While prescription drugs can be effective in treating a wide range of medical conditions, there are certain medications that have a high potential for abuse. Prescription drug abuse may occur when someone uses a medication that was not prescribed to them or takes their own medication at a higher dosage than intended. Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids (pain relievers such as codeine and Vicodin), sedatives (tranquilizers and sleep aids such as Ambien, Luminal, and Xanax), and stimulants (usually ADHD medications such as Adderall and Ritalin).
If you’re worried that someone you love is addicted to a prescription drug or that you are abusing a medication, you should familiarize yourself with some of the most common signs of prescription drug abuse. These include:
1. Unusual mood swings or behavior changes
Different medications will cause different effects, but you may notice confusion, trouble concentrating, feelings of euphoria, agitation, paranoia, or problems with short-term memory.
2. Changes in daily routines
Some medications may cause changes in sleep patterns (e.g. having trouble falling asleep at night, sleeping for long periods of time during the day) or eating (e.g. lacking an appetite).
3. Poor decision-making
Someone who is addicted to a prescription drug may start making uncharacteristic or risky decisions, such as forging a prescription or stealing a family member’s medication.
4. Trying to get prescriptions from more than one doctor
If their prescription expires, someone with a substance abuse problem might try to get new prescriptions from another doctor, or even try to get several prescriptions from multiple doctors. He or she may also dedicate more and more time to obtaining their medication (e.g. driving long distances to see a new doctor).
5. Using a medication after the condition for which it was prescribed has improved
Prescription drugs should be used at the lowest effective dosage for the shortest effective duration of time, but someone who is addicted to their medication may claim that they still need it to treat ongoing pain or other symptoms after their condition has improved.
6. Taking medication at a higher dose
Someone who is abusing a prescription drug may build up a tolerance, meaning they have to take the medication at a higher dosage to experience the same effect they once did.
If you or someone you care about is abusing a prescription drug, the best thing you can do is get treatment from health care professionals. Many of the most commonly abused drugs can cause serious withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them suddenly, so a doctor may need to supervise the patient as their dosage is gradually decreased.
In addition to detoxification, the person with a substance abuse problem may need to receive counseling or even take another medication to treat addiction. Someone with an opioid addiction, for example, might take a medication that reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings, such as methadone or naltrexone. A person with any type of drug addiction may benefit from behavioral therapy, which involves teaching patients how to handle cravings and avoid situations that could lead to a relapse.
If you need to get substance abuse help for yourself or a loved one, you can use the SAMHSA website or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find resources in your area.