Evidence-Based Reviews

Abuse of psychiatric medications: Not just stimulants and benzodiazepines

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Problematic, even if not addictive

It is sometimes claimed that “addiction” to psychiatric medications is not limited to stimulants and benzodiazepines.27,127 Although anticholinergics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and gabapentinoids can be drugs of abuse, with some users reporting physiologic withdrawal upon discontinuation, there is only limited evidence that the M/A of these psychiatric medications is associated with the characteristic features of a more complete definition of “addiction,” which may include:

  • inability to consistently abstain
  • impairment in behavioral control
  • diminished recognition of significant problems associated with use
  • a dysfunctional emotional response to chronic use.128

Nonetheless, the literature documenting anticholinergic, antidepressant, antipsychotic, and gabapentinoid M/A includes several common features, including:

  • initial reports among those with limited access to illicit drugs (eg, young people and incarcerated individuals) and subsequent spread to a wider population with more unconventional routes of administration
  • use for recreational purposes and other subjective pseudo-therapeutic effects, often in combination with alcohol and illicit drugs
  • greater M/A potential of certain medications within each of these drug classes (eg, trihexyphenidyl, bupropion, quetiapine)
  • malingering psychiatric symptoms in order to obtain medications from prescribers and diversion for black market sale
  • observations that medications might constitute therapy for SUDs that were not supported in subsequent RCTs (with the exception of gabapentin for alcohol and cannabis use disorders)
  • increasing evidence of toxicity related to M/A, which suggests that prescription by clinicians has limited benefit and high risk for patients with SUDs.

Bottom Line

Some psychiatric medications are taken as drugs of abuse. Clinicians should be particularly aware of the misuse/abuse potential of anticholinergics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and gabapentinoids, and use them cautiously, if at all, when treating patients with existing substance use disorders.

Related Resources

Drug Brand Names

Amitriptyline • Elavil, Endep
Benztropine • Cogentin
Biperiden • Akineton
Bupropion • Wellbutrin, Zyban
Chlorpromazine • Thorzine
Fluoxetine • Prozac
Haloperidol • Haldol
Olanzapine • Zyprexa
Orphenadrine • Disipal, Norflex
Pregabalin • Lyrica, Lyrica CR
Procyclidine • Kemadrin
Quetiapine • Seroquel
Tianeptine • Coaxil, Stablon
Tranylcypromine • Parnate
Trifluoperazine • Stelazine
Trihexyphenidyl • Artane, Tremin
Venlafaxine • Effexor

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