There are very few people who aren’t aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Early in the 20th century, there was far less public information available about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Drug addiction was something that was widely associated with prostitutes, and other undesirable people. That, though, is really where legal and prescription drug abuse began. Heroin was a drug that was abused early in its existence. It was originally developed as a pain reliever, a derivative of morphine. It wasn’t long before reports started pouring in that patients needed more and more of the drug to feel the same bliss and pain relief that they experienced with the first doses. Opium, the grandfather of modern painkillers, also began as a widely-used and effective medicine. It, too, fell into the hands of those who didn’t understand the power of addiction, and fell to the power of opium addiction.

Today, people living with addiction and people who regularly abuse drugs are slightly harder to spot – it’s impossible to hide an addiction from everyone forever, but in a high-stakes, extremely competitive world, the culture around drugs has changed. Now, for many, it is culturally acceptable to take drugs when extra energy is needed, and peak concentration seems to be the only way to accomplish a goal. While the need for the drugs might be imagined, the stress of daily life for many isn’t, and may inspire someone to seek the type of external assistance that some legal drugs may provide.

drug useTherein lay the problem with legal drug abuse: the drugs themselves are legal, and while abusing them is dangerous, it isn’t actually illegal to abuse legal drugs. Anyone has the freedom to take as much Ritalin in public as they please – you can even wash it down with three or four alcoholic drinks, if you would like. Though this is quite dangerous, this is how many people medicate, and continue habits that eventually catch up to them.

The mistake that prescription drug abusers often make is assuming that prescription drugs are less dangerous than street drugs. There is a ring of truth to this: there’s no way of knowing what, exactly, is in any compound purchased illegally, and synthetic drugs are everywhere, and vary wildly in their composition from batch to batch. Despite these dangers, the number of people being treated for addiction to prescription and other legal drugs continues to rise. While it’s good that more people are seeking treatment, there is not always enough assistance to go around. Drug addiction, whether the drugs are legal or illegal, can cost jobs, relationships, homes, and sometimes lives.

The most popular legal drugs are alcohol and tobacco. The reason these drugs are still readily available for consumption has to do with many things, among them the sheer power of the heads in the industry, and their access to lobbyists and elected officials. These drugs kill people every year, and require specialized programs to break the addiction, just like hard street drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are excellent examples of how a drug’s legal status doesn’t mean very much in the context of it’s deadly consequences.


Tobacco, one of the original cash crops of a young America, was originally used by Indigenous Nations during ceremonies. In Haiti, tobacco is a preferred offering of many of the sacred spirits of Vodoun (also known as, ‘Voodoo’). While public taste for chewing tobacco and cigarettes has dramatically fallen in the past few decades, tobacco and tobacco products are still incredibly popular all over the world. There are even places in Taiwan that allow smoking, but will not allow the consumption of a pungent fruit called durian. Tobacco’s hold on the world started with the exports that 16th- and 17th-century colonizers took or purchased from native nations, sending them first back home to Europe, where it then traveled to Asia. Smoking cigarettes causes a variety of cancers, puts smokers at risk for more types of cancers, and puts people inhaling the smoke at risk as well.


Nearly every culture in the world has a culture around alcohol, and a history of its use. The Catholic Church uses sacrament wine during communion, a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. Sake has come to be known as the signature drink of Japan. Beer is cheap, delicious, and plentiful in Mexico, and throughout Latin America. Alcohol, though, is at the center of many people’s stories of abuse and neglect. Alcohol consumption is one of the forces behind deadly accidents, domestic abuse, job loss, and several diseases. Alcoholism itself is now treated like the disease that it is, but it is no less difficult for some who struggles with addiction to come to terms with their own alcohol addiction. Alcohol also has a prominent place on college campuses where drinking games and binge-drinking dominate party scenes.


Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat ADHD. It’s taken by patients to provide a sense of focus, and to assist in staying organized. While all of these desired effects are noble enough, Adderall is one of the most commonly-abused prescription drugs. Doctors all over the country must carefully monitor patients to whom they prescribe Adderall. It is addictive, often abused, and can turn a normal, healthy person being treated for ADHD into an anxious, moody recluse.


One of the main components in cough syrup, codeine is added to alcoholic drinks to make them stronger or simply mixed with clear soda and hard candy. The resulting mix is called, ‘sizurp,’ or ‘lean.’ This cocktail can make anyone immediately dizzy, nauseous, and forgetful. The other effects of this drink include impaired judgement and vomiting. Because a person drinking lean is actually ingesting far too much cough syrup in each gulp, the side effects of the medication itself will also impact the drinker, and it’s essential that lean is treated like any other alcoholic drink in the context of drinking and driving, or operating machinery.

‘Legal’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Safe’

These are just a few of the legal drugs that can become powerfully addictive, even to someone who is judicious and careful with the amount that they consume. If you or someone you know regularly uses any of these, it may be time to talk to that person, and see about their well-being.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.