Today, prescription drugs have become the ultimate quick fix in a variety of situations. From stressed college students to people trying to manage pain after an accident, prescription drug abuse is steadily increasing in the United States.

According to the CDC, the United States is in the midst of a prescription drug abuse epidemic. Many teenagers and young adults who get involved with drugs often start with prescription medications because they view them as safe since they were prescribed by a doctor. However, this often leads to various safety issues, including abuse and overdoses.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Many teenagers who use drugs start with prescription medications because they are viewed as safer. 
  • Prescription drug abuse in the United States is on the rise.  
  • Opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants are often abused.  
  • We provide a list of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in these three categories.  
  • With the support of loved ones, recovery from prescription drug abuse is very possible.

Facts About Prescription Drug Abuse

When prescribed by a doctor, prescription medications can be incredibly beneficial. But when they’re taken without a prescription – or used for an unintended purpose – prescription drugs become dangerous, addictive, and even deadly.

According to studies performed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many people are unaware of the dangers of providing prescription medications to someone who is not the intended patient.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, though most experts are unsure why this is the case. The thought is that because there are more drugs available to more people, the opportunity for people to abuse prescription drugs has greatly increased. Doctors are writing more prescriptions than ever before – especially for opioids, CNS depressors, and stimulants. Additionally, the internet makes it easier than ever to go online and get these drugs – even for children, teens, and young adults.

It’s also not uncommon to hear about teenagers stealing prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets. Instead of taking illegal substances laced with other unknown drugs, many teens are able to easily access prescription drugs via their parents.

Prescription parties are also on the rise. These are parties where teens gather at someone’s house, mix their prescription pills in a bowl, and then take whichever pill looks most appealing. The problem with this is that teens have no idea what pill they’re taking or which medications may cause serious health problems when combined with other drugs or alcohol.

Statistics on Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States

  • Approximately 16 million people in the United States abuse prescription medications.
  • In general, men abuse prescription drugs more than women – with the exception of people ages 12 to 17. In this group, females abuse more than males.
  • More than 1,600 teens begin abusing prescription drugs every day.
  • Many teens and young adults mistakenly believe prescription drugs are safer than other street drugs.
  • After marijuana and alcohol, the most common drugs teens are using/misusing are prescription medications.
  • Among people 18-22, full-time college students are twice as likely to use a stimulant for non-medical reasons compared to those who aren’t in college or are going to college part-time.
  • Approximately 1 in 4 teens reported abusing or misusing a prescription drug.

Different Types of Prescription Drugs

When it comes to prescription drug overdoses, more than six out of 10 overdose deaths involved an opioid. But opioids aren’t the only prescription drugs abused. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, CNS depressants (sedatives) and stimulants are also commonly abused.

Here’s a breakdown of each classification of prescription drug and their intended purpose:

  • OpioidsPrescribed to treat pain.
  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants: Used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
  • Stimulants: Most often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The 16 Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The following prescription drugs are often taken without being prescribed or used for an unintended purpose:


Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

  • Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal).
  • Diazepam (Valium).
  • Alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Zolpidem Tartrate (Ambien).
  • Sertraline (Zoloft).


If you believe that a family member or close friend is abusing prescription drugs, the best thing you can do is to get them the help they need. If you don’t know where to turn, reach out your doctor and see if they can give you a referral for a high-quality treatment facility.

Recovery from prescription drug abuse isn’t easy, but with the support of loved ones, it is possible.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.