Living in the Rx Generation

The first time I ever abused a prescription pill, I was a senior in high school. It was a Soma—a muscle relaxer that had gained rapid popularity in my school—and it was my first time experiencing a drug besides pot. I remember staring at the little white pill in my hand and thinking, “How bad could this be for me?” So I took it and spent the next few hours feeling like a jellyfish. Honestly, I loved it. It required less effort than drinking and there was no hangover the next morning. “Whoa”, I thought. “Pills are so easy and cool! Why doesn’t everyone do them?”

Well, they kind of do. It’s estimated that 33 million people have admitted to abusing painkillers alone. If the ’60s had LSD and the ’80s had cocaine, my generation has prescription pills. Adderall, Xanax, Ambien, Vicodin—these are the things that make many 20-somethings world go ’round. The people who abuse them don’t usually fit the profile of a typical drug user either. I know many people who take Adderall to clean their apartment or get work done, and don’t take any other kinds of drugs. No coke, no ‘shrooms, no weed. To them, Adderall is sort of like a five-hour energy drink, not a highly addictive amphetamine.

The casual attitude towards these drugs is what makes it so different from past drug fads. When people were doing heaps of coke in the ’80s, they were aware that it was “a helluva drug.” Prescription pills, however, are largely perceived as little helpers. Xanax bars, for example, look so adorable, and people will take them if they’re just having a rough day. Similarly, someone will take an Ambien before bed and stay up to see how trippy things can get. Role Models even parodied the drug when they had Seann William Scott’s character take one, and end up facedown by a campfire naked. See? Prescription drugs are hilarious!

People’s relaxed perception of benzos, stimulants, painkillers, and sleeping pills probably has a lot to do with how people get them. Unlike other drugs, you don’t have to go to the corner of Shootout and Crackhead to get something like Ativan. You can just call a friend who has a prescription or make an appointment with a doctor. Walgreens can be your new dealer and if you have insurance, it can set you back as little as ten bucks. There’s no sketchiness involved which makes the incentive that much greater to obtain them.

I’m not saying that everyone treats these medications like they’re Flinstone’s vitamins. I’m also not implying that some people don’t actually need these pills to function to the best of their ability. I’m just saying that enough people abuse them to make it a ‘thing’, to make it our generation’s drug of choice. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the pills I’m referencing, let me give you a little guide.

Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium}

Pros: Helps treat acute anxiety by making you feel blissed-out and calm. If you don’t actually have an anxiety disorder, take it only when you’re flying on an airplane.

Cons: Can become a crutch and actually create more anxiety. Turns your memory into swiss cheese.

Opiates (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin)

Pros: Pure euphoria. I mean, it’s an opiate. Its job is to make you feel the opposite of pain. Let’s just say it likes to work overtime.

Cons: Insanely addictive. Guaranteed life-ruiner/trip to rehab.

Stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin)

Pros: Will help you write that 30-page research paper on the ambiguities of Thomas Jefferson. Produce 10,000 “aha!” moments and make you feel super brilliant.

Cons: The high is followed by a crushing low. It’s essentially speed, which is gross and super addictive. It will also make you an annoying person to be around.

Sedatives (Ambien and a bunch more obvi)

Pros: Helps you fall asleep in 2.5 seconds and you wake up feeling rested.

Cons: Developing a dependency on sleeping pills actually sounds like hell on Earth. Can you actually imagine not being able to sleep without a pill? Terrifying.

So there’s some Prescription Pills 101 for you. Now that you know the basics, where do you go from here?

Writer (and sometime Thought Catalog contributor) Joshua Lyon wrote the seminal book on prescription pill abuse in modern America. Part investigative journalism and part harrowing memoir, Pill Head: The Secret Life of a Painkiller Addict explores the prescription pill epidemic and Lyon’s own struggles with illuminating candor. Ironically, I read it while high on Vicodin recovering from one of my many surgeries. Although it was a complete buzzkill, it motivated me to ditch the meds and embrace the pain.

To be completely honest though, I’m not sure if I’ve come to a conclusion about the Rx Generation. Part of me feels that there’s no harm in taking the occasional unprescribed pill. Vicodin works great for hangovers and sometimes an Ambien is crucial for getting a good night’s sleep. But then I think of Joshua Lyon, a figure like Heath Ledger and quite frankly, my own issues with them, and I start to think they’re dangerous motherfuckers that need to be taken seriously. One thing is for certain: Prescription pills are here, queer, and some of our generation might have to go to rehab for it. TC mark

image – Amarand Agasi

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Andy

    wow did you really mistake lsd for lcd? come on son.

    • Jabulani

      andy i'm going to assume you're joking

      • Andy

        nah dude he fucked it up at first. must have changed it after i said something.

      • Istu63528

        Maybe if people would take the medication as prescribed there would not be any of these issues.

    • uhnonnymus

      lol what

    • NoahTourjee

      Man, the first time I did LCD that shit was thin.

  • El puto

    adderall was the key to my college degree

  • Rsaltus

    An important subject, glad you're writing about it. However, when you write

    “I’m also not inferring that some people don’t actually need these pills” – “inferring” is the opposite of what you're trying to say, and therefore wrong. You mean “implying.” A common mistake, but worth avoiding.

    • NoahTourjee

      This comment is inferring something but I don't know what.

    • EmiliaBedelia

      According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is the most reliable source on these matters, infer means:

      4. To lead to (something) as a conclusion; to involve as a consequence; to imply. (Said of a fact or statement; sometimes, of the person who makes the statement.)

      It also says, “This use is widely considered to be incorrect, esp. with a person as the subject.” The first instance of its use is in 1530 by Thomas More.

      Do what you will with this information. I really hate grammar nazis. If Thomas More can do it, so can you!

  • Brian McElmurry

    I wonder if people away from the Mexican border know about somas, as people generally get them from TJ. I'm glad you wrote this. Because vicoden and adderall are opiates and speed, and seem safe and fun, but like you said, you can end up in rehab. But really most people never go to rehab because it costs a shit load of money. I used vicoden when I was younger and ended up dropping out of college because it just fucked with my moods, mind and I couldn't function with the stress. I stopped but my best friend continued and after five years of pill addiction and coke nights, moved on to heroin and crack. This fucked his life horribly and now he's in a halfway house and sober (minus fake weed) for almost 9 months (though he did relapse recently). When you're young you feel indestructable. But when you're 30 and in a halfway house after 4 years of couch surfing-heroin chaos, you know you aren't. Sorry if this is preachy. Shits for real.

  • Michael Koh
  • Michael Koh
  • Cap'n Jazz

    what happened to just smoking cigarettes?

    • Julene

      Not nearly enough fun, duh.

  • AaronWB

    Seems like cigarettes for the babyboomer generation. Everyone knew they were sorta bad but, hey, plenty of responsible adults were abusing them and they were sold through legit channels so how bad could they be? The true cost weren't realized until the parents of all those boomers started die.

  • Marthabuca

    Its the first time that I can't relate at all to one of your articles, now I'll have get some pill prescribed darn it! :P

    • Your mother

      I can't wait until Ryan writes an article about jumping off of a cliff.

  • taffs

    vice did this better

  • federico

    does anyone know if zoloft can be abused.

    • Julene

      If you have to ask, the answer is probably yes. But at least you'll quit smoking!

    • A nurse

      Never seen it abused. It will not help you quit smoking either. Wellbutrin an antidepresent has been used to help quit smoking

  • Andrew

    Thanks to Xanax, I can't remember anything from summer 2009 – early 2010. Fucked up my memory so bad that I had to vow never again to pop a xannie. I can't stand being around my friends that pop xannies, they get so fucking dumbed down.

    • Shayna

      2008/parts of 2009 never happened for me. still meeting people i had “meaningful” relationships/encounters with. whoops!

  • Elz

    The problem with Vicodin is that along with the opiate, it also contains tylenol, which is hell on your liver. If you drink in any reasonable amount, that's potentially grim news. Scares me away from temptation.

    • eric

      do a cold water extraction, duh

      • Rockandrollme2003

        or switch to norcos and don't drink with them.

  • The Brewer

    Screw that mess. I'll just stick to Cocaine and Alcohol as my drugs of choice.

  • Kelly

    does anyone want to learn about the guy who invented most of the world's know psychedelics? read this article:

    pretty interesting, no?



  • Vix

    i believe i found the line between acceptable and unacceptable unprescribed use of one lil' rx monster: swallowing 1 adderall to finish a philosophy paper = ok ; snorting 2 poorly crushed adderalls to inspire a disturbing collage of blood and prayer cards = bad

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