Abusing prescription drugs can cause a number of problems. Prescription drugs can be especially dangerous when taken in high doses, when combined with other prescription medications or certain over-the-counter medications, or when taken with alcohol or illegal drugs.

Medical consequences

Examples of serious consequences of prescription drug abuse include the following.

  • Opioids can cause an increased risk of choking, low blood pressure, a slowed breathing rate and potential for breathing to stop, or a coma.
  • Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics) can cause memory problems, low blood pressure and slowed breathing. Overdose can cause coma or death. Abruptly stopping the medication may be associated with withdrawal symptoms that can include hyperactivity of the nervous system and seizures.
  • Stimulants can cause dangerously high body temperature, heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures or tremors, hallucinations, aggressiveness, and paranoia.

Addiction

Because commonly abused prescription drugs activate the brain's reward center, it's possible to become addicted to them. People who are addicted continue to use a drug even when that drug makes their lives worse — just like people addicted to nicotine continue smoking cigarettes even when it harms their health and they want to quit.

Other consequences

Other potential consequences include engaging in risky behaviors because of poor judgment, using illegal drugs, being involved in crime, motor vehicle accidents, decreased academic or work performance, and troubled relationships.

Oct. 11, 2012

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