Addictive Prescription Opioids

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. Prescription Opioid Addiction
  2. Are all prescription painkillers addictive?
  3. Highly addictive prescription drugs
  4. Why are prescription opioids so addictive?
  5. Categories of addictive prescription drugs
  6. Legal view of prescription opioids
  7. Opioid Dependence Rehab Treatment

Prescription Opioid Addiction

Addictive prescriptive drugs are medications taken to treat medical conditions but can be addictive and lead to dependence. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in the United States, and it is important to be aware of the dangers of these drugs.

Addictive prescription drugs may include opioids, sedatives or stimulants. These drugs may be prescribed to relieve pain following an injury, or in the case of painkillers, to alleviate pain associated with a chronic condition such as cancer.

However, because these medications can produce euphoric effects, people may become dependent on them and seek to continue using the drugs despite their negative consequences.

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How Many Prescription Drugs Are Addictive?

About 52 million people in the United States ages 12 and older have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once in their lives. Of these, nearly 20 million people have used prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons, and 5.1 million have used prescription sedatives for non-medical reasons.

There are a variety of prescription drugs that can be addictive, and the most addictive ones are opioids, depressants, sedatives or stimulants. Painkillers, such as oxycodone, are commonly prescribed to relieve pain following an injury. Sedatives, such as Xanax are often prescribed to treat anxiety disorders.

What’s more, stimulant drugs can also be addictive. Stimulants, such as Adderall, are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Prescription stimulants increase levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which is the mechanism by which the drugs produce a sense of euphoria.

If taking these drugs develops into a dependence or an addiction, opioid detox treatment will many times be necessary. Drug rehab centers such as Avenues provide a medically overseen opioid detox program, designed to wean the patient off the addictive prescription drug safely. Undergoing drug detox alone (as well as alcohol detox for that matter) can be extremely dangerous . Sometimes it may even be fatal. It is extremely prudent to identify an opioid detox rehab center that will handle the situation with the clinical and medical care it needs.

Highly Addictive Prescription Drugs

Opioids, sedatives, and stimulants are among the most highly addictive prescription drugs. People who use these drugs for non-medical reasons can become addicted very fast. Plus, stopping the medication abruptly can result in severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures or agitation. What’s more, these medications can be dangerous if taken in high doses.

Addictive Prescription Drugs List

Some prescription drugs have a high dependency potential, thereby leading to addiction. Here’s a list of addictive prescriptive drugs:

Morphine and Opioids Derivatives

Examples include:

  • Morphine (Duramorph and Roxanol).
  • Codeine (Tylenol with codeine, Empirin with codeine, Robitussin A-C, and Florinal with codeine).
  • Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Actiq, and Duragesic).
  • Methadone (Dolophine and Methadose).
  • Other opioid pain killers (Oxycodone HCL, Meperidine, Oxymorphone, Propoxyphene, and Hydrocodone Bitartrate Hydromorphone)

Examples include:

  • Benzodiazepines (Halcion, Xanax, Librium, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin).
  • Barbiturates (Seconal, Nembutal, Phenobarbital, and Amytal).
  • Sleep medicines (Zaleplon, Zolpidem, and Eszopiclone).

Examples are:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).
  • Amphetamines (Adderall, Biphetamine, and Dexedrine). 

Why Are Prescription Drugs Addictive?

Prescriptive drugs are addictive because of how they interact with the brain. They act as neurotransmitters, just like dopamine. Neurotransmitters send signals to the brain by attaching themselves to receptors on surrounding cells. Different category of drugs works differently on the brain. For instance:

  • Depressants – depressants like Valium and Xanax help relieve anxiety symptoms in people suffering from anxiety or panic attacks. They make someone feel relaxed and calm, just as “club drugs” like Rohypnol and GHB do.
  • Opioid pain medicines – this category includes drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl (Duragesic). These drugs bind to opioid receptors. The opioid receptors are found on nerve cells in many parts of the body and brain, more so in parts of the brain responsible for perceiving pleasure and pain.
  • Stimulants – stimulants are mainly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They work in the same way as cocaine. That is, they cause dopamine and norepinephrine build up. Examples of such drugs include methylphenidates (Concerta and Ritalin) and amphetamines (Adderall). 

Once abused, these drugs, either directly or indirectly, lead to an increase in dopamine in the brain creating a pleasurable feeling. Continued use of these drugs with the intent of experiencing pleasure can result in addiction. 
Again, it is important to remember that substance abuse rehab centers are most often the best place to address opioid addiction. Treatment by the people who are professionally trained will help you detox safely from opioids, and eventually enter an opioid addiction inpatient or outpatient treatment program that will create a chance at lasting addiction recovery.

Opioid Prescription Drugs Categories


Opioids are considered the most addictive prescription drugs. They are mainly used as pain killers (to relieve pain), especially when over-the-counter pain relievers don’t seem to work. Opioids are primarily given to people in severe pain following surgery, disability, or chronic conditions like cancer.

When opioids are misused, they pose serious risks and side effects. For instance, low blood pressure, low pulse, arrested/slow breath, unconsciousness, coma, or even death. Examples of commonly abused opioids include Percocet, OxyContin, and Vicodin. The consequences of opioid abuse can be very serious.

Other prescription drugs like depressants, stimulants, and sedatives are also among the most addictive prescription drugs.

Sedatives and Depressants

Depressants and sedatives help relieve sleep disorders, panic attacks, and anxiety. They function by slowing down brain activities, thereby producing a calming and relaxing effect. They can also help reduce inhibitions and make someone have a well-being feeling. The most common abused depressants are Ambien, Valium, and Xanax.

Since sedatives and depressants function by slowing down brain activities, their use (especially if regular) should not be stopped abruptly. Doing so can lead to serious side effects like seizures, low blood pressure, slowed breathing, respiratory issues, or death.


Stimulants are mainly used to improve alertness, concentration, and focus (temporarily). People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), or obese people (in some cases) are often prescribed these medications. The most commonly abused stimulants are Ritalin, Adderall, and Concerta.

Ritalin and Adderall are especially abused more by high school and college students during exams. This is because of their ability to help someone feel motivated and enhance concentration and mental focus. Furthermore, these drugs can create exhilaration, euphoria and increase mental energy.

Legal View of Addictive Prescriptive Drugs

The legal view of addictive prescription drugs is that they are regulated/controlled substances. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the distribution and use of prescription drugs in the United States.

In order to prescribe a controlled substance, a doctor should be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The DEA is responsible for enforcing federal drug laws, and it classifies drugs into five schedules based on their potential for abuse and addiction.

Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous with a high potential for abuse. They include heroin, marijuana, lysergic acid diethylamide, peyote, and methaqualone.

Schedule II drugs similarly have a high potential for abuse and a high potential for serious psychological or physical dependence. They include cocaine, methadone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, meperidine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, and Adderall.

Schedule III drugs have a moderate to low physical and psychological dependence potential. Examples (drugs having at least 90 mg codeine per dose unit) are anabolic steroids, testosterone, and ketamine.

Schedule IV drugs are chemicals or substances with low dependence risk and abuse potential. They include Soma, Ativan, Tramadol, Xanax, Darvocet, Darvon, Ambien, and Talwin.

Schedule V drugs are chemicals or substances that have a lower abuse potential than other drug schedules. These drugs consist of preparations having restricted amounts of specific narcotics. Schedule V drugs are commonly used as an analgesic, antitussive, and antidiarrheal drugs. Examples are Lomotil, Lyrica, Parepectolin, Motofen, and cough preparations containing less than 200 mg codeine per 100 ml (Robitussin AC).

Opioid Dependence Treatment

Because these drugs can produce euphoric effects, people who become dependent on them continue using them despite the side effects leading to addiction. Sometimes it takes several months of use before experiencing the positive impact of some of these drugs. This can lead people who start using the drugs for non-medical reasons to “test drive” them in order to experience its effects quickly. This can lead to dependency and subsequent addiction.

There are many people who have found themselves addicted to prescription drugs, and they may not even know it. Prescription drug addiction is a serious problem in the United States that needs more attention from doctors and policymakers alike. The best way to avoid becoming addicted to prescription drugs is by being aware of your medical history as well as what you’re taking at any given time. This will help prevent accidental addiction or misuse of medications prescribed for chronic pain, anxiety, or other conditions.

Drug rehab centers are equipped to handle addiction treatment most effectively, once it has developed. If you or a loved one are battling opioid addiction, getting treatment at a good opioid addiction treatment facility are the best way to restart life and get a second chance.

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