Prescription drugs have been used to treat health ailments for decades. Unfortunately, some of the most effective drugs used to remedy such problems are also the most popular among drug abusers.

Lifetime rates of prescription drug misuse in the United States reached 52 million people in 2011, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Drugs of abuse on the short list include opioid pain relievers, depressants, and stimulants. Opioids are primarily used in the treatment of pain —intermittent pain and chronic pain. Depressants include barbiturates, tranquilizers, and benzodiazepines. Central nervous system stimulants include amphetamines, methylphenidate, and dextroamphetamine.

Opioid painkillers

The most commonly abused prescription drug is the opioid pain reliever. Opiates are available as pills, lozenges, transdermal patches, and injectable liquids. Those that are most popularly abused include:

  • OxyContin
  • Opana
  • Dilaudid
  • Vicodin
  • Percocet
  • Fentanyl

OxyContin has long been the primary drug of abuse in this category; however, the government has made it harder to attain OxyContin, and other drugs, like Opana, have been abused more frequently. Fentanyl is the easiest to obtain in the topical pain form, and many addicts will actually ingest the interior contents of these patches to get the euphoric high they’re after.

In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were 259 million prescriptions filled for opioid painkillers. Often, those who end up abusing prescription drugs start out with a legitimate script for them. They may have suffered from chronic pain following a work-related injury or temporary pain after surgery when a doctor prescribed opioid painkillers. Many take these drugs believing they could never become dependent on them, having never had any previous issues with substance abuse.

NIDA notes 4.8 percent of high school seniors reported past-year use of Vicodin in 2012, but teens aren’t actually the biggest demographic that abuses prescription opioids. Rather, America’s elderly population are misusing and abusing these drugs at a much higher rate. Medscape attests to an 18 percent rate of addiction among chronic pain sufferers aged 65 and older.

Opioid addiction treatment

Opioid addiction alone isn’t particularly complex to treat. The most recommended form of treatment is a maintenance program that entails regulated daily doses of another opioid drug in lieu of the opioid that is being abused. Methadone and buprenorphine have been approved for this kind of treatment. In 2011, 313,460 people sought help for opioid abuse through one of these programs, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.

Both are started at a dose that is aligned with how much and how often the person has been abusing prescription opioid painkillers. Over time, the dose is slowly decreased until the person is either weaned off the medication completely or brought down to the lowest dose indefinitely. Some people prefer this option as it more securely eliminates the risk of relapse, which Everyday Health notes is alarmingly high for opioid addicts at 85 percent even a year after treatment. Withdrawal symptoms range from headaches and diarrhea to more uncomfortable side effects like paranoia and fever-like chills. Treatment drugs can greatly reduce many of these symptoms.

As previously note, many opioid misusers started out on the path to addiction with a real medical reason for taking the drug they have been abusing. The biggest concern most of these addicts have is how they’ll deal with pain without the use of these drugs. Fortunately, we’ve come a long way in the world of pain management, and there are many applications that can be used to treat and even altogether eliminate pain and discomfort that have nothing to do with drug therapies.

Some addicts who abuse opioids may experience a period of depression following detox that can persist for some time as their brain functions try to get back to normal. Practicing mindfulness approaches may significantly reduce symptoms of depression in many of these recovering addicts. A Reuters report notes that 44 percent of individuals with major depression who practiced mindfulness-based cognitive therapy had a relapse within the following two years, compared to 47 percent who were on antidepressants. While the relapse rates weren’t significantly different between the two groups, this research is promising enough to support the practice of mindfulness for depressive symptoms. Other potential treatment options for recovering opioid addicts include acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga.


Muscle relaxers, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates are commonly abused depressant drugs in America. Many view Valium strictly as an anti-anxiety drug, though it is used a tranquilizer to treat seizures and muscle spasms, too. It can produce some pretty strong side effects as a muscle relaxant, and they are even more prominent when the drug is abused.

In 2009, 31,763 people were treated in American emergency rooms for health effects stemming from non-medical use or abuse of muscle relaxants, HealthDay reports. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 20.4 million Americans over the age of 11 have misused benzos at some point in time.

Someone may start out using benzos or with a real medical purpose for them and slowly grow dependent over time. Typically used to treat symptoms of anxiety, many who abuse benzos started out using them medically for relief from panic attacks and sleep disorders.

There are also those addicts who are poly-drug abusers. Opioids and benzodiazepines are a common cocktail for these substance abusers. Among teenagers who misuse and abuse prescription drugs, seven out of 10 mix opioids with another drug, with 10.3 percent of them combining them with tranquilizers, according to NIDA.

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Treatment for an addiction to benzodiazepines is similar in nature to treatment for opioid addiction; however, there is no supplementary medication in most cases. Rather, the benzo dose is slowly decreased in an effort to taper the addict off the drug – generally in increments of around 25 percent per quarter of the detox period, per the American Family Physician. Abusers of drugs like Flexeril and Soma follow a similar path in treatment that allows them to detox via tapering under the care of a physician.

Given that many abusers of depressant drugs are already sufferers of anxiety and poorly equipped to manage stress, treatment modules that focus on reducing these problems are advisable. Following detox, holistic therapies are a great option for individuals who are looking to manage their anxiety without prescription medications. Yoga and meditation are fantastic practices that recovering addicts can take advantage of during treatment and carry on into their daily lives long after it.

According to ABC News, a study among two groups of people suffering from anxiety showed a 27 percent increase in GABA for the group who practiced yoga for one hour compared to those who just spent their time reading.

Meditation is another great concept that addicts can take home with them following treatment to combat anxiety. The Huffington Post reported on one study where people with anxiety participated in four separate 20-minute classes to practice meditation, and subsequent anxiety levels decreased by 39 percent.


This class of prescription drugs is widely abused across the nation. The most popularly abused are Adderall and Concerta. Monitoring the Future reports 7.4 percent of 12th graders admitted to abuse of Adderall in 2013.

Many abusers enjoy the energetic high they get from these drugs. Many will even use them to dampen their appetites for weight loss purposes.

These drugs are often abused by young people and seem to be more favorable among males than females.

These drugs are used to treat mental health disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Since almost all of the symptoms of ADHD are self-reported, it can be easy to feign their existence just to get a prescription. Mental Health Daily reports more than 8.8 million scripts were filled for Concerta in 2014, along with 12.8 million for generic forms of Adderall IR and almost 8 million for Adderall XR.

For the majority of stimulant drug abusers, treatment involves detox, therapy, and aftercare that strengthens resistance to relapse. There are no supplementary medications or maintenance programs for stimulant addictions.

Other addicts may benefit more from continued assistance directly from their therapist.

Individuals who ended up hooked on stimulant drugs after taking them for an ADHD diagnosis can learn to manage the symptoms of their disorder in other ways. One study touted impressive results on the use of meditation and mindfulness in managing ADHD symptoms. The study found that 78 percent of participants noted a reduction of their symptoms and 30 percent reported a minimum of a 30 percent reduction, per the Huffington Post. Alumni support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and contingency management practices are other options that stimulant abusers may find to be helpful for long-term recovery.

Finding comprehensive care

Treatment for prescription drug addiction takes many forms – both traditional and alternative. It is a common misconception that there are few non-pharmaceutical treatment options available for individuals who are hooked on prescription drugs.

Mindfulness practices have been shown to greatly improve the outcome of addiction treatment and aid in preventing relapse. Reuters reported on one study in which 14 percent of addicts in a 12-step program and 17 percent in a traditional treatment group relapsed a year after treatment, compared to only 9 percent who engaged in mindfulness practices.

The Recovery Village is fully equipped with expert staff members and state-of-the-art treatment facilities. The therapies offered reach far beyond the pharmaceutical realm, offering patients comprehensive and alternative therapies that can manage pain and bolster wellness. Call today for more information on variable approaches to substance abuse rehabilitation and overall health.

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.