This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Prescription Drug Addiction

People tend to think of drugs like heroin or cocaine, or alcohol or tobacco, when discussing drug addictions. But many pharmaceutical preparations, available by prescription only, are also addictive. If a person builds up tolerance to a prescription drug and starts taking larger doses—a common occurrence—harm can result. Hollister (1991) notes, "Abuse of legal, prescription drugs accounts for the majority of drug-related Emergency Room visits". Prescription drug abuse is also one of the fastest-increasing forms of drug abuse among teenagers. While the rates of other tobacco use and other forms of drug abuse have been declining or holding steady, rates of prescription drug abuse have been climbing in recent years.

What type of drug accounts for the majority of drug-related Emergency Room visits?

Sometimes "the word gets out" about prescription drugs that are more dangerous than first thought. Valium is a good example. In the mid-1970s, it was an extremely common prescription, encouraged by large-scale advertising in medical journals that made it sound completely safe. After the consequences of Valium addiction became widely known, the number of prescriptions declined greatly. By the end of the century, benzodiazepine abuse was comparatively rare.

Oxycontin, a highly concentrated form of opiate painkiller, became a drug problem in the early years of the 2000s. Many people became addicted to the drug after having it prescribed to them following surgery or painful injuries. Break-ins at pharmacies increased, as robbers began targeting the drug. Originally, the makers of Oxycontin advertised it as less addictive than other forms of opiates; in fact, this was a major selling point to physicians, who were looking for safe alternatives to addictive painkillers like morphine. As it turned out, oxycontin was every bit as addictive as its chemical relative morphine, perhaps more so, and the makers of the drug had to pay a multi-million dollar judgment for false advertising in 2007.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.

Custom Search

Copyright © 2007-2011 Russ Dewey