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Addiction: A chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive (or difficult to control) drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences, as well as long-lasting changes in the brain. In the past, people who used drugs were called “addicts.” Current appropriate terms are people who use drugs and drug users.

Amphetamine: A stimulant drug that acts on the central nervous system (CNS). Amphetamines are medications prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (such as Adderall®) and narcolepsy.

Barbiturate: A type of CNS depressant sometimes prescribed to promote relaxation and sleep, but more commonly used in surgical procedures and to treat seizure disorders.

Benzodiazepines – A type of CNS depressant sometimes prescribed to relieve anxiety, panic, or acute stress reactions. Some are prescribed short-term to promote sleep. Diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®) are among the most widely prescribed benzodiazepine medications.

Drug misuse – The use of illegal drugs and/or the use of prescription drugs in a manner other than as directed by a doctor, such as use in greater amounts, more often, or longer than told to take a drug or using someone else’s prescription.

Nonmedical use – Taking prescribed or diverted prescription drugs (drugs not prescribed to the person using them) not in the way, for the reasons, in the amount, or during the time-period prescribed.

“Opiates” vs. “opioids” Although these terms are often used interchangeably they are different:

  • Opiates refer to natural opioids such as heroin, morphine and codeine
  • Opioids refer to all natural, semisynthetic, and synthetic opioids.

Overdose – Injury to the body (poisoning) that happens when a drug is taken in excessive amounts. An overdose can be fatal or nonfatal.

Physical dependence – Adaptation to a drug that produces symptoms of withdrawal when the drug is stopped.

Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) – State or territorial-run electronic databases that track controlled substance prescriptions. PDMPs help providers identify patients at risk of opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and/or overdose due to overlapping prescriptions, high dosages, or co-prescribing of opioids with benzodiazepines.

Tolerance – A reduced response to a drug, requiring more of the drug to experience the same effect.


Some search terms to try when searching databases for this topic:

Medication abuse

Prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug addiction

Prescription drug misuse

Prescription medication abuse

To narrow your topic, combine the search terms above with one of these terms: