UT University Health Services

Prescription Drug Misuse

Non-medical prescription drug use OR prescription drug misuse is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs for anything other than the drug's intended purpose, by someone other than the intended recipient, and/or in a dosage other than prescribed. 

Prescription drugs have contributed to major advances in public health. However, prescription drugs are the second most frequently misused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs. 

Below are the most commonly misused prescription drugs and their rate of misuse among UT students according to a 2022 study1:

  • Opioids (7%)—used to relieve pain (e.g. Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine)
  • Depressants/Sedatives (9%)—used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep (e.g. Valium or Xanax)
  • Stimulants (13%)— used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and often referred to as "study drugs" (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta). Learn more about prescription stimulant misuse.

Why Do Students Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Students misuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons, including to increase concentration, study, lose weight, party, relax and relieve symptoms of health and mental health issues. However, a large majority of UT students do not misuse prescription drugs, and studies indicate that students who do not misuse prescription drugs are more successful academically.2

What are Resources for Prescription Drug Misuse

There are safer, long-term solutions to the common reasons prescription or OTC medications are misused. Find on-campus resources that can provide support including: 

How Is Misusing Prescription Drugs Harmful?

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription. Doctors carefully consider potential benefits and risks before prescribing medications. Misusing prescription drugs can have serious medical consequences and cause the following side-effects:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Restlessness, nervousness
  • Impaired judgement
  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Impotence or changes in sex drive
  • Mood changes
  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • Death

It is illegal to distribute prescription drugs and to use prescription drugs without a valid prescription. UT and City of Austin Police Departments and Student Conduct and Academic Integrity treat illegal use of prescription drugs as they do other illegal substances. However, if you believe someone has overdosed, you should always call for help. Current UT students can avoid formal University disciplinary action and the creation of a formal disciplinary record when they call for help for an alcohol or drug-related medical emergency due to UT’s Student Amnesty for Alcohol and Drug Emergencies.

Opioid Overdose Prevention

Naloxone is a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Carrying naloxone can save lives. Learn more about preventing opioid overdose.

What Are Ways to Protect Prescriptions?

Most students who use prescription drugs have them prescribed and monitored by a healthcare provider and gain benefit from their use. They may be approached, however, by other students, friends, or family members who ask to buy or use their medicines. Try the following to protect your prescriptions:

bring expired or unused medication tot he forty acres pharmacy for safe disposal Bring expired or unused medication to your local pharmacy or pharmaceutical disposal location for safe disposal.
Set a reminder on your cell phone for your daily dose and for refills. Set a reminder on your cell phone for your daily dose and for refills.
Avoid carrying your entire pill bottle or monthly supply in your backpack or purse. Avoid carrying your entire pill bottle or monthly supply in your backpack or purse.
Keep your medicines in a safe, private spot where only you know the location. Keep your medicines in a safe, private spot where only you know the location.

what to say when someone asks for your prescription I am almost out i don't take that anymore I am worried you will react badly i only have enough pills for me what to say when someone offers prescription drugs I can't accept this I am allergic I am worried I will react badly I don't use that

1 Phillips, E. L. & McDaniel, A. E. (2018). College Prescription Drug Study Key Findings Report. Center for the Study of Student Life, The Ohio State University: Columbus, Ohio.

2 Faraone, S. V., Rostain, A. L., Montano, C. B., Mason, O., Antshel, K. M., & Newcorn, J. H. (2020). Systematic Review: Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: Risk Factors, Outcomes, and Risk Reduction Strategies. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 59(1), 100–112.

Helpful Links

Alcohol and Drugs
Bruce the Bat
Alcohol Overdose and the Recovery Position
Prescription Drug Misuse
Prescription Stimulant Misuse
Having Fun and Playing Safe
Naloxone / Narcan

Programs and Classes

Individual Consultations
AlcoholEdu and SAPU
Brief Alcohol Screening Intervention for College Students (BASICS)
Center for Students in Recovery
Student Amnesty for Alcohol Emergencies


100 West Dean Keeton
Student Services Building (SSB)


go here to access our facebook channel go here to access our twitter channel go here to access our instagram channel go here to access tumblr


Incoming Students
International Students
Dell Medical Students
LGBTQIA+ Healthcare
Faculty and Staff

university of texas at austin university health services
university of texas at austin division of student affairs