slow speech, and hallucinations.
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta) is another ADHD medication. Abuse can lead to side effects such as restlessness, loss of sexual desire, and heavy sweating. More severe side effects from methylphenidate abuse include chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
  • Amphetamines (Adderall) is yet another drug used to treat ADHD. Abuse of this drug can lead to fever, nervousness, and trouble sleeping. However, more serious consequences of abusing this drug can appear as higher blood pressure, uncontrolled movements, continuous chewing or teeth grinding.

Detox from Prescription Drugs

Attempting to quit using prescription drugs on your own can create life-threatening complications as well as post-acute withdrawal symptoms. A medically supervised detox is a recommended first step for anyone abusing prescription drugs. In a setting with medical care provided 24/7, you can move through the stages of withdrawal safely and have all needs met along the way.

Help from Hanley Center for Prescription Drug Misuse

Men and women struggling to quit abusing prescription drugs can find help in gender-specific programs at Hanley Center. Whether a recent experience of abuse or something long-term, a holistic treatment program can be personalized to your needs. For some people, that will also involve addressing and treating mental health needs. If unresolved trauma has played a role in your prescription drug abuse, trauma-informed therapies become an essential way to work on restoring your health and well-being and creating a long-term plan for your sobriety.


Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for mental illnesses and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting wellness.

For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.

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