Prescription Drug Abuse Doesn’t Discriminate

prescription drug abuse

Anyone can be vulnerable to addiction, regardless of income level, race, gender, or geographic location. Prescription drug abuse doesn’t discriminate. Young people, older adults, and everyone in between can get caught in the cycle of misuse that can accompany prescription medications such as amphetamines, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates, among other drugs.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Abusing a prescription drug means that the individual is taking the medication without a prescription, taking more than was prescribed by their physician, or using it for a different purpose than that for which it was prescribed. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Amphetamines – stimulants prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
  • Vicodin – an opioid pain medicine made up of hydrocodone combined with acetaminophen.
  • Prescription cough medicines – typically containing codeine and powerful antihistamines.
  • Benzodiazepines – central nervous system depressants that slow down brain and nervous system activity.
  • Barbiturates – a type of central nervous system depressant that acts as a sedative or tranquilizer.
  • Oxycontin – an opioid usually prescribed for pain.
  • Ritalin – a stimulant (methylphenidate) prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

A Major Problem in the US

Approximately 6% of adults in the US abuse prescription drugs each year. Of those, 12% are addicted. The opioid crisis has developed in part out of these addictions and now 82% of the prescriptions filled at the pharmacy are opioids.  

The National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics has found that 45.8% of adults in the US have used a prescription drug, whether legally or not, in the past 30 days. Drug abuse and misuse, addiction, and overdoses arise out of the increased availability of prescription medications.

It is estimated that 16.3 million people misuse prescriptions every year, 3.7 million of which experience prescription drug abuse for the first time. Those first-time abusers use primarily painkillers (43.3%), followed by those who sedatives or tranquilizers (32%). A total of 52 million people over the age of 12 have deliberately misused prescription drugs at least once.

All Ages, Races, and Socioeconomic Backgrounds

Prescription drug abuse spans geographic borders, age groups, gender, race, education level, and backgrounds. While women are 11% more likely to be prescribed medication, men are 22.9% more likely to misuse them. The types of prescription drug use varies somewhat by gender as women are more likely to use stimulants to increase alertness while men are more likely to use them to get high or to experiment. People who started using stimulants in college are more likely to abuse them for fun or out of curiosity.

While older adults tend to be prescribed more medications and are at increased risk of addiction because of the number and variety of drugs they take, prescription drug abuse is more common among people between the ages of 18 and 25. In fact, 14.4% of adults aged 18 to 25 abuse prescription drugs each year. Of the even younger generation, those between the ages of 12 and 17, 4.9% abuse prescriptions every year.

Accessibility has been cited as a factor for prescription drug abuse among teenagers as well as among older adults. The majority, over 50%, of older patients take more than five medications daily. Among teenagers, 62% say they choose to abuse prescription drugs because they’re easy to get, usually from their parents’ medicine cabinets, and 35% say they think, incorrectly, that prescriptions are safer than illegal drugs.

Overdoses and Deaths

Geographically, the states with the highest percentage of drug overdose deaths in 2018 were West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. 76% of those deaths were among white / non-Hispanics, 13% were among blacks / non-Hispanics, and 9% among Hispanics. Nationwide, there have been more than 700,000 deaths attributed to drug overdoses. Approximately 75% of those deaths are caused by opioids, many of which are prescription painkillers that have been abused and misused.


When you are struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs, recovery starts with supervised detox so you can safely rid your body of the toxic substance. At BRC Recovery, we help you heal your mind and your body while addressing the underlying issues that lead to your addiction. We bring you real change for your life, with proven treatment options that will empower you to recreate and reclaim your life.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we offer a safe, clean environment so you can continue receiving the highest quality of care. To learn more about our services and to get the help you need, please call BRC Recovery at 1-866-291-2676 to speak to our team.