The Top Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Are you afraid someone you love may be addicted to prescription drugs? If so, read on to learn about the top signs of prescription drug abuse.

Did you know that over 15 million people in the U.S. today abuse prescription drugs? What about the fact that prescription opioid abuse claims more lives per year than all illegal drugs put together?

What does this mean for you? It means that if someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, they are in very real danger of death. If you think there’s even a slight chance someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, it’s imperative you find out for sure and stop it before it’s too late.

Learn how to spot the signs of prescription drug abuse by reading this guide.

Who Is Most Likely to Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Statistics show that young people under the age of 26 are most likely to abuse prescription drugs. In 2010, it was recorded that 11.4% of youths aged 12-25 abused prescription drugs.

And 2014 saw the tragic deaths of 1,741 young adults to prescription drug overdose. That’s almost 5 youths per day. And it’s an increase of more than 1,300 since 1999.

If the loved one you’re concerned about is between the ages of 12 and 25, it increases the chance they’re misusing prescription drugs.

If You See Prescription Drug Use, Find Out More

Obviously, we can’t go around accusing all prescription drug users of abuse simply because we see them take a pill from an orange bottle. It could very well be that the drug is being used properly for its prescribed purpose. But here are a few ways to find out for sure if it’s being used as prescribed.

Is It Their Prescription?

Taking someone else’s prescription is abuse, and it’s illegal. If you can find a non-intrusive way to do so, read the name on the label of the drug being taken. If the name doesn’t match the person taking it, this may be a sign of abuse.

But you can’t jump the gun just yet. There could be other explanations.

It’s possible the user’s household recycles pill bottles for convenience. They could have split a prescription into multiple bottles to carry one in their purse, one in the drawer at home, etc.

If you know enough about the prescription, you can take note of if the pill in the bottle matches the label. If the pill matches and the name doesn’t, it’s likely the user is taking someone else’s prescription.

What Is the Prescription For?

Do you know why they are taking the prescription? If you haven’t asked before, find a polite way to do so.

If you know the person, it should be easy enough to know if their answer checks out. That is, you’d most likely know if they had any recent surgeries that required pain pills, for example.

However, if you see them taking Vicodin for a dental surgery that happened several months ago, this is a red flag. It wouldn’t be rude in this situation to find out more by showing concern about their explained situation.

You might ask why the pain has lasted so long and if they’ve scheduled a follow-up appointment to address it. Their responses may give you more clues as to the truth of their words.

Do They Still Need the Prescription?

Furthermore, look for signs that they still have the condition that the medicine was prescribed for in the first place. If the prescription is still actually necessary, you should see signs and symptoms of the condition they’re taking it for.

The easiest way to investigate this to take note of when they’re taking it. For example, if the medication is for pain, are you seeing any evidence that they are in pain when they take it? Or does it seem more like they’re taking it at times when they’re stressed out?

Or perhaps they’re taking the medication is for a mental health disorder, such as depression or ADHD. If so, does this make sense to you, based on what you know about them?

Are you already aware of the condition? Have they ever shown any symptoms of it? Or does the disorder supposedly being treated not sound like your friend at all?

How Often Do They Take It?

Most prescriptions are designed to treat their respective condition according to a very strict dosage and time schedule. This is not only for patient convenience and proper effectiveness but also to help regulate usage and prevent dangerous overdose.

Along those lines, a prescription will very rarely require more than two pills per dose or less than an hour between doses. It’s also unlikely that the amount per dose or minimum time between doses would ever be “optional.”

So then, does the user’s dosage amount stay the same or change from dose to dose? Do they take it according to a specific time schedule or do they seem to take it arbitrarily without even checking the time?

If the usage of the medication seems excessive or irregular to you, it probably is.

Other Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Even when used as prescribed, drugs usually have side effects. But this is even more likely when prescriptions are misused. If there is prescription abuse going on, you are certain to see side effects in various areas of the user’s life.

Aside from usage habits, here are some other potential signs of prescription drug abuse.

Difficulty Getting Work Done

The job is always one of the first things affected by any type of substance abuse. The reason is twofold.

As stated, the drug itself will most likely affect mental or physical ability and energy levels. But also, addiction of any kind impairs the individual’s ability to function.

Common side effects of drug abuse include weakness and fatigue, trouble sleeping, and cognitive impairment. These and other side effects impair the user’s ability to meet deadlines or to do work properly, if at all.

General Physical or Behavioral Changes

The symptoms of the person in question can give you a clue about their situation. Illnesses may sometimes hit us hard, but they pass soon enough and take their symptoms with them. Conversely, intense physical symptoms and dramatic behavioral changes that appear suddenly but don’t go away are common signs of substance abuse.

There are a few other conditions, though, that may cause these changes or symptoms to remain longer than a month. It could be menopause, pregnancy, a very serious illness, or a negative reaction to a new medication being used as prescribed. But, if these seem unlikely, there’s a good chance that the cause is addiction/substance abuse.

Physical Side Effects

Common physical side effects of prescription opioid narcotics include:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired coordination
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow, ineffective breathing
  • Constricted pupils

Those who misuse stimulants may show signs of:

  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Flushed skin
  • High blood pressure

Sedative/anxiolytic misuse can cause:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Erratic, uncontrollable eye movement
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unsteady gait (wobbly legs)

You can add these symptoms to your list of evidence that there may be a prescription misuse problem. But note, however, that these symptoms may be caused by other conditions.

That said, pay attention to any explanation your friend or loved one gives for these symptoms. Prescription abusers very often fake ailments to keep up appearances. They also do this in order to receive new prescriptions or, possibly, to steal drugs from the doctor.

If your friend or loved one is constantly at the doctor for a variety of mysterious ailments, while their symptoms remain unchanged, it’s probably a sham.

Mood Changes

Another indicator of prescription misuse is sudden, persistent changes in overall mood. The most common are agitation, irritability, anxiety, depression, and mood swings.

Behavioral Side Effects

It’s easy to see when someone you’ve known for a long is not acting like his or herself. That’s why radical changes in behavior are perhaps the most tell-tale sign of prescription misuse.

Prescription misuse can cause delusions and impulsive, reckless behaviors. Abusers sometimes become hyperactive, paranoid, aggressive, even violent. They may become self-destructive and/or suicidal.

You may also see noticeable signs of intoxication or chemical high. They might appear dazed and slur their speech.

They sometimes develop difficulty remembering things. They may have strange sleep patterns and be awake/asleep at odd hours.

Relational Side Effects

It’s very common for drug abusers to withdraw from friends and family both physically and emotionally. This is a result of attempting to hide their habit.

They withdraw emotionally for fear of confrontation. And they withdraw physically so they can use without anyone seeing.

Their relationship with you may become a lot more distant or shallow. One indication is feeling like you hardly see them anymore. And when you do see them, the relationship feels disconnected and empty.

The fixation of addiction takes a powerful hold over the addicted’s attention. They will seem distracted or less focused in all other areas of their life.

They’ll likely become more isolated in their free time and demand more privacy than is usual for them. And there’s a high chance they’ll drop out of social or group activities they’re normally involved in.

What Can You Do?

Have you noticed these signs of prescription drug abuse in someone you know? If you’re certain they have this problem, you must take action right away.

Get friends and family together to express your concern through intervention. Approach them with compassion and understanding. Get them enrolled in rehab and assure them that they have your full support for every moment of their recovery.

Click here to find out more about our recovery program or contact us to see how we can help.


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