If you’ve ever asked yourself if someone you love could be on prescription drugs, you’re not alone. The abuse of prescription drugs has become not just a problem in the U.S. and around the world, but an epidemic in many places.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 48 million people aged 12 and above have used prescription drugs for reasons outside of medical prescriptions in their life. That means a staggering 20% of the U.S. population has at least one time abused prescription drugs.
Many reasons are thought to contribute to the rise in prescription drug abuse, including doctors prescribing more of these medications and the ease of getting them, as well factors such as pervasive unemployment and other socio-economic elements that can play a role in prescription drug abuse.
When someone is on prescription drugs or any kind of drug, they begin exhibiting certain physical signs and symptoms as well as behavioral warning signs. Drugs, including prescription drugs, alter the structure of the brain over time, and it makes it increasingly difficult for the addicted person to make good decisions.
Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include:
- Opioids: Opioids are prescription drugs that are used most often to treat pain, and they’re also one of the most addictive prescription drug classes. Unfortunately for many people who begin abusing opioids, they then turn to heroin, which is an opioid that is potent and cheaper than prescription drugs.
- Depressants: Central nervous depressants include benzos such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin. These are very commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and sleep problems, but they can lead to abuse, particularly when paired with other substances.
- Stimulants are prescription drugs like amphetamines such as Adderall, as well as methylphenidates such as Concerta and Ritalin. They’re prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy, but people often abuse them because they make them feel alert, decrease their appetite, and give them a sense of euphoria and even self-confidence.
While these drugs are legitimately used for the treatment of medical conditions, abuse occurs anytime they’re used in a way other than what’s intended by a care provider, whether it’s infrequent or chronic abuse.
The results of prescription drug abuse can be dangerous and even deadly, so how do you know the warning signs of someone being on them?
The effects of prescription drugs can vary significantly depending on factors such as the type of drug, the amount taken, the individual taking it, and whether or not prolonged use has been going on.
The following are some signs of prescription drug abuse based on the general type of drug:
- Opioid painkillers: As mentioned, the misuse of opioids is one of the biggest drug problems facing the U.S. right now. Some of the physical symptoms can include nausea, slowed breathing, a sense of confusion and lack of coordination and constipation. Drowsiness can also occur. As someone takes higher doses, it can tend to lead to more pain, which opioids are originally intended to treat. With opioids, there are also withdrawal symptoms that can indicate if someone is using drugs. Withdrawal symptoms of opioids include involuntary movements, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, pains, restlessness, flashes of cold, and seizures.
- Sedatives: Sedatives, including anti-anxiety prescription medications, can lead to physical symptoms such as sleepiness, slurred speech, problems with concentration and memory, slower breathing, problems walking and dizziness. Poor judgment may occur, as well as involuntary movements or tics.
- Stimulants: Warning signs someone is using stimulants can include a sense of anxiety, jitteriness, or agitation. They also tend to lose their appetite, have a raised body temperature, and an irregular heartbeat can indicate the use of stimulants such as amphetamines. People who are abusing stimulants will often experience weight loss that’s unexplained, and they can even experience seizures.
Gauging whether or not someone is abusing prescription drugs isn’t just based on physical signs and red flags. There are also behavioral changes and warnings that can occur with prescription drug abuse.
At first, as someone starts using or abusing prescription drugs, behavioral changes may be subtle. They could include a lack of concentration or focus in areas such as school or work, or symptoms like irritability.
Over time, as someone continues to use prescription drugs they will often become increasingly aggressive, and start to display noticeable changes in their personality. This can lead to damaged relationships with friends and loved ones, and often if people are abusing prescription drugs or other types of drugs, they will create new social groups.
Priorities tend to change, and school or work commitments can be pushed aside. Depression may be a sign of prescription drug use, as can lying or secrecy, financial problems, or trying to take extreme measures to obtain the drugs.
People who are addicted to various prescription drugs will often study the symptoms that are present when someone is prescribed the drug they’re addicted to so they can then go to a doctor and say they have these problems. They may doctor shop until they find someone who will prescribe drugs to them, or they may steal drugs from other people.
Some of the risk factors that people should be aware of when it comes to becoming addicted to prescription drugs include a family history of substance abuse, past addictions, certain psychiatric conditions, or being part of an environment where drug use is prevalent.
With a physical dependence to prescription drugs, the user builds a tolerance to the substance, and they may require increasingly large doses to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Addiction refers to behaviors in which someone is compulsively trying to obtain and use drugs, even when the impact on their life is negative. Signs of addiction to prescription drugs can also present as withdrawal symptoms when the drug is suddenly stopped, or a lower dose is taken.
If you believe that someone close to you is exhibiting the warning signs of being on prescription drugs, it’s important to speak with an addiction specialist or health care professional who can refer you to an appropriate treatment program.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.