Prescription drugs are prescribed to patients by medical professionals to treat ailments. Because they’re prescribed by professionals, many people believe that all medications are safe to take, but this is not the case. Some prescription drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction, and some are more commonly abused than others. Keep reading to learn more about the world’s most addictive pills and why you should never take them for granted.
Top Addictive Medications in the World
A 2015 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that 18.9 million Americans aged 12 and older misused prescription drugs in the past year. Addiction is a disease that can affect one’s brain and behavior, making it difficult to control one’s use of the drug.
Some people become addicted to illicit drugs, such as cocaine or heroin. However, there are plenty of addictive meds that people also abuse to get high.
As with illicit drug abuse, a person addicted to prescription drugs may use them compulsively, even if they cause obvious harm. What’s more, some prescription drugs are more addictive than others, the most addictive of which tend to target the brain’s reward system by flooding it with dopamine.
This results in a pleasurable high that motivates the individual to use the drug again. Over time, the body relies on the drug to feel “good” or “normal,” and the developed tolerance can lead to continuous drug use and addiction.
Below are the world’s most addictive prescription drugs and their side effects.
Opioids are commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, especially when other medications aren’t strong enough to alleviate the individual’s symptoms. Opioids are among the most addictive pills in the world and are known for their high potential for abuse and addiction, which is linked to their impact on dopamine levels in the brain.
Common side effects of opioid abuse include:
- Changes in vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach pain
- Changes in behavior or personality
Commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin, oxycodone is sold in combination with acetaminophen (an over-the-counter painkiller) as Percocet. Like other opioids, oxycodone blocks pain signaling in the body to alleviate symptoms.
Like heroin, the drug also produces a euphoric effect when taken in high doses. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), 60.1 million oxycodone prescriptions were dispensed in 2016
and 55.2 million were dispensed in 2017, out of which 54.6 million prescriptions were sold to patients, making it one of several drugs that have greatly contributed to the opioid epidemic.
Codeine is usually prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain and may also be combined with other medications to treat cold and flu symptoms. For instance, codeine is found in prescription-strength cough syrup.
When consumed in high dosages, codeine-based cough syrup can produce a sedative effect. For this reason, recreational substances like “lean” or “purple drank” are made with codeine-containing cough syrups to produce a high.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and one of the strongest of the bunch. It’s prescribed for acute and chronic pain, usually in people with cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Unfortunately, due to its potency, fentanyl is also illegally manufactured and used as a cutting agent in many street drugs to increase their value and potential for addiction.
In October 2017, the CDC reported that fentanyl was involved in over half of opioid-related overdose deaths across 10 states.
Meperidine is another synthetic opioid that’s commonly prescribed under the brand name Demerol. It’s typically used to treat moderate to severe pain and can also produce feelings of euphoria when misused.
Although it’s considered less potent than oxycodone and fentanyl, Demerol was involved in 2,666 drug poisoning deaths in the U.S. in 2011, along with methadone and fentanyl.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
A person who becomes addicted to opioids will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit cold turkey or if they suddenly reduce their doses. Opioid withdrawals are some of the most difficult to recover from without medical detox, so professional treatment is advised for those who want to quit.
Common opiate withdrawals include:
- Drug cravings
- Runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Body aches and pains
- Agitation or irritability
- Upset stomach
- Digestive problems
Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
Also known as tranquilizers, CNS depressants are drugs that are commonly prescribed to individuals with anxiety or panic disorders to help alleviate symptoms like excessive worry and agitation. Common side effects of CNS depressant abuse include:
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Vision problems
- Slurred speech
- Changes in behavior
Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine, which is a type of CNS depressant. It’s commonly sold under the brand name Xanax.
Xanax is prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It works by manipulating the chemical GABA to slow down functions in the CNS and produce a calming effect.
Many people misuse Xanax as a fast-acting sedative. According to the CDC, more than four times as many people died in 2015 than in 2002 in the U.S. from benzodiazepine overdoses.
In most of these cases, people died after combining benzos and opioids. Additional signs and symptoms of alprazolam abuse include difficulty sleeping, swelling of the hands or feet, and tremors or shaking.
Clonazepam (Klonopin) and Diazepam (Valium)
Clonazepam and diazepam are two other benzodiazepines that are also used to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as seizures. Clonazepam is sold under the brand name Klonopin, while diazepam is sold under the brand name Valium.
Like Xanax, these are pills that can get you high, which is why they’re often misused for recreational purposes. They produce “highs” that feel similar to the side effects of alcohol.
For instance, a person who takes high doses of Klonopin or Valium may experience feelings of drunkenness, talkativeness, and relaxation. It’s also common for people to mix benzos like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium with opioids, so much as the number of overdose deaths linked to both benzodiazepines and opioids more than quadrupled between 2002 and 2015.
CNS Depressant Withdrawal
A person who’s physically dependent on or addicted to CNS depressants will experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using or cut down their drug use. Symptoms include:
- Cravings for benzos
- Excessive sweating
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle aches and pain
Unlike opioids and benzos, stimulants increase brain activity, boosting alertness and energy levels. Signs of symptoms of stimulant abuse include:
- Aggressiveness or hostility
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Changes in vision
- Dilated pupils
- Rapid heart rate
- Weight loss
Adderall is the most commonly prescribed stimulant for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Commonly known as Speed, Adderall is prescribed to people with ADHD to improve concentration, focus, and impulsivity.
Products that contain Adderall are often misused to improve one’s performance at school or work. For instance, even people without ADHD who are sleep-deprived – people like truck drivers, shift workers, and college students working on deadlines – may abuse Adderall to stay awake and keep up with their responsibilities.
Similar to Adderall, Ritalin is another stimulant that’s prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It also increases dopamine levels in the brain, which is why it may be abused for a euphoric high.
Ritalin’s impact on dopamine means that it’s also addictive. Despite this danger, Ritalin and Adderall are often easily accessible, with more than 13 million prescriptions for methylphenidate filled in 2012 alone.6
Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms
Stimulant withdrawal occurs in people who are physically dependent on drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. Common stimulant withdrawals include:
- Cravings for stimulants
- Extreme fatigue
Prescription Drug Treatment in Florida
Prescription drug addiction can severely impact a person’s mental and physical health, as well as their relationships, finances, and career. It can also put a person at risk of a fatal overdose.
If you suspect that someone you care about is addicted to prescription drugs, our residential addiction treatment in Palm Beach can help. Our inpatient care separates clients from daily temptations so they can concentrate on their recovery distraction-free.
Our residential programs also incorporate medically assisted detox to help clients safely withdraw from drugs and increase their chances of completing rehabilitation care. No matter how long you’ve been addicted, our high-end rehab is here to help.
- DEA – Oxycodone
- CDC – Fentanyl
- NIH – Overdose Death Rates
- DEA – Methylphenidate