What Are the Most Addictive Prescription Drugs?

The most addictive prescription drugs fall under three categories: Opioids—Painkillers, Central Nervous System Depressants (CNS Depressants) and Stimulants.


Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Oxycodone is commonly sold under the brand name OxyContin. It’s also sold in combination with acetaminophen as Percocet. It changes how your central nervous system (CNS) responds to pain. Like heroin, it creates a euphoric, sedative effect.


Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It’s prescribed for acute and chronic pain, typically in people with cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. It creates feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

Fentanyl is also illegally manufactured and sold as an illicit recreational drug. In many cases, it’s mixed with heroin, cocaine, or both. In October 2017, the CDC reported that fentanyl is involved in over half of opioid-related overdose deaths across 10 states.

Meperidine (Demerol)

Meperidine is a synthetic opioid. It’s often sold under the brand name Demerol. It’s typically used to treat moderate to severe pain. Like other opioids, it produces feelings of euphoria. According to the CDC, 2,666 Americans died in 2011 from drug poisoning that involved opioid painkillers other than methadone, such as meperidine or fentanyl.


Codeine is typically prescribed to treat mild to moderate pain. It’s also combined with other medications to treat cold and flu symptoms. For example, it’s commonly found in prescription-strength cough syrup.

When consumed in high quantities, codeine-based cough syrup has a sedative effect. It can also cause altered levels of consciousness. It provides the base for an illicit drug concoction known as “purple drank,” “sizzurp,” or “lean.” This concoction also contains soda and sometimes candy.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants

CNS depressants include barbiturates and benzodiazepines. They’re also called tranquilizers and have a calming effect.

Alprazolam (Xanax)

Alprazolam is a benzodiazepine. It’s commonly sold under the brand name Xanax. It’s prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. It depresses your CNS, which has a calming effect. Some people misuse it for its fast-acting sedating effects.

According to the CDC, more than four times as many Americans died in 2015 than 2002 from overdoses that involved benzodiazepines. In many of those cases, people died after combining benzodiazepines with opioids.

Additional signs and symptoms of alprazolam misuse include trouble sleeping, swelling of the hands or feet, and tremors.

Clonazepam (Klonopin) and diazepam (Valium)

Clonazepam and diazepam are benzodiazepines. They’re used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They’re also used to treat seizures. Clonazepam is commonly sold under the brand name Klonopin. Diazepam is commonly sold as Valium.

Like Xanax, these drugs are often misused for their sedative effects. They produce “highs” that can feel similar to the effects of alcohol. For example, they can cause feelings of drunkenness, talkativeness, and relaxation.

It’s not uncommon for people to recreationally misuse Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium in combination with other drugs. According to the CDC, the number of overdose deaths that involved both benzodiazepines and opioids


Stimulants increase your brain activity. This helps boost your alertness and energy levels.

Amphetamine (Adderall)

Amphetamine is commonly known as “speed.” It’s a CNS stimulant. It’s used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Products that contain amphetamine are often misused for their energizing effects. For example, Adderall is a product that combines amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It’s often misused by people who are sleep-deprived, such as truck drivers, shift workers, and college students working on deadlines. According to a study from the University of Michigan, 9 percent of college students in 2012 reported misusing Adderall.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Similar to Adderall, methylphenidate is a stimulant that affects your CNS. It’s commonly sold under the brand name Ritalin. It increases levels of dopamine in the brain, which helps improve attention. It’s used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Like other stimulants, it can be habit-forming. One reason that Ritalin and other prescription stimulants are commonly misused is their availability. According to the DEA, more than 13 million prescriptions for methylphenidate were filled in 2012. Methylphenidate misuse may also lead to agitation or trouble sleeping.