When you’re sick or have suffered from a serious injury, the first few days after a visit to the doctor you rely heavily on the prescribed drug to ease the pain and get you through the day. However, you may reach a point where you feel compelled to continue taking the prescription long after you need it. If you think you or a loved one might have a problem with prescription drugs, there are some red flags you should watch out for.
The Cheat Sheet spoke with some of the country’s top addiction experts to learn more about prescription drug abuse.
There is sudden behavior change
One of the first signs of a prescription drug addiction is an abrupt change in behavior. If you suspect the abuse of prescription medication, take note of unusual behavior you hadn’t observed before.
Psychologist Matthew Polacheck, director of outpatient services at the Betty Ford Center in West Los Angeles, said behavioral changes may also be accompanied by cognitive and physical changes. “The first thing we look for is a change in behavior of any kind. [Someone] who never naps comes home and goes to sleep. [Someone] who is passive suddenly becomes more euphoric. More specific behavior includes nodding off, drowsiness, slurred speech, confused thinking, and pupils can also be constricted.”
The drug becomes part of a daily routine
If you or someone you know can’t seem to go a day without a prescription drug that was meant for short-term use, this is another red flag. Over time, short-term medication should be slowly tapered down until there is no longer a need for it.
Audrey Hope, an addictions specialist at Seasons in Malibu World Class Addiction Treatment, said if there is difficulty in stopping a drug, this should be a cause for concern. “The main sign that you are a prescription drug addict is that you use the drugs every day. You can’t function without them. You rely on them. You need them. You lie to yourself that it is for the ‘pain’ and because ‘the doctor prescribed it.’ You say it is OK to use them,” said Hope.
More of the drug is used than prescribed
Another sign of trouble is using too much of the prescription and running out of the drug much earlier than expected considering the prescribed amount. Someone desperate for a refill may resort to manipulative behavior to obtain the drug, said Plattor. “Other signs of prescription addiction can include manipulative behaviors such as lying, stealing, using more of the drug than is prescribed, poor decision-making, ‘losing’ prescriptions often, and obtaining a number of prescriptions for the same drug(s) from more than one doctor,” Plattor said.
Misconceptions about prescription drug addiction
There are many misunderstandings when it comes to an addiction to prescription drugs. Here are some of the most common ones.
Myth: Pain pills are the only addictive prescription drugs
While pain medications are commonly abused, there are many others that can become addictive. “In addiction treatment, what we see most is opioid abuse. We also see abuse of ADHD medications, such as Adderall or Ritalin. Medications like benzodiazepines can also be substances of abuse. Drugs given for anxiety or depression, especially when given without concurrent psychotherapy, can lead to substance abuse problems,” said Dr. Constance Scharff, the research director of addiction treatment center Cliffside Malibu and author of Ending Addiction for Good.
Myth: I trust my doctor so I don’t need to ask questions
Ask questions about your prescription, and don’t just blindly trust your doctor. It’s important to check with your doctor and make sure you understand side effects as well as how much medicine you should take and when to stop. You should also let your physician know if you’re having a hard time stopping your medicine.
Where to get help
If you’re looking for assistance for yourself or a loved one, know there is quality help out there. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Francyne Foxman recommends reaching out to a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous. You can also consider seeking the services of an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program. You can start your search online on websites such as Recovery.org and Rehabs.com, which have a state-by-state listing of rehabilitation centers. “Prescription drug abuse is a serious matter and ought to be treated accordingly. Depending on the severity, medical intervention may be necessary with detox, hopefully leading to abstinence,” said Foxman.
When it comes to recovery, be prepared for a long road ahead. A prescription drug addiction can’t be cured overnight, said Polacheck. In regards to receiving treatment, Polacheck states:
The bad news about addiction is that it is a chronic disease. The good news is we have excellent treatment. Recovery is a lifestyle and can be a very fulfilling one. There are treatment centers on every corner but it is important to do your research and ensure you’re going to a program that has a good reputation. What also is important is to understand this isn’t a 30-day-and-you’re-cured disease. This is a refocus on your life and finding spirituality and purpose for living.
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[Editor’s Note: This story was originally published November 2016]