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Misuse of Prescription Medications

Written by Jade McNulty BMS’23 Neuro ‘23
Published on April 26, 2021

When used properly, prescription medications can be incredibly helpful in treating substance use disorders. But once the pills are used outside of their prescribed dosage, drug misuse can occur. Drug misuse happens when medications prescribed to one individual are given to someone else or when the medication is used by the right person, but outside of their initial dosage. Repeated drug use can lead to an inability to resist urges and maintain control known as drug addiction.

The three most common misused forms of drugs are opioids, stimulants, and central nervous system (CNS) depressants. When used correctly, opioids can relieve pain, stimulants can help manage attention disorders, and CNS depressants can help treat anxiety. Using these drugs outside a typical clinical indication, such as breaking a pill and snorting its contents, can be a form of misuse, along with taking medications to get ‘high’.

Addiction can begin with experimental use of a drug. This type of misuse can happen in social situations, especially among college students. Young adults finally getting the chance to explore and experiment on their own comes at a time of high stress. For some, drugs are a way to relieve a bit of that pressure, causing 43% of all 19-28 year olds to misuse drugs. Access to drugs can also come from prescriptions. Differing medical procedures, like surgeries, provide patients in recovery with opioids as pain relievers, which is their intended usage. The rate and risk of addiction varies by drug, with opioids being the fastest and highest risk.

Repeated exposure to drugs can trigger the addiction cycle of the brain, especially in those vulnerable due to genetics. Increased dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens causes a reward feeling to occur, and the reinforcing effects of drugs depend on that feeling. In someone suffering from an addiction, the drug taking behavior might be increased to compensate for the expected reward triggered by the conditioning to drug cues.

The earlier drugs are misused, the higher the chance of addiction. Though many elements of drug addiction, like genetics and mental illness, are out of a person’s control, the best way to fight against drug addiction is prevention. If struggling with drug addiction, websites such as are a great resource to help those struggling with drug dependence and addiction. Do not struggle alone.

Categories:  SUDIStudents