prescription drugs

While high-risk binge drinking still tops the list of substance abuse issues on college campuses, the non-medical use of prescription drugs - most notably stimulants, sedatives, and pain relievers - is a growing problem at UCSC and across the country. 

Many students may not even realize that they, their roommate, teammate, or friend are misusing or abusing these medications. When used the right way and under a doctor's supervision, prescription drugs are safe and effective in treating countless medical conditions. Misusing or abusing prescription medications can be very risky. Especially when used with other drugs at the same time. 

types of abused drugs


Making Sense of Misuse and Abuse

Someone is misusing a prescription medication if they take a medication that is prescribed to them differently or at a higher dose than is recommended by their healthcare professional to alleviate symptoms or try to self-medicate with someone else's medication. For example, popping a friend's Percocet (prescription pain medicine) to get rid of a headache or asking a roommate for a stimulant to pull an all-night study session before a big exam. 

Intentionally using a prescription drug to experiment with it, feel good or get "high" is an example of prescription drug abuse. Whatever the reason, using these medications without a prescription or medical oversight of their risks can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death. It's also illegal. 

risks of prescription drug abuse

Many students mistakenly believe prescription medications are safe because they are FDA approved and prescribed by a doctor. But all medications have risks and they are only safe when taken as directed by the person for whom they were prescribed. 

Reasons for Misusing or Abusing Prescription Drugs

Once away from home, students, often for the first time, are subject to the temptations and demands of college life without parental supervision and support. While some students abuse prescription medications to feel good or get high, plenty of others turn to these medications to help manage they daily lives - to reduce the stress and anxiety of college life, boost their mood, stay up all night writing a term paper or increase their stamina on the field. Further complicating the matter is the mistaken belief by college students that prescription medications are a safer alternative to illicit street drugs like cocaine or heroin. These medications are also sen as acceptable and they are readily available. 

Abusing/Misusing Prescription Medications can lead to:

  • Increases in blood pressure or heart rate

  • Organ damage

  • Addiction

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Seizures

  • Heart Attack

  • Stroke

  • Death

The danger is that many of these substances have synergistic effects - for example prescription pain relievers and alcohol both slow breathing. By ingesting too much of both, someone can literally stop breathing. 

Recognize the Signs, Get Help

Early signs of abuse include: 

  • Using the medication more frequently or at higher doses without a healthcare professional's direction

  • Using the medication compulsively

  • Not being able to carry out normal daily activities because of drug misuse




Cover Image by: ep_jhu (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)