During an average year in the United States, there are more than three trillion prescriptions filled at pharmacies, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The vast majority of these prescriptions do something very beneficial for a person in need. Some may combat an infection. Others may quell a sensation of pain. Others might help to reduce congestion or sneezing. All in all, these drugs are very useful. Some might say that they’re vital.

But unfortunately, some of these prescription drugs can do more than alleviate illness. Some can actually cause a different illness, particularly if they’re taken in ways that aren’t recommended.

These are just a few of the prescription medications that are worth handling with care.


prescription pillsSleep is a vital part of life, so when insomnia lasts for more than a few days, doctors hope to take swift action to make the issue come to an end. Medications can sometimes play a role in that process, and Ambien is just one prescription drug doctors can provide to people who need to sleep.

Ambien is generally considered safe, according to an article produced by the Mayo Clinic, simply because it’s effective. People who take this drug tend to fall asleep swiftly, and they stay asleep for a long period of time.

That effectiveness comes about due to Ambien’s active ingredient: zolpidem. This drug is designed to calm electrical impulses in the brain, allowing people to shut off their conscious minds so they can drift into sleep. This drug is known as a hypnotic drug, due to the changes it can bring about in the brain.

Unfortunately, some people who take Ambien find that they don’t get sleepy when the drug is in place. Instead, they have an opposite reaction. Rather than feeling tired, they feel energized and awake. They may even feel a little loopy or high.

According to a study in the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers have become aware of this phenomenon. In studies, they’ve found that people given Ambien tend to like it, and they tend to find the drug reinforcing. In other words, when they’re given the drug, they have a good experience that they want to repeat. And those who do repeat that use and run out of Ambien may find that they struggle with withdrawal symptoms. That’s a hallmark of addiction.

People who take Ambien per the advice of a doctor and who only take the drug for a short period of time may not be at risk for this cycle of addiction. Thankfully, there are no hidden substances in Ambien that have been linked to physical harm, but those who abuse the substance may find that they struggle with addiction.


Xanax is similar to Ambien, in that it also causes a depression in brain activity. It’s so effective in slowing brain activity, in fact, that Xanax is sometimes used to help people to sleep, but Xanax is in a different medication class than Ambien. Xanax is a benzodiazepine medication, and it comes with some very special abuse risks.

Benzodiazepines like Xanax work on receptors in the brain known as GABA receptors, according to American Family Physician. Each molecule of Xanax has the potential to hop onto a GABA receptor, and when it does, it slows down the work that the GABA cells are designed to do.

Typically, these GABA cells act a bit like the brain’s cleanup crew. They remove extra cells associated with brain pleasure and euphoria, so a person can get back to normal after exposure to some rewarding event. When that cleanup isn’t happening, pleasure just seems to last. Feelings like that can be terribly addicting.

As people with these addictions develop a tolerance for the drugs they enjoy, they may be forced to do unusual things with the drugs they take. For Xanax abusers, that might involve crushing the pills and injecting them directly into the bloodstream. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review suggests that it’s more common for young drug users to inject drugs, but it’s not unheard of for older drug users to do the same.

Xanax isn’t, however, designed to move through the bloodstream. Each Xanax pill contains inert ingredients like cornstarch that can bunch up and clog the little capillaries in the body. That blockage can cause cell death, which might manifest as ulcers.

That’s why it’s vital for people suffering from Xanax addiction to get help from a formal treatment program. People can then get the help they need to stop abusing Xanax for good.


Phenobarbital is a medication that can be used in a variety of ways. Some people use the drug to help control or prevent seizures. Others use this medication to help calm anxiety. Still others use this medication to help them ease from addiction to sobriety. All of these benefits come about due to the sedative power of this drug. When people have access to this medication, it works as a blunting device, slowing down almost every single system in the body.

Barbiturates like phenobarbital are known to be habit-forming, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and people who take this type of medication are often encouraged to follow directions carefully and avoid:

  • Taking bigger doses than recommended
  • Combining the drug with another drug, like alcohol
  • Taking doses too close together
  • Taking the drug in an unusual way (like snorting pills)

But this drug is also intoxicating to the tissues of the brain, and sometimes, people who take this drug become enamored with what it can do and how it can make them feel. Phenobarbital is responsible for those changes.

The inactive ingredients in some formulations may also play a role. For example, some forms of phenobarbital come in a bottle, and the phenobarbital is surrounded by a bath of alcohol. That means people who take these drugs may be also taking in a great deal of alcohol, and that might be responsible for the boost of feelings they get with each hit of the drug they take.

Those who are given pills of phenobarbital, and who choose to crush those pills and inject the powder, may have the same abscesses and cell death seen in people who inject Xanax. That’s because phenobarbital pills also have the same inactive ingredients that just aren’t meant to hit the bloodstream directly.

People who abuse phenobarbital will need to get help in order to stop, as the drug can cause uncomfortable side effects when removed on a cold-turkey basis. But those who do choose to get sober will find that they’re feeling better than they ever did while under the influence of this very powerful drug.


When people in pain need severe relief, they might be provided with the prescription drug Duragesic. This is a very powerful painkiller medication that comes in multiple forms, including those that can be:

  • Placed on the skin
  • Injected into tissues
  • Absorbed through the gums
  • Snorted through the nose

If used properly, this medication can provide a great deal of relief, but the active ingredient in Duragesic can be quite troublesome. That ingredient is fentanyl, a drug in the opioid class.

Opioids work by latching to the brain’s pleasure receptors. When they’re latched on, opioids trigger a cascading series of chemical reactions that can be amazingly powerful, and the person going through those reactions often feels blissful or happy.

Unfortunately, fentanyl is associated with overdoses. The drug can slow vital systems down to such a degree that it’s hard to support life.

People addicted to Duragesic might be so desperate to get more, even though it’s dangerous, that they resort to the black market. Here, they face yet more dangers. In 2008, USA Today reported that the number of overdoses attributed to an illegal version of fentanyl had reached 1,000. That epidemic just proves that black market Duragesic can be dangerous.

Also, the gel surrounding the fentanyl in a patch can dangerously clog up the arteries if that substance is injected. Many users seem to follow this route of injection, and they can become quite damaged as a result.

Painkillers like Vicodin aren’t designed to assist with serious, overwhelming pain. Where someone with cancer might be given Duragesic to help quell the symptoms, someone with a toothache might be given something much less powerful, like Vicodin. This prescription drug can be dangerous too, but it’s just not as overwhelmingly strong as its close cousin.Prescription painkillers like Vicodin, however, have plenty of their own dangers. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that drugs like Vicodin were responsible for 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008 alone.That’s because Vicodin has the same type of active ingredient seen in powerful drugs like Duragesic. Each Vicodin pill has hydrocodone, which is an opioid medication capable of boosting signals of pleasure that can quickly become addictive. In time, people with an addiction to Vicodin find that they need more and more of the drug in order to feel a high. With each boost of dosage comes an increased risk of overdose and death. That active ingredient is responsible for a great deal of harm.Vicodin also has another ingredient that’s worth monitoring. This secondary ingredient, acetaminophen, is designed to reduce pain. It’s processed by the liver, and when taken in small doses, it does little long-term harm. But when people are addicted and they take large doses of this drug, they can ingest huge amounts of acetaminophen, and that can be quite hard on the liver. In some cases, the liver can even fail due to that exposure.So while Vicodin addiction is serious due to the inclusion of an opioid like hydrocodone, the other active ingredient in each pill also has the ability to do harm. That’s why it’s vital for people who are abusing this drug to get the help they’ll need in order to stop the abuse.

Working Through Treatment

Reading through a laundry list of possibilities can be a little overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that these side effects don’t have to take hold in everyone who fills a bottle at a prescription counter. Those who work closely with doctors, following the instructions to the letter and doing everything that’s required in order to get well, have a low risk of developing an addiction.

But, if you or someone you love has drifted from using drugs into abusing drugs, we’re here to help. At Black Bear Lodge, we have a suite of treatments we can use to help you both understand the nature of prescription drug abuse and build up the skills you’ll need in order to stop abusing drugs. Just call us, and our admissions coordinators can outline the steps we can help you take.