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    Prescription Drug Misuse Information

    Prescription Drug Misuse Information

    A prescription pill bottle with an example of a pill.

    Prescription drug misuse happens when a medicine is used in a way that is different from how it was prescribed by the health care provider (non-medical reason). This includes:
    • Taking more of the medicine than is prescribed.
    • Taking another person's medicine.
    • Taking the medicine for another reason.

    Common types of misused medicines include painkillers (such as opiates), depressants (tranquilizers and anti-anxiety drugs), and stimulants (amphetamines). Prescription drug misuse can cause:
    • Addiction.
    • Dangerous side effects.
    • Overdose, which can be deadly.

    How can drug misuse affect me?

    You may become addicted

    Misusing prescription medicine can lead to addiction. Addiction includes:
    • Having a need for the medicine, even though it is negatively affecting your life.
    • Needing more and more of the medicine to get the same effect (tolerance).
    • Feeling sick when you do not take the medicine (withdrawal).

    Misusing prescription medicine may require treatment for addiction.

    You may put your health in danger

    Misusing prescription medicines can put your health in danger. Misuse can:
    • Affect other medicines that you take and result in dangerous side effects.
    • Make you more likely to misuse other drugs, like tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.
    • Cause you to make poor decisions and engage in risky behavior. This can lead to problems at home, school, or work.
    • Cause you to overdose.
    • Affect your overall health.

    For pregnant women, drug misuse affects the woman's health and the health of her unborn baby. A baby can also be born with drug addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

    You may develop symptoms and side effects

    The effects of misusing prescription medicines depend on the type of medicine you are misusing.

    The effects of misusing opiates include:
    • Confusion.
    • Nausea.
    • Itching.
    • Difficulty passing stool (constipation).
    • A flu-like sickness during withdrawal.
    • Slow and ineffective breathing if an overdose occurs (respiratory depression).

    The effects of misusing depressants include:
    • Sleepiness.
    • Confusion.
    • Seizures if the medicine is stopped.

    The effects of misusing stimulants include:
    • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia).
    • Loss of appetite.
    • Anxiety.
    • False fears or beliefs (paranoia).
    • Fatigue and depression during withdrawal.
    • Overdose. This can cause a dangerous high body temperature, a heartbeat that is irregular or fast, or a seizure.

    What actions can I take to prevent drug misuse?

    To prevent drug misuse:
    • Do not take another person's medicines.
    • Do not take a prescription medicine without a legal prescription.
    • Do not take more of a medicine than was prescribed.
    • Do not take a medicine for a different reason or in a different way than it was prescribed, such as snorting, crushing, or injecting.
    • Do not take a medicine to feel high, relaxed, or energized.
    • Do not take a stimulant to lose weight or improve mental alertness.

    Where to find more information

    Contact a health care provider if:

    • You are misusing a prescription medicine and need help stopping.
    • You are pregnant and misusing a prescription medicine.
    • You need more of a medicine to get the same effects.
    • You have withdrawal symptoms if you try to stop taking the medicine.
    • You are unable to stop misusing a prescription medicine even though it is negatively affecting your life.


    • Prescription drug misuse happens when a medicine is used in a way that is different from how it was prescribed by the health care provider (non-medical reason).
    • Common types of misused medicine include painkillers, depressants, and stimulants.
    • Misusing a prescription medicine can cause you to become addicted and may put your health in danger.
    • Contact a health care provider if you are misusing medicines and need help stopping.

    This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.

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