UT University Health Services

Prescription Drug Misuse

Non-medical prescription drug use OR prescription drug misuse is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs for anything other than the drug's intended purpose, by someone other than the intended recipient, and/or in a dosage other than prescribed.

Prescription drugs have contributed to major advances in public health. However, prescription drugs are the second most frequently misused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs. 

Below are the most commonly misused prescription drugs and their rate of misuse among UT students according to a 2018 study1:

  • Opioids (9%)—used to relieve pain (e.g. Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine)
  • Depressants/Sedatives (11%)—used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep (e.g. Valium or Xanax)
  • Stimulants (18%)— used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and often referred to as "study drugs" (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta)

Why Do Students Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Students misuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, including to increase concentration, study, lose weight, party, relax, and relieve symptoms of health and mental health issues.

However, a large majority of UT students do not misuse prescription drugs, and studies indicate that students who do not misuse prescription drugs are more successful academically.2,3

How Is Misusing Prescription Drugs Harmful?

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription. Doctors carefully consider potential benefits and risks before prescribing medications. Misusing prescription drugs can have serious medical consequences and cause 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. Penalties for misuse or illegal distribution of prescription drugs vary depending upon the drug type. UT and City of Austin Police Departments and Student Conduct and Academic Integrity treat illegal use of prescription drugs as they do other illegal substances.

What Are Alternatives to Prescription Drug Misuse?

There are safer and healthier alternatives to the misuse of prescription or OTC medication that can benefit someone in the long run. Find on-campus resources that can help below:

What Are Ways to Protect Prescriptions?

Most students who use prescription drugs have them prescribed and monitored by a healthcare provider and gain benefit from their use. They may be approached, however, by other students, friends, or family members who ask to buy or use their medicines. Try the following to protect your prescriptions:

bring expired or unused medication tot he forty acres pharmacy for safe disposal Bring expired or unused medication to your local pharmacy or pharmaceutical disposal location for safe disposal.
Set a reminder on your cell phone for your daily dose and for refills. Set a reminder on your cell phone for your daily dose and for refills.
Avoid carrying your entire pill bottle or monthly supply in your backpack or purse. Avoid carrying your entire pill bottle or monthly supply in your backpack or purse.
Keep your medicines in a safe, private spot where only you know the location. Keep your medicines in a safe, private spot where only you know the location.

what to say when someone asks for your prescription I am almost out i don't take that anymore I am worried you will react badly i only have enough pills for me

1 Phillips, E. L. & McDaniel, A. E. (2018). College Prescription Drug Study Key Findings Report. Center for the Study of Student Life, The Ohio State University: Columbus, Ohio.

2 Rabiner, D. L., Anastopoulos, A. D., Costello, E., Hoyle, R. H., McCabe, S., & Swartzwelder, H. (2009b). Motives and perceived consequences of nonmedical ADHD medication use by college students: Are students treating themselves for attention problems? Journal Of Attention Disorders, 13(3), 259–270.

3 McCabe, S., Teter, C. J., & Boyd, C. J. (2006c). Medical use, illicit use and diversion of prescription stimulant medication. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 38(1), 43–56.

Helpful Links

Alcohol and Drugs
Bruce the Bat
Alcohol Overdose and the Bacchus Maneuver
Study Drugs
Having Fun and Playing Safe

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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University Health Services is committed to providing high-quality care to patients of all ages, races, ethnicities, physical abilities or attributes, religions, sexual orientations, or gender identities/expression.


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