There are several commonly abused prescription drugs.

Prescription benzodiazepines - Benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos’, ‘sedatives’ and ‘tranquilisers’, are a widely-abused classification of prescription medication. These types of prescription drugs may be prescribed to you if you have been struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and certain other psychiatric and medical conditions.

Some types of benzodiazepines include:

These types of drugs are known to create a sense of calm to the individual making them seem relaxed. This feeling can quickly become addictive.

Prescription opioids – These are typically the most commonly misused prescription drugs. They have very strong painkilling properties. The aim of these types of drugs is to numb pain but they also can create a sense of euphoria. Opioids have an addictive nature and by creating this relaxing feeling can become addictive quickly.

These drugs may be prescribed if someone is experiencing moderate pain from a chronic condition, injury or surgery.

Some types of opioids include:

Prescription stimulants – This type of prescription drug is usually prescribed to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) and narcolepsy which is uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. They are used to increase energy, attention and alertness by increasing dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is linked to pleasure in the brain which means that this drug can become highly addictive.

Types of prescription stimulants include:

  • Methylphenidate (such as Concerta, Ritalin)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine)

Many people abuse prescription drugs without realising it. Even though they are prescribed by a doctor, taking a larger dose of a prescription medication than is advised by a doctor is abuse. Many people do this automatically if they notice they are not getting the same level of relief from the drug that they did at first. Increasing your dose of can often lead to tolerance and dependence, and drug abuse can lead to addiction.

If prescription drugs are starting to interfere with daily life and is making it difficult to handle usual responsibilities at work and at home, you may have a problem. Continuing to use prescription drugs despite being aware of the harm it is causing signifies an addiction.

PHE’s analysis shows that, in 2017 to 2018, 11.5 million adults in England (26% of the adult population) received, and had dispensed, one or more prescriptions for any of the medicines within the scope of the review. The totals for each medicine were:

  • antidepressants 7.3 million people (17% of the adult population)
  • opioid pain medicines 5.6 million (13%)
  • gabapentinoids 1.5 million (3%)
  • benzodiazepines 1.4 million (3%)
  • z-drugs 1.0 million (2%)

Environmental factors

A prescription to treat any sort of issue such as anxiety or pain can quickly lead to an individual becoming tolerant of the drug and later addicted as the user relies on it to feel better.

Psychological Factors

Those taking prescription drugs for stress or to help them sleep may soon feel that they cannot feel ‘normal’ without it, so keep taking it in higher doses as their tolerance builds.

Genetic predisposition

A family history of drug abuse and/or addiction, as well as mental health disorders, increases the chances of someone developing an addiction.

Changes in Brain Chemistry

Prescription drugs affect the chemical balance and neurotransmitters in the brain, which means users need to feel well and can suffer withdrawal symptoms unless use is tapered off slowly.


If you become addicted to a prescription drug, which can happen quite quickly with certain medications, you will lose the ability to control how much of the drug that you take and how often you take it, which can cause your addiction to worsen over time and have an increasingly detrimental impact on your wellbeing, health and quality of life.

The difference between prescription drug use and an addiction is that you are abusing the substance with no control. The individual will become dependant on that drug and it will start to affect their daily routine, taking priority over important tasks.