Prescription drug abuse is so common, many people become addicted before they even realise they have a problem. With its high potential for secrecy, habit-forming and overdose, it is essential to nip pill addiction in the bud – here are its warning signs.
Prescription drug abuse and addiction has become an increasing problem in countries all over the world.
Because prescription pills are legal, and often come straight from a doctor, there is a misconception that they are not as dangerous or addictive as illicit drugs like cocaine or heroin. However, many prescription drugs can be just as addictive and just as deadly as street drugs.
The warning signs of prescription pill addiction depend on which type of medication a person has been abusing.
Most Commonly Abused Medications
There are three main types of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused:
- Painkillers/ Opioids
Drugs containing oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin) are typically used to treat pain. They also produce a euphoric feeling similar to that of heroin, which is also in the opioid family.
Fentanyl is also gaining popularity for abuse especially among teens, as it is incredibly strong, yet most often incredibly cheap to purchase on the black market. In fact, many street dealers are beginning to cut their heroin with Fentanyl to intensify its effects on the cheap – a practice that resulted in so many overdoses, the State of California declared a public health emergency.
Frequently prescribed to treat anxiety and/or sleep disorders, alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and zolpidem (Ambien) respectively create a feeling of calmness within the user which can easily lead to abuse, along with the urge to take more and more of the drug as tolerance builds. Xanax and Valium are both benzodiazepines – a type of prescription pill that can be very harmful in large doses, and withdrawal without medical supervision can be deadly.
Common stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta), amphetamine (Adderall) and dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine). These are prescribed to treat ADHD and some sleep disorders. With the worldwide prevalence of ADHD at 3.4%, these drugs are quite easily found on the streets.
Warning Signs of Rx Drug Abuse or Addiction
The warning signs or symptoms of prescription pill abuse vary depending on the type of drug the user is taking. Below are some of the most common symptoms to watch for categorized by prescription drug types.
Symptoms of Painkiller Abuse
- Lowered motivation
- Abandonment of important activities
- Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Decreased appetite
- Physical agitation
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depressed respiration and difficulty breathing (the main cause of overdose)
Symptoms of Tranquilizer Abuse
- Increasing desire to be left alone
- Inability to meet expectations and responsibilities at work, school, or home
- Increased respiratory infections
- Double vision
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Memory impairment
- Increased confusion
- Slowed thinking
- Slowed reaction time
- Increased anxiety
- Irritability and hostility
- Mood swings
Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased breathing rate
- Psychotic behaviour
How to Spot a Prescription Drug Addiction in your Loved One
Aside from the substance-specific symptoms listed above, most prescription drug addictions will elicit similar drug-seeking behaviours such as the following:
- Frequently requesting prescription refills from physicians
- ‘Losing’ prescriptions often (and then requesting a new one)
- Consuming prescription pills faster than indicated by doctor
- Taking pills in ways not indicated by the doctor – ie, crushing pills to snort them instead of swallow them
- ‘Doctor shopping’ – visiting several doctors for a similar condition
- Stealing or borrowing medications from family, friends or even coworkers
- Consuming over-the-counter drugs for the conditions that a doctor has already prescribed medication
- Mood swings which strongly correlate with the availability (or absence) of prescription drugs
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Increased irritability (especially when drug is unavailable)
- Appearing to be high – either unusually energetic or sedated
- Defensiveness (especially about their drug use)
How Users get Hooked on Prescribed Drugs
In the majority of prescription pill addiction cases, the medication is originally prescribed in order to help the patient deal with a specific condition such as anxiety, pain or ADH. And of course, most patients do not begin taking medication with the anticipation of becoming addicted. Sometimes prescription drug abuse can be the result of negligence on the part of the Dr and it may be worth speaking to a lawyer who specialises in medical malpractice if you believe this to be the case.
However, the most commonly abused prescription drugs not only treat the ailments they are made to treat, but they also tend to make the user feel ‘good’ or sometimes even euphoric. People can develop a tolerance to these drugs quickly, making the user need to take more and more of the drug to experience the effects. And thus, addiction to the pill is born.
Not all prescription drug abuse begins with a proper prescription from a doctor. Prescription pill abuse is incredibly common among teens who find access to these pills on the street, or more commonly from a family medicine cabinet. Especially when used without the underlying medical issue to be treated, these prescription pills can easily lead to addiction.
What to Do if you Think your Loved One is Abusing Rx Pills
If you suspect that someone you love is abusing prescription drugs, there are a few things that you can do:
- Monitor their use of the drug by counting pills to see if they are taking the correct amount prescribed or if they frequently lose their pills.
- Openly ask them about their drug use. Just keep in mind that lying is a major part of the disease of addiction and if they really are in trouble you likely will not get a truthful response.
- Get help. Prescription drug addiction has a high potential for overdose, especially when mixed with other substances such as alcohol. Coming off of some prescription drugs can be incredibly dangerous and even deadly without medical supervision. Contact a drug addiction treatment centre immediately for professional assistance.
- If your loved one is obviously addicted and refuses to admit their problem it may be necessary to perform an intervention.
Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction
The sooner your loved gets into addiction treatment, the better the chances they will have of a successful and long-term recovery. If you suspect a loved one of abusing prescription drugs, call us today for a free, no-obligations assessment to see how we can help.