OxyContin, codeine among top 10 most common prescription drug addictions

Thursday, October 15, 2015 | By JP Emerald Coast

When people think of addiction, the first image that comes to mind is usually the nightmare of dependency on drugs like meth or heroin — chemicals that are found on the streets in unknown dosages from questionable sources. However, most people are likely to overlook the dangerous strength of the remedies in their own medicine cabinets.

Prescription drugs have the potential to be lifesavers or destroy someone’s life altogether through the development of substance abuse and addiction. The worst part is that many individuals still don’t understand that prescription drugs aren’t in a league of their own — many of them come from the same sources as drugs like meth and heroin and they can have effects that are just as devastating.

To understand why and how leading prescription drugs cause addiction, it’s important to remember the three categories that most addictive drugs fall into.

  • Stimulants: These drugs catalyze increases in brain activity, temporarily improving alertness, energy and focus in users.
  • Central Nervous System Depressants: Also known as tranquilizers, depressants put the brakes on brain activity and create calming, quieting effects.
  • Opioids: As powerful painkillers, opioids are some of the most sought-after and misused prescriptions. However, their analgesic effects soon require more and more of the drug to work — leading to addiction.

You’ve probably heard of these drug types before, mainly due to some astonishing statistics:



  • 34% of Americans take at least one prescription drug.
  • 5% of those individuals are on three or more prescription medications.

With numbers like these, it’s clear that not enough people know what they’re getting into with prescription medications. That’s why we’ve gathered a list of what you need to know about the top ten most common prescription drug addictions, and how you can keep substance abuse out of your life.


1) OxyContin (Oxycodone)

This partially-synthetic opioid medication is a go-to when doctors are prescribing medicinal treatment for moderate to severe pain. It’s one of the most famous drugs in America, with the U.S. consuming an astonishing 81% of the world’s supply under brand names like OxyContin.

What does it treat?

Since oxycodone is used for pain relief, it can be prescribed to help manage practically any condition from temporary injuries to chronic illnesses like arthritis to cancer.

Because oxycodone is an opioid, it behaves much the same way as opium does. It attaches to proteins that act as opioid receptors found on nerve cells all over the body.

What are the risks?

Everyday side effects to oxycodone include symptoms like nausea, headache, dizziness and fatigue — but things get scary over the long term. Continued abuse of oxycodone can lead to:

  • Suppression of the immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Respiratory distress

Since one of the main effects of oxycodone is slowing of the respiratory system, long-term lack of proper oxygenation can cause serious health issues. On top of that, addiction is incredibly easy to come by with this drug, since doctors can’t realistically gauge how much a request for dosage increase is due to greater pain or simply greater tolerance.


2) Codeine

Another member of the opioid family, hydrocodone is also known as codeine. It’s one of the most widely used and abused prescription medications in America, and we seem to want it all for ourselves: In 2010, 99% of the world’s hydrocodone stock was consumed by the United States.


What does it treat?

Hydrocodone has two main useful effects. Like a typical opioid, it binds to pertinent receptors and dampens the effect of pain while inducing drowsiness. This makes it highly effective in the management of pain from injury or disease. However, this common prescription also has antitussive effects, meaning it can help stop coughing. One of the most commonly abused forms of hydrocodone is in cough syrup, which is often mixed with alcohol to form a dangerous recreational cocktail.

What are the risks?

Hydrocodone’s opioid nature makes it a very risky drug to use in the long term. Because tolerance can build within weeks or months, it’s important to be aware of its effects:

  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Labored or shallow breathing
  • Hyperglycemia
  • Drowsiness & sleepiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea & vomiting

Tapping into the central nervous system is certainly a direct method of pain relief, but it’s an extreme risk to take because it can lead to painful withdrawals once someone tries to seek help for their addiction. Luckily, professional detox programs can help you swiftly and safely get clean.


3) Valium

Since 1963, diazepam (known most popularly as Valium) has been the go-to drug for patients who complain of anxiety and inability to sleep. It’s become so popular that after its patent expiry in 1985, we now have access to more than 500 different generic varieties of the drug.

What does it treat?

As the name might suggest, diazepam is part of the benzodiazepine family. It takes action on the thalamus, hypothalamus and limbic system in the brain — areas that are all tied to emotions. This makes it ideal for treating:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety & panic attacks
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Seizures or muscle spasms

It’s sometimes used to ease symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Because of its long action time, it’s even used to help wean people off of other benzodiazepines.

What are the dangers?

Though benzodiazepines are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs out there, they’re far from the safest. 2011 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that:


  • Benzodiazepines like diazepam were present in 29.3% of suicide attempts involving drugs.
  • In emergency room visits caused by non-medical pharmaceutical use, benzodiazepines were present 28.7% of the time.


It’s clear that this drug’s popularity is rooted in its power — but that’s also what makes it so dangerous and so addictive.


4) Ambien

This popular sleep aid containing zolpidem is the biggest seller in its category, thanks to the benzodiazepine-like effects it has on users.

What does it treat?

Doctors prescribe this drug in the short term — usually between two and six weeks of use. It is used specifically to help initiate sleep and doesn’t do much for maintaining sleep. Aside from being commonly prescribed for insomnia, zolpidem has been found to exhibit some anticonvulsant effects.

What are the dangers?

Because zolpidem is so fast-acting, people who become dependent on it can start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as two or three hours following their last dose. These unpleasant occurrences can include:

  • Severe headaches
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Increased impulsivity

Zolpidem is also known for its dangerous recreational uses. When used improperly it can result in vivid hallucinations and anterograde amnesia — a partial inability to form new memories after consumption of the drug.


5) Demerol

This source of pain relief has been around since 1939. Also called meperidine, it’s another branch of the opioid family that has managed to remain quite popular throughout the decades.

What does it treat?

Today, Demerol is the most widely-used opioid in the process of labor and delivery. While it has fallen somewhat out of favor in the U.S., it is used in the United Kingdom during birth. Meperidine is also frequently used to manage diverticulitis since it decreases pressure in the lower digestive tract.

What are the dangers?

Though patients don’t take meperidine home with them on a frequent basis — it is extremely addictive when prescribed. It creates one of the most extreme highs in the opioid family and has incredibly destructive side effects such as:

  • Anxiety & other mood changes
  • Kidney failure
  • Convulsions & seizures

Demerol isn’t meant to be taken over the long term, making addiction to it even more devastating.


6) Adderall

As an amphetamine drug, Adderall is a powerful stimulant in the phenethylamine family. It works by increasing neurotransmitter activity in the brain.

What does it treat?

Though primarily prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it has other uses as well. For example, it can be used as treatment for narcolepsy.

Outside of recommended guidelines, individuals commonly use Adderall as performance enhancers in cognitive and even athletic arenas — and it can easily become an addiction.

What are the dangers?

When used improperly, this powerful stimulant can bring on symptoms such as:

  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Confusion & irritation
  • Muscle pain
  • Painful urination
  • Tremors & muscle spasms

Severe overdoses are connected with symptoms like cardiogenic shock, cerebral hemorrhage and complete circulatory collapse — all of which can be fatal. Seeking treatment for Adderall addiction can mean the difference between life and death.


7) Percocet

This entry from the opioid family is a combination drug comprised of oxycodone combined with acetaminophen (Tylenol). The cross is intended to lessen the chance of abuse and dependency, but Percocet is still one of the most commonly prescribed addictive drugs.

What does it treat?

Like other medications in the opioid family, Percocet’s primary function is to help patients manage acute pain in the short term.

What are the dangers?

Even when taken in moderation, users of Percocet still run the risk of:

  • Constipation, nausea or vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness & lightheadedness
  • Headache & blurred vision

Among other things, long-term use of Percocet can lead to liver damage and eventual failure due to its acetaminophen content. Its opioid component is also strong enough to bring on circulatory and heart damage as well as respiratory complications.


8) Dextromethorphan

More frequently referred to as DMX, dextromethorphan is one of the most common prescription drug that causes addiction — and you can probably find it in a medicine cabinet near you.

What does it treat?

DMX’s primary function is as a cough suppressant, which is why it’s so easy to find in the form of cough syrup. However, many people — especially teens — misuse it recreationally. In high doses it produces dissociative states.

What are the dangers?

When taken improperly, dextromethorphan causes a wide range of side effects, including but not limited to:

  • Hallucinations & dissociation
  • Vomiting
  • Blackouts
  • Blurry & unfocused vision
  • Fever & sweating

And taking prescribed doses for a period over one or two weeks can cause the possibility of developing addiction to skyrocket.


9) Ritalin

Another drug in the amphetamine family, Ritalin is also known by its scientific name, methylphenidate. Like its cousin Adderall, it’s one of the leading prescription drugs that cause addiction.

What does it treat?

Like Adderall, Ritalin is prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. However, its off-label uses include weight loss and cognitive enhancement. In fact, one of the biggest demographics that abuse Ritalin is college students.

Between 1993 and 2005, abuse of Ritalin on college campuses rose an astonishing 93%, and the numbers are still growing.


While it may provide temporary cognitive enhancement, it also comes with a host of side effects when used improperly.

What are the dangers?

In the short term, Ritalin abuse can create symptoms like:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety & elevated heart rate

These are unpleasant in and of themselves, but the picture becomes even more upsetting when you factor in long-term misuse and addiction to this commonly prescribed drug. After a prolonged period, you’re looking at effects like:

  • Permanent circulatory damage
  • Disorientation & confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Muscle spasms or seizures

And as with the other commonly prescribed addictive drugs on this list, addiction can even end in fatality if not caught and treated.


10) Vicodin

This extremely popular painkiller is a combination of two different analgesic compounds: paracetamol and hydrocodone. Of all the hydrocodone combination prescriptions available, Vicodin consistently tops the best-seller list.

What does it treat?

Vicodin is an all-purpose analgesic for moderate to severe pain. While this makes it effective for pain management in a wide range of cases, its popularity often backfires. Vicodin is one of the most dangerous drugs to use for non-medical purposes, and according to NIDA it’s a huge threat to teens and adolescents.

In 2012, 7.5% of twelfth-graders reported recreational use of Vicodin.


Even school-aged children are finding ways to get their hands on this powerful drug—without even being aware of its destructive potential.

What are the dangers?

Like many other painkillers, Vicodin is a member of the opioid family. That means that both its immediate effects and long-term risks are similar to those of heroin abuse. Nausea, vomiting, constipation are common side effects, but continued use of Vicodin can lead to these consequences on top of addiction:

  • Liver damage & failure
  • Urinary system complications
  • Respiratory suppression

Opioid drugs tap directly into the central nervous system, which in the long term can make them just as deadly as they are effective. Erosion of the body’s vital systems, like the liver and circulatory system, can lead to coma or even death if addiction to Vicodin isn’t stopped and treated effectively.

Moving Forward Drug-Free

As you’ve learned, many prescription medications carry a heavy risk of abuse and addiction, even when managed by your doctor. That’s why it’s important to understand that although addiction is not a choice, the decision to seek out help and support to aid your recovery is.

JourneyPure Emerald Coast is a leading addiction recovery center, with the specialized resources to help people treat their addictions to prescription drugs. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, you’ll find the personalization, professionalism and support you need to begin a new life in healthful sobriety.

A holistic philosophy focuses on treating each person individually through healing of both body and mind. From experiential therapy to medication management, to dietary and nutritional counseling, JourneyPure Emerald Coast takes your health seriously. Our clinical specialists are there to guide you through learning more about the physical and psychological processes of addiction—and how you can stop them.

If you or someone you love is shouldering the burden of addiction to drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast. Start your journey today.

Learn About

What Makes Emerald Coast Different