What are the Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Researchers estimate that there will be more than four billion prescriptions filled this year in the U.S. More than 100 million Americans over the age of twelve currently take a prescription medication. The most common prescription medications that Americans take are stimulants, sedatives or tranquilizers, and painkillers.

Unfortunately, it is a common mistake to believe that people can’t become addicted to prescription medications. In some cases, prescription drugs are just as addictive as illegal street drugs. For opioid prescriptions especially, these drugs can lead to a severe addiction to illicit heroin. It is estimated that up to three-fourths of all people currently addicted to heroin started with an addiction to a prescription opioid painkiller. Researchers have also found that prescription opioid use is a significant risk factor for future addiction issues.

Around 19 million people in the U.S. who are prescribed a medication for a legitimate medical issue will go on to abuse the prescription drug. Family members and friends who have a substance use disorder will sometimes steal another person’s prescription to feed their drug habit. For concerned loved ones, it’s crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction before it’s too late. Because these drugs are legal and prescribed by a doctor, many people will have a difficult time recognizing the signs of addiction in a loved one.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

What are the signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction?

The signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction are incredibly similar to the symptoms present in addition to illegal drugs and alcohol. Family and friends may notice a change in personality, increased aggravation, and secretiveness if a loved one is addicted to prescription drugs. The different types of prescription drugs will also manifest slightly different symptoms of addiction.

Prescription Painkiller Addiction Symptoms:

  • Taking more of the medication than prescribed
  • Falling asleep at inappropriate times
  • Increased drowsiness and fatigue
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Glassy-eyed appearance
  • Slurred speech and problems with coordination
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Decreased appetite

Prescription Stimulant Addiction Symptoms:

  • Increased talkativeness, excitement, and sociability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Appearing “high” or otherwise euphoric
  • Inflated sense of self-confidence and risk-taking

Prescription Tranquilizer or Sedative Addiction Symptoms

  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Impaired motor function
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Sleepwalking
  • Issues with impulse control

Also, people who struggle with a prescription drug addiction may “doctor shop” or otherwise “lose” their prescriptions. Doctor shopping refers to the practice of visiting several clinics or doctor’s offices in the hopes of getting each physician to prescribe a medication, increasing the person’s supply of the drugs. These behaviors are all indicative that the person is taking far more of the drug than prescribed to feed an addiction. Drug addiction will also cause interpersonal strife, legal issues, and also financial issues in a person’s life. They may fail to uphold their usual responsibilities, and miss work or school. Abrupt changes in personality or an increase in negative personality traits also point to an addiction.

What are the physical and mental effects of prescription drug abuse?

Unfortunately, abusing a prescription drug can severely impact a person’s physical and mental health. Drug addiction can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions, or even trigger an underlying mental health disorder in a susceptible person. The interpersonal strife and other stresses that happen in a person’s life as a result of drug abuse can also decrease their mental health and well-being. Abusing a prescription drug can also cause organ damage, and increase the risk of overdose and death. Just because a drug is legal and a prescription, doesn’t make it 100% safe, especially if someone is taking far more than the recommended dosage.

What is the most critical factor when trying to determine if a person is addicted to a prescription and needs help?

It’s critical that loved ones understand the differences between tolerance, dependence, and substance use disorder. When someone starts taking any substance, legal or not, their body will develop a tolerance to it over a period of time. This isn’t indicative of a substance use disorder but is a natural, physical response to taking a substance.

Dependence happens when a person needs a certain amount of a drug to get the same desired effect. Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is addicted. The body will continue to naturally build a dependence on a substance, especially if it is for a legitimate medical condition.

For example, people who are prescribed Adderall for ADHD will build a tolerance to the medication and will need it to function appropriately. Without the drug, their ADHD will come back in full force, and they will have trouble focusing and concentrating. This doesn’t mean they are addicted and have a substance use disorder that needs to be treated and addressed.

But, when someone starts taking more of a prescription than prescribed or that is safe, they are abusing the drug. Taking medicine to induce a high is also indicative of drug abuse and addiction issues. When a person’s abuse of a prescription drug starts taking a toll on their ability to function in their day-to-day life, this is a significant indicator of substance use disorder. Fearing withdrawals, and getting anxious about when they can get a prescription refilled because they ran out early from taking too much of it can mean the person is addicted. Cravings, and a preoccupation with getting their next dose also demonstrates the presence of a substance use disorder.

Millions of people struggle with an addiction to prescription medications. But it’s possible to treat both the substance use disorder and the primary health issue the medicine was used for, without worsening a person’s propensity for addiction. Treating an addiction to a prescription drug is very similar to the processes used in treating illegal substances and alcohol.

At Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, our team of experienced and dedicated substance abuse professionals has helped dozens of people overcome their addiction to prescription medications. If you’re concerned about your or a loved one’s abuse of a prescription, please contact our representatives today to explore your options for substance use disorder.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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