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In the U.S., there are many prescription and illegal drugs that people misuse. Certain medications—including opioids, pain relievers, stimulants, sleeping pills, and benzodiazepines—have a high potential for abuse, addiction, and dependence. Other drugs, such as psychedelics and certain antidepressant medications, are not addictive. However, some people may misuse or abuse these drugs, even if they do not have addictive properties.
Commonly misused drugs in the U.S. include, but are not limited to:
Illegal drugs, also called illicit drugs, are addictive substances that are purchased, taken, and abused illegally. A drug is also considered illegal if an individual takes a legal substance without a prescription.
Some illegal drugs include:
Amphetamines are stimulant drugs, which means they speed up how fast messages travel between your brain and body. Prescription stimulants treat ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. However, people commonly abuse amphetamines due to their stimulating, euphoric, and energizing effects on the body. People typically buy these drugs illegally and take them without a prescription.
Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal drug made from processed morphine. Most people who take the drug become long-term users. Once dependent, a person will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they suddenly stop taking the drug “cold turkey.” The severity varies based on genetics, the amount taken, and how long an individual has been using heroin. Overdose and sudden death can also occur.
Marijuana is considered a depressant, stimulant, and hallucinogenic drug. It triggers the release of dopamine in the brain and produces a relaxing “high.” Depending on the person, the effects of marijuana can either decrease or increase feelings of paranoia, depression, and/or anxiety. The substance is also commonly referred to as pot, weed, mary jane, and ganja, among others.
Marijuana is legal for medical and recreational use in some U.S. states, while it remains illegal in others.
Crack, also called crack cocaine, is the freebase form of cocaine that is typically smoked rather than snorted or dissolved and injected. The drug comes in the form of white or tan rocks and may be mixed with other substances, such as ammonia or fentanyl (a powerful synthetic opioid).
Crystal meth, also called meth, is a powerful and extremely addictive methamphetamine that has a glass-like appearance. The drug can be ingested, smoked, snorted, or dissolved and injected. Using meth can result in serious short- and long-term effects. These include “meth mouth,” heart issues, breathing difficulties, high blood pressure, overdose, and death.
Cocaine (coke) is a highly addictive and illegal substance that results in heightened energy levels, alertness, euphoria, and sometimes anxiety. It is classified as a CNS (central nervous system) stimulant and a local anesthetic. Street names for cocaine include blow, snow, c, rock, and powder.
GHB is a prescription central nervous (CNS) depressant, but people also abuse it recreationally. The drug comes in the form of a colorless liquid or white powder that is easily dissolvable in liquids. It is a well-known “date rape” drug because it can cause a temporary loss of consciousness for up to six hours.
Spice is a synthetic cannabinoid that is also known as a “psychoactive substance.” Many people refer to it as synthetic marijuana or weed. Common risk factors include increased heart rate, vomiting, hallucinations, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Spice is illegal because it is very addictive and can lead to dangerous and potentially fatal consequences.
Bath salts is the street name for synthetic cathinone, a human-made drug that produces stimulant effects. These effects include heightened energy levels, euphoria, and alertness. However, taking bath salts is extremely dangerous and can result in extreme paranoia, chest pain, dehydration, organ damage, increased heart rate, and death.
Speed is a highly addictive methamphetamine that comes in the form of a white powder. Users typically snort, inject, or take the drug orally. The effects of speed include increased activity, elevated heart rate, tremors, and dilated pupils, among others. Using speed can lead to an addiction in a short time, and abuse tends to worsen as a user becomes more tolerant.
PCP, also known as phencyclidine, is a dissociative hallucinogenic drug that blocks NMDA receptors in the brain. The pure form of PCP is a white crystal powder. Using the drugs results in hallucinations and distorted perceptions of reality. It can also lead to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and shallow breathing.
Club drugs, or party drugs, refer to substances people abuse at social gatherings, such as night clubs, parties, and concerts. Common club drugs include certain stimulants, psychedelics, and sedatives. Taking these drugs to enhance partying (or in combination with alcohol) can result in serious consequences, such as impaired driving, injuries from falls, sexual assault, legal problems, and fatal overdoses.
Ecstasy, also called MDMA or molly, is a powerful illegal stimulant that produces intense feelings of euphoria. It is considered a “party drug” because most users take the substance to enhance their moods while partying. The drug is human-made (synthetic) and can negatively impact your brain, body, and behaviors if used long-term. Tolerance, abuse, and addiction can also form over time.
There are many different types of prescription medications available. Doctors typically prescribe these drugs to treat sleep disorders, mental health disorders, or to relieve pain after surgeries. When used correctly and in the right dosages, these medications are considered safe. However, some people misuse prescription medications, which can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Commonly misused prescription medications include, but are not limited to:
Ambien is the brand name for zolpidem. It is used to treat people with insomnia, which is a condition that makes it difficult to fall and stay asleep. When misused long-term, the drug can be addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped “cold turkey.” These symptoms include muscle and stomach cramps, vomiting, sweating, tremors, and convulsions.
Ketamine is an anesthetic drug that is commonly used in surgeries. Recently, Ketamine has also been used to treat depression. The drug alters a person’s awareness of their thoughts, surroundings, and feelings. If someone takes a high dose of ketamine, they may experience terrifying feelings of sensory detachment. The drug is also addictive and can lead to an overdose or death.
Trazodone is an antidepressant medication that is prescribed to treat major depressive disorder and other mood disorders. However, some people abuse the drug without a prescription or take higher doses than prescribed, which is extremely dangerous. With prolonged use, serotonin syndrome, suicidal thoughts, and/or antidepressant discontinuation syndrome can develop.
Gabapentin is an anti-seizure or anticonvulsant medication. It is commonly used to treat chronic nerve pain, hot flashes, fibromyalgia, and alcohol use disorder (AUD). Side effects of drug use include diarrhea and vomiting, which can be dangerous if not taken seriously. Gabapentin is also addictive, and symptoms of addiction include changes in mood and behavior, poor coordination, and muscle tremors.
Soma (carisoprodol) is a prescription muscle relaxant that relieves acute musculoskeletal pain. People abuse Soma for its anti-anxiety, relaxing, and sedating effects. However, long-term and repeated use of the drug can lead to drug tolerance and withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.
Accutane (isotretinoin) is a prescription medication that treats severe nodular acne. It can cause psychosis, depression, and rarely, suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, and aggressive or violent behaviors. The medication is not shown to be addictive.
Provigil (modafinil) is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that treats sleep disorders (e.g., narcolepsy, shift work sleep disorder (SWSD), and sleep apnea) by promoting wakefulness. It is a Schedule IV drug, which means it has a low risk for addiction and dependence. However, it is still possible to become addicted to modafinil.
Wellbutrin (bupropion) is an antidepressant medication that treats major depressive disorder in adults. It is also used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is when episodes of depression occur during the fall and winter seasons. Although it is considered to be non-addictive, suicidal thoughts and seizures are two of the most serious potential side effects.
Narcan is a nasal spray medication that stops opioid overdoses. While it is not shown to be addictive, narcan can induce opioid withdrawal symptoms. These include fever, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, increased blood pressure, and weakness, among others.
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a group of drugs that produce sedating effects in the body. All benzodiazepines calm brain activity, slow down the central nervous system (CNS), and trigger euphoria.
Commonly used benzos that may lead to abuse, dependence, and addiction include:
Valium (diazepam) is a prescription benzodiazepine that is administered to patients with chronic medical conditions or after invasive medical procedures. Although safe when taken in the correct dosage, valium is a widely abused and very addictive drug. Overdoses are also common and can lead to extreme sedation, shakiness, unsteadiness, dizziness, and possibly death.
Klonopin (Clonazepam) is a sedative and prescription benzodiazepine that treats panic disorder, epilepsy, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Signs of addiction include persistent cravings for the drug and continuing to use it despite knowing the consequences. Overdose and withdrawal symptoms can also occur while taking Klonopin.
Restoril (temazepam) is a prescription benzodiazepine medication that treats insomnia (a sleep disorder). It slows down brain activity and increases pathways in the brain that make people relaxed and tired. However, when taken long-term or in high doses, Restoril can lead to dependence, tolerance, and addiction.
Halcion (triazolam) is another type of benzodiazepine that treats sleep disorders, such as insomnia. However, ongoing misuse of the drug results in a chronic brain disease that causes serious physical and mental health complications. Long-term use also makes it more difficult to stop taking the drug, which leads to addiction over time.
Midazolam (versed) also treats sleep disorders but is rarely administered to patients outside of clinical and hospital environments. This is because it is a potent medication that is strong enough to treat seizures, severe agitation, and schizophrenia. Physical dependence can happen within just a few weeks of using the drug. And, stopping ongoing use of Midazolam can trigger intense withdrawal symptoms, such as sleeping problems, cognitive impairment, seizures, and psychosis.
Ativan (lorazepam) is a prescription sedative and tranquilizer that boosts the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the body. It is usually prescribed to patients with insomnia and/or anxiety. It can also help prevent and control seizures in those with epilepsy. With ongoing use, a physical addiction can form. If taken in high doses, a life-threatening overdose can also occur.
Librium (chlordiazepoxide) treats anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorder (AUD), but it is only safe for short-term treatment. The medication can also trigger allergic reactions, serious side effects, and can lead to addiction over time. People also misuse the drug by taking it for longer than prescribed, taking higher doses than prescribed, or using it without a prescription.
Xanax (alprazolam) is a sedative and central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means it temporarily slows down your CNS and causes drowsiness. The drug is widely misused and can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Overdosing on Xanax is also common and can lead to death, especially when mixed with alcohol or other drugs.
Sleeping pills are prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that treat insomnia. There are many different types of sleeping pills — some are addictive, while others are not. When a person becomes addicted to sleeping pills, they always think about getting and taking more of the drug. Addiction negatively impacts daily life, including work, finances, and relationships.
Phenazepam is a psychoactive benzodiazepine that treats psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety. With prolonged use, severe side effects can develop, which may include suicidal thoughts, increased heart rate, respiratory depression, and low white blood count. Addiction can form over time, and withdrawal symptoms can develop if use is stopped abruptly. Also, combining Phenazepam with other central nervous system (CNS) depressants is the primary cause of death associated with Shenazepam use.
Rohypnol is a fast-acting sedative that slows down the central nervous system and can produce feelings of drowsiness, confusion, slowed reaction time, and loss of memory. This drug became known as ‘the date rape drug’ based on its sedative and memory impairing effects that were commonly misused as an aid in sexual assault. It also gained popularity as a club drug.
Opioids (narcotics) are a group of prescription drugs that relieve intense pain. There are three different forms of opioids, including natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic. These drugs are highly addictive and can lead to overdose and death when taken in high doses.
Commonly used opioids that lead to abuse, dependence, and addiction include:
Opiates (natural opioids) are prescription narcotic pain relievers. Some of the most popular opiates include Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin. When the drugs are used correctly under a doctor’s supervision, they are safe and effective. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), opiates are some of the most widely abused prescription medications.
Analgesics are prescription or over the counter (OTC) medications that relieve pain. Although they are effective pain relievers when used as directed, analgesic misuse can lead to severe side effects, addiction, and dependence.
Codeine is a prescription drug that comes in both pill and cough syrup form. It acts on the central nervous system (CNS) to relieve pain. Risk factors of misuse include tolerance, dependence, addiction, and overdose. Signs of codeine addiction may include depression, neglecting relationships, extreme fatigue, mood swings, apathy, memory issues, and financial and/or legal problems.
Vicoprofen is a short-term analgesic opioid pain reliever that contains both ibuprofen and hydrocodone. It is administered to injured patients who are in intense pain. However, this drug is a schedule II substance, which means it has a high risk of abuse and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can also develop if use is stopped abruptly. These symptoms include muscle fatigue, drastic mood swings, and intense cravings, among others. Overdose of Vicoprofen can lead to respiratory depression and death.
Methadone is an opioid that treats moderate to severe pain. It is also commonly used as a medication assisted treatment (MAT) for narcotic drug addictions. If taken in too high of doses, an overdose can occur. Additionally, long-term use may cause side effects, such as stomach pain, mood changes, vision problems, insomnia, and dry mouth, among others. In severe cases, seizures and/or breathing difficulties can occur.
Opium, also called Opana, is a highly addictive and strong illegal opioid used for its pain-relieving and euphoric properties. It is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. An opium overdose can also cause severe symptoms and death.
Opana (oxymorphone) is a strong and potent opioid pain reliever. The drug has a high risk of abuse, addiction, dependency, overdose, and death. Once dependent, a person will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they abruptly stop taking the drug.
Fentanyl is a prescription synthetic opioid and is the most powerful painkiller available. The drug is typically used to treat patients with severe pain after invasive medical procedures. Although safe when used as prescribed, fentanyl is commonly misused illegally. Tolerance, dependence, and addiction can form with prolonged use.
Dilaudid (hydromorphone) is an opioid medication that treats severe pain. The drug has a high potential for abuse, addiction, overdose, and death. Someone with a Dilaudid addiction will experience intense drug cravings and may be unable to stop using it despite knowing the harmful consequences. Dilaudid can also cause life-threatening respiratory depression in patients with lung issues.
Suboxone is a combination of the drugs Buprenorphine and Naloxone. It is used as a medication assisted treatment (MAT) for patients with opioid addictions. It is possible to overdose on Suboxone, though it is extremely difficult to do so. Once the drug has served its purpose of getting a patient to quit using, the doctor will continue to monitor the progress of the patient as they reduce the dosage.
Demerol is another addictive opioid pain medication that treats moderate to severe pain. It is typically only prescribed to patients short-term, which helps reduce the chance of tolerance and addiction formation. When taken in high doses or combined with other substances (e.g., alcohol), respiratory distress and death can occur.
Tramadol is a pain reliever that has a high risk of dependence and addiction. Similar to Demerol and other opioids, respiratory depression and death can occur if taken in high doses.
Hydrocodone (Hysingla) is a semi-synthetic opioid. It is usually prescribed to patients long-term to treat severe pain. It can also be used as a cough suppressant for adults. Tolerance, dependence, overdose, and addiction are common risk factors.
Vicodin is a prescription painkiller. It is a mixture of both acetaminophen and hydrocodone. This drug is typically only used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain. Respiratory distress and death can occur if taken in high doses or in combination with other substances, such as alcohol.
Morphine is another prescription opioid (narcotic) that treats moderate to severe pain. It is available in both short-acting and extended-release (XR) forms. When misused and abused, morphine has several risks. For example, there is a high risk of overdose, addiction, and physical dependence. It is also possible to overdose on morphine, and withdrawal symptoms can develop if use is stopped abruptly.
Oxycodone is a powerful painkiller that treats moderate to severe pain. It has a high risk of tolerance, addiction, and dependence. It is typically only administered after other opioid treatments fail or do not work well enough.
Propoxyphene (Darvon) is an analgesic opioid pain reliever. It is only intended to treat mild pain, rather than moderate to severe pain. Similar to other narcotics, when taken in too high of doses, addiction and overdose can occur.
Percocet, also called oxycodone or acetaminophen, is a type of prescription painkiller. In high doses, Percocet releases too much dopamine, which creates an intense and euphoric high. Misuse of the drug can lead to short- and long-term side effects, tolerance, addiction, and dependence. Overdose and death are also possible.
Norco is a mixture of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. It is an opioid pain reliever and antitussive (cough suppressant) that treats moderate to moderately severe pain. The drug is similar to codeine, a highly addictive pain reliever found in prescription cough syrups. Misuse of Norco can lead to tolerance, addiction, and physical dependence.
Lortab is an opioid pain reliever that consists of two different drugs, acetaminophen and hydrocodone. The drug is also linked to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects, including respiratory depression and liver failure. Lortab also has a high risk of abuse, addiction, and dependence.
Stimulants are prescription medications that increase an individual’s activity, alertness, interest, and enthusiasm. They do so by increasing activity in the central nervous system (CNS). While they are safe when used as prescribed, stimulants are some of the most widely misused drugs in the U.S.
Common types of stimulants include:
Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine are prescription stimulants that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder). When used as prescribed, they are effective and safe. However, many people tend to illegally misuse these substances, either without a prescription or in higher doses than prescribed. Long-term use can lead to serious side effects, including heart problems, memory issues, and mood disorders, among others. Tolerance, overdose, and addiction are also possible.
Focalin, also called dexmethylphenidate, is a mild stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). Similar to Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine, this medication treats ADHD. However, when misused or taken in high dosages, serious side effects can occur. These include irregular heartbeat, panic, psychosis, delirium, and heart failure.
Kratom is a plant that boosts mood, increases physical endurance, eases anxiety, and treats pain. Kratom has a history of traditional medicinal use in Southeast Asia and Africa, but recreational use of the substance is steadily increasing in the U.S. Although it is not currently listed as a controlled substance, misuse of kratom is linked to dependence, addiction, and life-threatening side effects.
Most antidepressants and anxiety medications are not addictive, but they can trigger serious side effects. These may include suicidal thoughts, serotonin syndrome, and other physical effects.
Commonly prescribed antidepressants include, but are not limited to:
Celexa (citalopram) is an antidepressant medication that treats major depressive disorder. It can also be prescribed “off-label” to treat other mental health conditions, such as alcohol dependence, eating disorders, and panic disorder, among others. Celexa is safe when used as prescribed. However, common side effects include negative drug interactions, serotonin syndrome, and an increased risk of suicide.
Paxil is an antidepressant medication that treats depression and anxiety disorders. Similar to Celexa, it is generally safe when used as prescribed. However, Paxil can interact with various drugs, and certain individuals may be more susceptible to serious side effects. The drug is not shown to be addictive. But, the discontinuation of Paxil can result in severe withdrawal and/or discontinuation symptoms.
Lexapro (escitalopram) is another antidepressant that treats common mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The potential for abuse and addiction from taking Lexapro has not been studied extensively. However, current research shows it is not an addictive drug. However, serious side effects can develop, such as memory impairment, muscle cramps, extreme fatigue, seizures, and coma.
Zoloft is an antidepressant that treats obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, and anxiety disorders. People who take Zoloft can experience a wide range of side effects. Some side effects are moderate, while others are more serious and potentially life-threatening. Zoloft has the potential for abuse and addiction. The symptoms of addiction are similar to the typical side effects of taking the drug.
Prozac (fluoxetine) is a common antidepressant medication used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions. These include bulimia, panic disorder, OCD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), and bipolar depression, among others. Risks of misuse include negative drug interactions, serotonin syndrome, increased risk of suicide, and more. Prozac is not addictive.
Vortioxetine (Trintellix) is a medication that treats major depressive disorder. Common side effects of use include nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, vomiting, dizziness, and abnormal dreams, among others. This drug is not shown to be addictive.
Luvox is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant medication. It is commonly prescribed to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Side effects of use are similar to the other antidepressant medications listed above. Luvox use should not be stopped abruptly due to the risk of discontinuation symptoms.
Viibryd is an antidepressant that can effectively treat depression and major depressive disorder in adults. Side effects of use are similar to the other antidepressant medications listed above. Viibryd use should not be stopped abruptly due to the risk of discontinuation symptoms.
Other drugs that may or may not lead to misuse, addiction, or other serious side effects include:
It is unlikely that over-the-counter (OTC) medications will lead to addiction or physical dependence. However, misusing OTC medications may cause health problems with long-term use. These include, but are not limited to, memory loss, heart problems, kidney failure, and death. Cough medicines are the most widely misused OTC drugs in the U.S.
Weight loss pills can cause dependence, abuse, and/or withdrawal symptoms with long-term use. And, many people misuse diet pills without knowing. This, in turn, can lead to serious health complications, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, restlessness, insomnia, and nervousness.
Muscle relaxants (muscle relaxers) are medications that treat muscle spasms or muscle spasticity by decreasing muscle tone in the body. Muscle relaxants should only be used short-term (up to three weeks). If they are used for longer, a patient may be at risk of misuse or addiction.
Some people who take steroids long-term can develop a steroid use disorder. This refers to when an individual cannot stop taking the drug or takes the drug despite knowing the adverse consequences. Withdrawal symptoms will also develop if steroid use is stopped abruptly.
Tranquilizers, also called sedatives, can be addictive and cause serious side effects. These include dizziness, confusion, and drowsiness. Memory and movement problems, decreased heart rate, and trouble breathing are also possible. These effects can become worse if the tranquilizer is combined with alcohol or other substances.
Psychedelics are also referred to as “hallucinogens.” Users of these drugs usually do not experience addiction symptoms, such as withdrawal and drug-seeking behavior. Although these drugs are not addictive, serious short- and long-term side effects can develop. These include drug-induced psychosis, visual disturbances, mood swings, paranoia, “halo” vision, seizures, and intense anxiety, among others.
Common types of psychedelics include:
LSD is a widely abused and powerful hallucinogen that is also known as “acid.”
These psychedelic drugs change a user’s perception of reality, cause auditory/visual hallucinations, and create feelings of timelessness.
This drug is also called “shrooms.” It is a type of mushroom that contains the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin.
Also known as 6-allyl-6-nor-LSD, AL-LAD is a psychedelic drug that has similar properties as LSD.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic tea from South America that results in the short loss of self-awareness. It is known to cause extreme hallucinations.
Peyote is one of the oldest known psychedelic drugs that comes from a spineless cactus.
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a naturally occurring hallucinogenic compound. The human brain produces DMT naturally. However, when consumed in large amounts, DMT produces powerful psychedelic effects. The compound is also in ayahuasca tea.