Prescription Drug Abuse: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Drugs are prescribed by doctors everyday for a variety of valid reasons; however drug abuse is common and very dangerous. Learn about drug abuse in this lesson and then take a quiz to see what you've learned!

Drug Use Compared To Drug Abuse

Think about the last time you got sick and required a doctor's care. Hopefully, it was something that quickly improved. Perhaps you received a prescription from your doctor as a means of helping you get well. More than likely, you took the drug according to the doctor's orders. That example represents normal prescription drug use.

Prescription drug use is common. Drug use refers to the regular use of prescription drugs. If a person is using drugs in a regular manner, he or she is taking only a drug prescribed by a doctor specifically for him or her, taking only the prescribed dose, and taking the drug only for the length of time specified by a doctor. The drug is taken for a specific ailment or injury, and when that ailment or injury is gone, the drug use is discontinued.

But sometimes people don't adhere to all of these rules. For example, maybe you didn't take all of a prescribed drug, and because you have leftover pills, you give them to a friend who you think probably needs them but doesn't want to go to a doctor. As another example, maybe you weren't feeling much of an improvement so you took two pills instead of the one pill prescribed. Believe it or not, these examples are forms of prescription drug abuse.

Prescription drug abuse occurs when the improper dose of medication is used, the medication is used to create a specific sensation or feeling rather than to treat an illness, or when the medication is used by someone who is not in need of it. Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem.

Rates of Prescription Drug Abuse

Misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is alarmingly common; over 15 million people in the United States abused drugs in 2013 alone. If a person engages in prescription drug abuse only once, there may be no consequence at all. However, most people who do abuse prescription drugs do so on a regular basis. This regular abuse often does lead to serious consequence. Prescription drug abuse often results in death, accidents, addiction, and crime. The availability of prescription drugs adds to the problem because there are limited structures in place to prevent people from taking drugs from a family member or friend or from doctor shopping.

Doctor shopping is a term that describes the practice of visiting multiple doctors to obtain prescription drugs. Individuals who participate in doctor shopping often feign or exaggerate symptoms in an effort to increase dosage or potency of the drugs they desire. These drugs are then abused by the person or illegally sold to another for profit.

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