“Isn’t everyone doing it?”

No. Over 87% of Northeastern students have not used prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them in the past year. People frequently overestimate how much others misuse prescription medications because it’s more noticeable or they hear stories about those who misuse prescription drugs. Additionally, people tend to think that everyone uses the same way that they or that their group of friends do. As the numbers show, that may not be the case.

Misuse of prescription drugs includes:

  • Using higher doses or taking more often than prescribed
  • Taking other people’s prescription medication
  • Altering the medication’s delivery method (e.g. crushing & snorting )
  • Using a prescription medication in order to get high

Understand the chemistry

Some additional FACTS about different types of prescription medications and their effects on the body:


Includes medications prescribed to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. Examples: Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Focalin, and Dexedrine.

(NOTE: Many energy drinks also contain substances designed to produce a stimulant effect. As such, they can be considered within this category of drug.)

Method of action: Stimulants increase alertness, attention and energy as well as elevate blood pressure and increase heart rate and respiration.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Repeated use over a short period can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia.
  • High doses may result in dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat.
  • Dependence on stimulants is a real consideration for anyone taking them without medical supervision.
  • If used chronically, withdrawal symptoms—including fatigue, depression, and disturbed sleep patterns—can emerge when the drugs are discontinued.
Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants

Sometimes referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, used in the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples: Valium and Xanax.

Method of action: CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity. They can produce a drowsy or calming effect.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Continued use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal when use is abruptly reduced or stopped.
  • If after continued use an individual stops taking the medication, the brain’s activity can “rebound” and race out of control, potentially leading to seizures, and other harmful consequences.
  • Combining CNS depressants with alcohol can affect heart rhythm, slow respiration, and even lead to death.

Prescription narcotics usually prescribed for postsurgical pain relief and management of acute or chronic pain. Examples: codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet).

Method of action: Opioids attach to the receptors in your brain that block the perception of pain.

Potential Effects of Misuse:

  • Can produce drowsiness and (depending on dosage), cause severe respiratory depression.
  • Some individuals experience euphoric effects from use; this feeling may be intensified for those who abuse opiods.
  • Misuse can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Withdrawal symptoms may be present when use is reduced or stopped.
  • Withdrawal symptoms include: restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes.

For more information and a list of references, check out our Prescription Drugs fact sheet.