UT University Health Services

Prescription Drug Misuse & Abuse

Prescription drugs have contributed to major advances in public health that are largely the result of vaccines and antibiotics. However, prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. Non-medical prescription drug use is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) or a prescription drug for anything other than the drug's intended purpose, by someone other than the intended recipient, and/or in a dosage other than prescribed.

Commonly misused and abused drugs include:

  • Opioids—used to relieve pain, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine
  • Depressants—used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep, such as Valium or Xanax
  • Stimulants— used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall and Ritalin

Why Do Students Misuse or Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Students misuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, including to increase concentration (or to study), lose weight, party, relax and relieve symptoms of health problems. Luckily, a majority of UT students do not misuse prescription drugs. A recent survey found that 88% of students did not use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them in the past year. 

How is Misusing and Abusing Prescription Drugs Harmful?

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription in the first place. Doctors take careful consideration about the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications. Misusing prescription drugs can be dangerous, have serious medical consequences and lead to the following side-effects:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Restlessness, nervousness
  • Impaired judgement
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Impotence or changes in sex drive
  • Mood changes
  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • Death

It is illegal to use prescription drugs without a valid prescription or to distribute them. The penalties associated with the abuse or illegal distribution of prescription drugs vary depending upon the drug type.

What are Alternatives to Prescription Drug Misuse?

There are plenty of safe and healthier alternatives to the misuse of prescription or OTC medication. Below are on-campus resources that can help.

Protecting your prescription

Many students who use prescription stimulants have the medicines prescribed and monitored by a doctor and gain benefit from using them. They may be approached by other students to buy their medicines. Here are some tips for protecting your prescription (adapted from NYU Student Health Center):

  • Keep your medicines in a safe, private spot where only you know the location
  • Avoid carrying your entire pill bottle or monthly supply in your backpack
  • Set a reminder on your cell phone for refills, so that you can take your medicine as prescribed without missed or "made up" doses
  • Tell a drug seeker that you only have enough pills for yourself and not enough to share or sell
  • Tell a drug seeker that you no longer take the medication. This may be a good option for people who approach you repeatedly
  • Tell a drug seeker that you are worried they may have an allergic reaction, since the medication is not prescribed to them

Helpful Links

Alcohol and Drugs
Bruce the Bat
Alcohol Overdose and the Recovery Position
Prescription Drug Misuse
Prescription Stimulant Misuse
Having Fun and Playing Safe
Naloxone / Narcan

Programs and Classes

Individual Consultations
AlcoholEdu and SAPU
Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students (BASICS)
Center for Students in Recovery
Student Amnesty for Alcohol Emergencies


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