Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. When abused and taken without a doctor’s guidance, they can cause serious physical and mental health problems. Plus, it’s illegal, just like taking street drugs. Get the facts on prescription drugs and how you can help prevent drug abuse.

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Prescription drugs are prescribed by a doctor, so they are fine, right? Well, it depends. Prescription drug abuse can feel like a gray area. Yes, prescription drugs are legally prescribed, but there are important parameters that make prescription drugs legal. Not following these guidelines makes prescription drug use illegal, not to mention dangerous. When misused and abused, prescription drugs can be deadly and cause addiction.

Prescription drug misuse and abuse occurs when someone takes medication inappropriately. That could be taking the medication without a prescription. It could mean taking someone else’s prescription. It also includes buying prescription drugs from another person. 

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include the following:



A stimulant is a substance that raises the levels of physiological or nervous activity in a person’s body. It directly affects the nervous system and can be addictive. Some examples of prescription drug stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Mydayis.



An opioid produces a morphine-like effect and is used for pain control. Opioids have addictive and physiological effects. Examples of commonly abused opioids include Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Fentanyl, and Morphine.



Antidepressants are used to treat depressive disorders. They correct chemical imbalances in the brain. Examples of commonly abused antidepressants include Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro, and Paxil.



Anxiolytics, or anti-anxiety medications, alter the levels of chemicals in your brain. They block receptors in the brain that cause anxiety. Examples of anti-anxiety medications commonly abused include Xanax, Valium, Ambian, and Nembutal.

Know the Risks

We discussed some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs above. Now let’s talk about why it’s so dangerous to abuse those drugs.


Stimulants have side effects that are similar to the side effects one gets with cocaine. Those effects include:

These risks increase if stimulants are taken in high doses or in a way different than by mouth.


Opioids have side effects that are similar to heroin. They can cause the following:


Antidepressants have a wide range of side effects. Some of those side effects include:


Some of the most common side effects of anti-anxiety medications are listed below:

Youth Prescription Drug Abuse Data

Middle School Students (6th - 8th grade)

Abuse of prescription drugs is very uncommon among Johnson County middle schoolers. The percentage of middle schoolers not abusing prescription drugs steadily remains above 95% throughout each of the grades. 

Source: Georgia Student Health Survey, 2022

High School Students (9th - 12th grade)

Coming into high school, prescription drug abuse is still highly uncommon. The percentage of students not abusing prescription drugs rises above the state average in 9th through 11th grade. In 12th grade, the percentage drops down to 83%, but still a large majority of 12th graders not abusing prescription drugs.

Source: Georgia Student Health Survey, 2022

Common Myths

In reality, prescription drugs can be very dangerous when taken in a way that is not recommended by a doctor. They are especially harmful to developing brains. As brains are developing, the pathways being reinforced are the ones that become permanent. One of those pathways includes addiction. Prescription drug abuse can also cause many long-term problems in the body.

There is a strong correlation between substance abuse and depression. A survey of adolescents found that emotional vulnerability increased likelihood of drug use in kids. Depression levels and the risk of lifetime drug use increase when a person uses drugs in adolescence.

High school and college students frequently believe that the prescription drug Adderall can help them get all their work done and do better in school. However, research has shown that students who abuse stimulants have lower GPAs in high school and college.

It is never okay to use any prescription drug that was not prescribed for you. Even if it seems harmless like an antibiotic, sharing prescription drugs is illegal. Prescription drugs are prescribed for a specific individual at a specific dose. Only a doctor knows what is safe for a patient. Additionally, if you share your prescriptions with someone else, you may accidentally be helping feed an addiction. There is also the potential for an allergic reaction or other medical emergency.

Prevention Tips for Youth

You know the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, but what can you do when offered a prescription drug? Keep reading to learn how to stay on track and say no to prescription drugs.

Tip #1

Understand the dangers of drug abuse for yourself. If you read up on why prescription drug abuse can be so harmful, chances are you won’t have any interest in giving it a try. There are so many dangerous side effects, that it’s unlikely you’ll find any upside.

Tip #2

Say no with confidence. When you know who you are and what you want, it’s easier to say no to drugs. Plus, other kids are less likely to challenge you when you say no with strength and conviction.

Tip #3

Change the subject. If the conversation turns to the idea of taking prescription drugs, try to change the subject. That way you won’t be put on the spot. You can talk about an upcoming game or event, a big test, or summer plans.

Tip #4

Know the statistics. In 2021, 91,799 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States. That’s a scary number. And while it may seem like a lot of people abuse prescription drugs, understand that you are not alone in saying no. The majority of teens do not abuse prescription drugs.

Prevention Tips for Parents

Tip #1

Start the conversation.
Educate yourself and your children about prescription drug abuse. Know which prescription drugs are most commonly abused. You can refer to the foregoing list. Make sure your kids know how dangerous abusing prescription drugs can be to their health and well-being.

Tip #2

Understand the reasons. It’s helpful to know why kids are abusing prescription drugs. Studies have found that there are various reasons why kids decide to use prescription drugs without a prescription. Some of those reasons include boredom, anxiety or depression, access to a parent’s prescriptions, and peer pressure.

Tip #3

Keep family medications safe.
If any family members have prescription drugs, make sure you keep them in a safe place where you can keep track of them. It’s also a good idea to monitor the number of pills and ensure you can account for them. Even if you are confident your children are not getting into the prescription drugs, you can’t be sure that any friends won’t get into the prescription drugs.

Tip #4

Do not talk about drugs in a positive way. Yes, prescription drugs can be important to alleviate pain or help balance chemicals in the brain, but be careful how you talk about drugs around your kids. Take your medications discretely and try not to mention how much better you feel after taking any drug–over-the-counter or prescription. Do not give your children the idea that drugs are positive.

Know the Warning Signs

Warning signs of prescription drug abuse can include behavioral and physical changes. Knowing what to watch for can help you intervene if someone is abusing prescription drugs.

Behavioral changes may look like:

Physical changes may look like:

Test Your Knowledge


Test Your Knowledge - Prescription Drugs

1 / 10

How many people died from prescription drug overdose in the United States in 2021?

2 / 10

True or False? It’s okay to use prescription drugs if you got it from a family member.

3 / 10

Which of the following are commonly abused prescription drugs?

4 / 10

True or False: Abusing prescription drugs can help you do better in school.

5 / 10

Which of the following are symptoms of opioid abuse? Check all that apply:

6 / 10

How many teens have abused prescription drugs?

7 / 10

Which of the following are behavioral signs of prescription drug abuse?

8 / 10

About ___ million kids have abused prescription drugs in the United States.

9 / 10

True or False? The majority of teens do not abuse prescription drugs.

10 / 10

 A stimulant is a substance that ______ the levels of physiological or nervous system activity in a person’s body. 

Your score is



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Resources for Parents

Resources for parents to help prevent underage substance abuse, including conversation guides, fact sheets, online resources, and more!

Resources for Youth

Resources for youth to help learn the risks and prevent substance abuse, including apps, games, websites, media, and more!

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