What happens if you misuse prescription medication?
Prescription medication should only be taken if it was prescribed by a doctor, and should be taken exactly as described
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
When a doctor prescribes medication, it’s always for a reason. The medication is meant to treat a specific illness or condition, and is not meant to be used for any other reason. Taking prescription medication that has not been given to you by a doctor, or taking your medication differently to how you’ve been told, can be very dangerous.
Doctors will decide what medication to give you based on your medical history, how you react to certain ingredients, and what they feel would be most suitable for you. If you access medication without a prescription, a doctor will not have the chance to run these tests, which means there’s a higher risk of a bad reaction.
Making sure you’ve taken your medication at the right time is a good way to avoid misusing prescription medication.
Types of prescription medication
There are many different kinds of medications used to treat many different conditions and illnesses. Some of these medications can be addictive. There are also certain drugs that are more likely to be misused. These include:
- Anxiety or sleep medications (such as valium, diazepam or zopiclone) or antidepressant medication (such as prozac or citalopram)
- Stimulants, often prescribed to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (such as concerta or ritalin)
- Opioids, which are often prescribed to treat pain (such as codeine or morphine)
Misusing anxiety medication
Some signs of misusing benzodiazepines include:
- Feeling very tired or drowsy
- Feeling dizzy or unsteady on your feet
- Slurred speech
- Slowed breathing
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Struggling with memory
It can be very easy to overdose on depressants like benzodiazepines and ‘z’ drugs, especially when they are mixed with other drugs. Never take medication if it hasn’t been prescribed for you, and make sure to only take it as directed by your doctor.
Misusing stimulants or ‘study drugs’
Stimulants such as ritalin or adderall are often used as a way of treating conditions like ADHD, but some people also use these as ‘study drugs’ or ‘smart drugs’ to help them to focus or stay awake. If it’s coming up to exam season, you might be tempted to look for something that can help you to get through the work, but ultimately these medications are more likely to cause problems than to help.
Side effects of these stimulants can include:
- Dry mouth
- Feeling unwell
- Feeling restless
- Becoming agitated
If you continue to take these drugs, or you take them when you are not supposed to, it could lead to:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty sleeping
It has been proven that sleep is one of the most effective ways to retain information, because sleeping allows our brains to process the information we have learned and commit it to long-term memory. Taking stimulants may have short-term effects that can get you through your study session, but they will not necessarily help you in the long-term when it comes to your exams.
Misusing pain medication
Opioids like morphine and codeine, are often prescribed as pain medication, but they can be highly addictive. Opioids can make you feel euphoric, which means feeling extremely happy, and relaxed. If a doctor prescribes you an opioid, it’s very important that you take it exactly as directed, and that you stop taking it once you no longer need it.
Never take medication like opioids if they have not been prescribed for you. If someone is selling opioids illegally, there is no way to know what ingredients were used or how high the dosage is. It can be very easy to overdose on opioids.
If someone is misusing opioids, some of the symptoms can include:
- Feeling very tired or drowsy
- Feeling confused
- Dizziness or changes in vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Changes in behaviour
It’s important to be careful with opioids, because it can be easy to become dependent on them.
Can I take someone else’s medication?
Just because something was prescribed by a doctor doesn’t mean it’s safe for anyone to take. Prescription medication usually comes with a number of instructions to make sure it’s taken properly, and any conditions or allergies you might have would have been considered before it was given to you. This means another person might not be suitable for the same medication that you are.
It’s very important that you only take medication that your doctor has prescribed for you. Taking someone else’s medication can be dangerous, even if you have been prescribed something similar in the past.
Buying prescription medication online
It’s important to be careful when accessing medical advice or getting a prescription online. If you are using an online doctor, make sure that the person is fully qualified to practice medicine in Ireland. If you’re not sure about something you’ve been prescribed, talk to another doctor, preferably in person.
Buying prescription medication or other drugs online is illegal. There is no way of knowing exactly what is in the medication, how high the dosage is, or if the product inside is what it says it is. Even if the packaging and tablets look right, there is no guarantee, which means the risk of having a bad reaction or overdosing is high. Find out what to do in a drug emergency.
If you order prescription medication online illegally and have them delivered to your home, it is seen as importing drugs into Ireland which is a criminal offence, and you could be prosecuted.
Prescription medication addiction
Many prescription medications, especially drugs such as benzodiazepines, are both physically and psychologically addictive; this is why they are prescribed under medical supervision. If you misuse prescription medication, such as by taking more than the recommended dose or obtaining these drugs illegally, it can leave you more vulnerable to abusing these drugs.
If you think you might be dependent on drugs, there are a number of services that can help. Find a service near you here or contact the Drugs Helpline on 1800 459 459 to find out about options in your area.
Supports and Services
- Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
- HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459.
- The Club Drug Clinic offers advice, support and detoxification for GHB (Liquid Ecstasy, G) and other chemsex and club drugs is an integrated person centred specialist addiction service: Tel 016488600
- Rialto Community Drug Team
- Find a local service through the National Directory for Drug and Alcohol Services at Drugs.ie
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