dual diagnosis

Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

The prescription drug epidemic is a well-documented problem in the United States. According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 18 million Americans have misused prescription medications at least once in the past year.

Prescription drug abuse affects people from all backgrounds and social classes. And because drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines are so highly addictive, drug addiction can occur even when patients take their medications exactly as prescribed. What are some of the major signs of prescription drug abuse, and how can you tell if someone you care about is struggling with addiction?

Ways to Tell If Someone Has a Prescription Drug Addiction

If you suspect a friend or family member has developed a physical or psychological dependence on prescription medications, here are some red flags to look out for.

  • Continued use of the drug, even after the condition it was prescribed for is cured
  • “Doctor shopping” to get more medication
  • Using another person’s prescription drugs
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose
  • Noticeable changes in mood or behavior, such as becoming hostile, agitated or anxious
  • Secrecy about how often they use the drug, or in how they obtain more of the drug
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit or taper off drug use
  • Lack of interest in formerly enjoyable hobbies or activities
  • Financial problems associated with purchasing drugs more frequently

Phases of Prescription Drug Abuse

If you notice the signs of prescription drug abuse, understanding and being able to recognize the stages of addiction can help you determine if inpatient detox is necessary.

Phase One: Non-Medical Use

Non-medical use of prescription drugs to “loosen up” or cope with a problem is the first stop on the path to addiction. When someone is taking pills that are prescribed to someone else, or taking more than the prescribed dose, it’s usually a warning sign that they’re seeking to get high, as opposed to treating conditions like pain or anxiety.

Phase Two: Misuse

Misuse of prescription medications is the next step in the progression. It’s similar to non-medical use, but this phase describes more habitual behavior. People at this stage have built up a higher tolerance to drugs, which means they’ll have to keep using more and more to achieve the same high.

Phase Three: Abuse

At this stage, prescription drug abuse begins to lead to other issues, including relationship problems and missed responsibilities. Also, symptoms of withdrawal such as cravings and irritability emerge when the person misses a dose of the drug.

Phase Four: Addiction

The final stage of the process is a full-blown addiction, which includes both physical and psychological dependence. A person who has developed an addiction to prescription drugs becomes obsessed with getting their next dose, despite the severe negative consequences on every aspect of their life.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

Withdrawing from prescription drugs can be dangerous and uncomfortable, but not nearly as dangerous as risking your life by continuing the cycle of addiction. Seeking medically supervised detoxification is key to managing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms in a safe and comfortable environment.

If someone you love exhibits any of these signs of prescription drug abuse or addiction, getting them into inpatient detox is the first step on the road to recovery. Seeking this help can be the most significant decision an addicted person ever makes to heal their mind and body.