Prescription drugs may only be legally obtained with the permission of a medical professional. While many people use prescription drugs to treat their medical conditions and can use the medication as prescribed, often for a specified limited time frame, some people become addicted to prescription drugs. In the case of those who become addicted to drugs they were prescribed, recognizing addiction is often harder than in instances in which a person obtains a drug illegally. Nevertheless, learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction may help prevent patients from transitioning to legally prescribed abuse of their medication into the cycle of addiction and drug abuse.
Types of Prescription Drugs Commonly Abused
While numerous prescription drugs can be abused, certain types of medication have higher reported instances of misuse and addiction. Opioids and drugs that are used to treat pain and contain hydrocodone have a high potential for abuse whether prescribed to a patient or obtained the illegal means. Examples include OxyContin and Vicodin. Drugs that are used to prevent sleep disorders, such as Ambien, or those that are prescribed to treat anxiety, like Xanax and Valium, are also commonly abused due to their sedative effect. ADHD drugs like Ritalin are examples of commonly abused prescription stimulants. Medicines that have a high potential for abuse are often labeled as such and are typically prescribed under particular conditions and used under close doctor supervision. Nevertheless, patients who are prescribed drugs that have a higher instance of abuse should monitor their dosing carefully and discuss all concerns with their physician.
Recognizing Behavioral Signs of Someone Addicted to Prescription Drugs
Often, a person’s friends or family members may readily identify a change in outward behavior to signify an emerging drug addiction. For patients who were legitimately prescribed a drug, stealing, forging, or selling prescriptions are immediate signs that drug dependency has developed. If the supervising doctor has instructed the patient to cease use of a prescribed drug, unwillingness to stop taking the medication or resorting to illegal behavior to obtain future supplies of the drug are all signs that should be discussed with a healthcare professional. The patient’s doctor may be able to help ease the transition off of the drug, thereby intervening early to disrupt the emerging cycle of addiction. Similarly, repeatedly losing prescriptions or seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor may be veiled attempts at obtaining larger quantities of the drug to support the emerging habit.
Taking a larger quantity of a drug than is prescribed for a single dose is another early sign of developing an addiction. As the body builds a tolerance to the drug, a higher dose will be required to experience the desired effect. People who notice that they or their friend or family member is exceeding the recommended dose of medication should consult the prescribing doctor. The doctor will then be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment and possibly prescribe an alternative medication to deter the patient from continuing the pattern of taking increasingly larger doses of the prescribed drug.
Excessive mood swings, unexplained hostility, changes in sleep pattern, or appearing to be high or sedated are also signs that a loved one may have been abusing prescription drugs. As prescription drug abusers use higher doses, disruptions in their mood or typical behavior become more and more apparent as they react to the amount of the drug that is present in their bloodstream. Exact behavioral changes will vary depending on the drug in question. For example, people who abuse stimulants will appear to be more energetic than usual while those who abuse sedatives may sleep more and seem sedated when they are awake. When prescription drug abusers begin to experience withdrawal symptoms and crave more of the drug they are using, they may exhibit mood swings, irritability, and irrational behavior.
People who are addicted to prescription drugs often exhibit poor decision-making. One of the characteristics of addiction is the willingness to resort to extreme measures to obtain the drug. For many people, this could mean committing crimes, accepting drugs in exchange for sexual acts, or continuing to use the drug despite negative consequences such as a strained relationship with friends and family and health consequences. Obtaining the drug becomes the most important objective for addicts; therefore, they are willing to endanger or sacrifice other aspects of their lives to achieve it. People who recognize a pattern of poor decision-making in the interest of using a drug, whether it be displayed by themselves or by someone they know, should seek help from a doctor or addiction specialist immediately. These behaviors are typical signs of someone who is addicted to prescription drugs.
Critical Next Steps
Anyone who has concerns about their own prescription drug use habits or the habits of a friend or family member should seek medical intervention. While the issue may seem embarrassing, healthcare professionals are often very familiar with addiction and can help patients find better ways to manage their condition. Furthermore, speaking to a doctor as early as possible can help people who are at risk of developing substance abuse issues avoid many years of emotional, psychological, physical, legal, and relational damage prescription drug abuse has caused in the lives of many drug users as well as in the lives of their friends and families.