Commonly Abused Drugs

Get Facts: Commonly Abused Drugs

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Prescription Drugs Commonly Abused By Teens

Painkillers (opioids)

Painkillers are medications that are prescribed to relieve pain. They are often prescribed to treat acute and chronic pain disorders.

Opioid painkillers are also called "narcotics" or "prescription pain relievers."

What Can Happen

    • Inappropriate repeated use can lead to addiction
    • Taking a large single dose can cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death
    • NOT safe to use with alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines
    • When a person abruptly stops taking an opioid, withdrawal symptoms may occur which include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, vomiting, goosebumps and cold flashes


Depressants can be used in the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders.

They act by slowing normal brain function. Classes of depressants include barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

What Can Happen

    • Slowed brain activity results in sleepiness and lack of coordination during first days of taking depressants
    • As tolerance builds, larger doses become necessary for same effect
    • Continued use may lead to dependence
    • When a person stops taking depressants, brain activity rebounds and can race out of control, potentially leading to seizures and other harmful consequences
    • Use with alcohol can lead to death


Stimulants are prescribed for health conditions including narcolepsy (a rare sleep disorder), attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression that has not responded to other treatments.

Stimulants increase alertness, attention and energy, can elevate blood pressure and increase heart rate and respiration.

What Can Happen

    • Inappropriate repeated use over a short period can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia
    • High doses may result in a dangerously high temperature, irregular heartbeat
    • Potential for heart failure or seizures
    • Combining stimulants with over-the-counter cold medicines with decongestants may cause dangerously high blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms