Prescription drug abuse is quickly becoming one of the country’s most widespread and damaging problems to date.
A combination of over-prescribing doctors and under-scrutinized medical guidelines makes it easier than ever to get your hands on these powerful and deadly pills. In fact, almost half of the population is currently on at least one prescription medication and over ten percent have used five or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days.
In addition to the addictive qualities inherent in some of these medications is the fact that abusing them might be a precursor to becoming addicted to even harder street drugs like heroin.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to recognize the signs of abuse so you can determine if someone close to you is becoming a prescription drug addict.
Below, we outline 7 behaviors or symptoms you should keep your eyes open for if you think someone you love is beginning to abuse prescription pills. Once you’ve identified the problem you can work towards finding them the help they need to kick this dangerous habit.
Prescription Pill Abuse: The Silent Epidemic
As mentioned above, one of the biggest contributors to the prescription drug abuse epidemic is the fact that these drugs are so easy to prescribe. While regulations are certainly improving, due in part to increasing coverage of prescription-related overdoses, it’s still nowhere near as scrutinized as it should be.
This is especially true when it comes to pain relievers due to their particularly habit-forming qualities. In fact, a large portion of pill poppers started out with a legitimate prescription for the drugs. They could been given a prescription after being injured on the job, hurt while playing sports, or simply thrown out their back doing some yard work. And even though they may have followed their doctor’s orders completely, they still could have developed a physical dependence on the drug.
Why are these pain pills so addictive? Because they are in fact opiates, the same class of drug that heroin belongs to. It’s no wonder, then, that these pills are becoming such a problem. And beyond their addictiveness is the fact that they’re incredibly dangerous as well. In fact, a whopping 61% of overdose deaths in 2014 were due to opioids alone, and these numbers are continually on the rise.
While opioids are certainly an enormous area of concern when it comes to prescription drug abuse, other prescription pills are widely abused as well, most notably stimulants and central nervous system (CNS) depressants.
With the rise in ADHD diagnoses over the past few decades, prescriptions for stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin have seen an enormous surge in the medical industry. Anxiety and sleep disorders are also on the rise, leading to higher prescription rates of depressants as well.
So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Prescription drugs are more widely available than they ever have been before. And while this factor alone is enough to contribute to a culture of pill abuse, the highly addictive nature of many of these substances is also making it harder to treat these addictions effectively, especially when it comes to treating opioid addiction.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to recognize the signs of prescription medication abuse and get your loved one the help they need.
7 Signs Someone Might Be a Prescription Pill Addict
This list of symptoms of prescription drug addiction will help you determine if someone you’re close to may be developing a dependency or addiction. It’s worth noting, however, that the best way to be sure is by getting the opinion of a qualified physician.
They Exhibit Symptoms of Prescription Drug Intoxication
The first step to identifying an abuse problem is knowing how to tell if someone is high on pills. Since prescription medications encompass a wide variety of different drugs, each with their own effects, we’ve categorized the physical warning signs by the three most commonly abused prescription meds: opioids, stimulants, and CNS depressants.
- Slowed breathing
- Poor Coordination
- Raised body temperature
- Heightened blood pressure
- Irregular heart beat
- Anxiety and paranoia
- Reduced appetite
- Reduced concentration
- Slowed breathing
- Slurred speech
- Poor memory
It may be difficult to distinguish between the effects of opioid painkillers and sedatives due to the similarity of their symptoms. One of the main differentiators to look out for is the euphoria that typically comes with taking opioids. An abuser of this class of drug will display extended lethargy and drowsiness but will also show signs of an elated mood as well. What’s more, their coordination when walking is likely going to be worse on sedatives than on opioids.
They Show Physical Signs of Abuse Rather than Normal Usage
One of the biggest problems when it comes to identifying pill abuse is the fact that abusers will typically have an actual, legal prescription for the drug. As a friend or family member, then, you may recognize some of the symptoms listed above but brush them off as simply the side effects of this legal medication.
Besides the behavioral side effects of using (which we’ll get into later), one of the best ways you can tell if your loved one’s prescription pill use has turned into a problem is by taking note of the change in intensity of the physical symptoms. For many medications, the symptoms above will become more severe when higher amounts are taken.
For example, if they are sticking to their doctor’s dosage guidelines, you likely won’t see much of a difference in their physical symptoms over an extended period. If, however, your family member has been taking pain pills for a while now and is beginning to fall asleep at dinner or nod off during conversations, these signs are a cause for alarm.
You’ve Noticed Changes in Their Physical Appearance
If someone you care for becomes addicted to prescription meds, it’s likely they’re going to undergo a few physical changes at the same time. Some of these changes might be due entirely to the physical effects of the drugs themselves.
Stimulants, for example, are sometimes prescribed to help with weight management. As such, someone who is abusing this class of drug could show signs of rapid body fat loss. Conversely, other prescription drugs, depressants especially, will often carry with them the side effect of rapid weight gain. As a rule of thumb, if you suspect someone is abusing prescription medications, be on the lookout for any unusual weight fluctuations.
Prescription drug abuse, like most other types of abuse, will also typically have a profound effect on the user’s hygiene, grooming, and general physical appearance. They may go from showering every day to bathing every few days. Or maybe they used to spend a fair amount of time doing their hair in the morning and now they don’t even bother. Some people may even switch up their entire wardrobe, going from perhaps a suit and tie to t-shirts and sweatpants.
Substance addiction is a change in the fundamental chemistry of the brain. Through addiction, an addict becomes physically hardwired to seek out more of the substance. As such, the reward felt from maintaining a clean, put-together physical appearance pales in comparison to the reward from using again. So be sure to be on the lookout for these types of changes.
They Seem to Have a Decreased Interest in Former Passions and Hobbies
Just as with the changes in physical appearance above, a pill popper is likely to forget about past hobbies that may have brought them happiness since their reward scale has been fundamentally altered. While everything from exercise and watching movies to travelling and even socializing in general may have been fun in the past, the chemical addiction to prescription drugs like pain meds has made using the only truly enjoyable activity.
You may see this person start to excuse themselves from social events or maybe they don’t ever return your calls. The key here is recognizing that they are trading normal, healthy activities that at one point brought them joy for spending even more time using.
They’re Neglecting Obligations and Responsibilities
Being addicted to prescription pills (and any substance for that matter) is an incredibly energy intensive process. A pill popper may be able to get a prescription from one doctor but, once they catch on that someone is becoming addicted, they’re likely to lower the dosage to combat the effects. As such, a prescription drug addict will have to travel great distances to find a doctor they can legally obtain the pills from or they’ll have to resort to the street sellers.
These activities take time and energy. As such, you may notice someone you care about beginning to forget about chores or duties they were normally so willing to carry out before. It could be regularly attending class, finishing reports at work on time, or maybe just picking up their siblings or children after school.
Once again, the trade-off for living up to these obligations is nothing compared to the high achieved by using. And when you take into account the cravings that addiction carries, especially when it comes to prescription pain medications, it’s no wonder they have such a hard time living up to their promises.
You’ve Noticed Missing Money, Items, Or Medications
If you live with a suspected pain pill addict, you may have noticed that some objects around your house have gone missing. It could be your favorite pair of diamond earrings or a brand-new iPod or TV. It could even be items like clothing or decorations. While it may be hard to believe, the person you’re living with could be selling these for money to buy more prescription drugs to support their habit.
It’s no surprise, then, that you may have also noticed some of your cash has gone missing. Or maybe a credit card that you simply thought you left at a restaurant and had to cancel. And though your loved one may put on a convincing show of ignorance, this pattern of events may be far too regular to be random.
Watch out for missing medication as well. Though you may not be holding their exact drug of choice, they might still be traded or sold on the streets.
Be Aware of Your Own Behavior
While this final tip might seem a bit counterintuitive, sometimes taking a look at how you are acting around someone can be the final push you need to realize that they may have a problem with prescription pills.
If you find yourself continually making excuses for their behavior, ignoring telling signs of addiction, and consistently covering for them when they’re unable to fulfill their responsibilities, you may actually be enabling their prescription drug abuse addiction.
So, while you may not be the direct cause of their substance use disorder, your actions might still be making the situation worse.
Prescription pill addiction is a serious problem and only seems to be getting worse each year. And as the rate of addiction increases, it’s also becoming more and more important that you’re able to spot the signs of prescription drug abuse.
Doing so will help you get your loved one the help they need to overcome this terrible addiction.
Center for Disease Control (2017, Jan.). Therapeutic Drug Use. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/drug-use-therapeutic.htm
Medline Plus (2017, April). Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/prescriptiondrugabuse.html
National Institute of Drug Abuse (2016, Jan.). Commonly Abused Drug Charts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/commonly-abused-drugs-charts
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2015, Oct.). Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/prescription-drug-misuse-abuse