Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse means taking a prescription medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed.

Addiction of any substance is when the user begins seeking the substance compulsively and continues to use the substance even though there have been harmful effects to their lives, including problems with family, school, work or the legal system.

Common drugs of abuse

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the commonly abused classes of prescription medications include opioids (intended for pain), central nervous system depressants (for anxiety as well as sleep disorders), and stimulants (prescribed for ADHD as well asnarcolepsy).


Opioids include hydrocodone (sold as Vicodin®), oxycodone (sold as OxyContin®), propoxyphene (Darvon®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), meperidine (Demerol®), and diphenoxylate (Lomotil®).

Long-term abuse of opioid-based medications can lead to physical dependence as well as addiction. Opioids can produce drowsiness, constipation and can even depress breathing. (1)

Central nervous system depressants

Central nervous system depressants include barbiturates such as pentobarbital sodium (sold as Nembutal®), and benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®).

Central nervous system depressants slow down brain function and, if combined with other medications that cause drowsiness or with alcohol, heart rate and respiration can slow down dangerously. (2)


Stimulant medications include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®), and amphetamines (Adderall®).

Stimulants can cause anxiety, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, irregular heartbeat, or seizures when taken repeatedly or in high doses. (3)

What happens if I try to stop and I’m addicted?


If you believe that you have an addiction or physical dependence to prescription medication, it is important to talk with your doctor about whether you need to withdraw under medical supervision. Sudden withdrawal from some medications can be quite dangerous!


Some people require support to help them as quitting, even under a doctor’s care, can be difficult and quite uncomfortable.


How can SMART Recovery help me stop abusing medications?

SMART Recovery provides its members with tools and support that they can use to help them recover from addictions to drugs or other addictive and negative behaviors. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program® is designed to help you overcome your problems with abusing drugs:

1. Building & Maintaining Motivation – Helps you identify and keep up with your reasons to quit. Why do you want to stop – what will keep you focused on that goal?

2. Coping with Urges – Dealing with urges and cravings is part of recovery. SMART has tools designed to help our members cope with urges that can help you maintain abstinence.

3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours – We frequently turn to using drugs to either escape from or avoid addressing problems. SMART Recovery participants learn problem-solving tools to help them manage challenges along the way.

4. Living a Balanced Life – When you abuse drugs, your life frequently falls out of balance – you may find yourself opting to use rather than go to work or school. You may find that things you once enjoyed just don’t seem fun anymore. SMART give members skills to help balance both short and long-term goals, pleasures and needs that were once out of balance due to drug abuse.

From Our Participants

I now feel like I can trust myself, my reactions, and my emotions. Vicodin gave me a false sense of being in control. I can really tell the difference now that I actually am. I’m not afraid of my feelings. I know that I can handle anything drug-free.— M.H., California

Where do I go from here?

Getting started with SMART Recovery is easy!

If you would like to get started right away, you can join our online support group where you can read, share and learn from our worldwide community of members at any time of the day or night.

You can also find a local SMART Recovery meeting, or, if we don’t have any meetings in your area yet, you can join us at one of our online meetings.

If you’d like to have printed study material, we suggest the SMART Recovery Handbook.

[1][2][3] – Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)