The National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains that some 20% of US teens and adults have used prescription drugs for reasons not intended for their original purpose at some point in their lives, and prescription drug use is on the rise.
Why is prescription drug abuse or misuse so prevalent? Individual reasons will vary according to a person’s gender, history, age, background and other factors. But the main reason that prescription drug abuse is so common yet difficult to spot is that prescription drugs are not only common but also legal.
Sometimes people become addicted without even knowing it – for instance, if pain medication is required after a traumatic incident such as a car accident or surgery, it may help them cope, and they may become dependent.
However, the main reason that they’re being misused is that they’re legal and available. And because they’re legal, many people don’t recognize how serious addiction can be.
Are you concerned that a loved one may be addicted to prescription drugs? One or more of the following seven signs could be an indication that something is seriously wrong.
1. Unusual or Dishonest Behavior
When people become addicted, they often start displaying unusual behavior as they try to cover up the fact that the addiction is taking over their lives. They may lie about being sick to get out of work, they may be obsessed with finding new doctors to talk to, or they may even use excuses having to do with their kids to get out of events and activities.
Someone who is honest can become manipulative in response to the drug seeking and management. But even when they’re not being dishonest, they may become distant or quiet, or simply deny certain behavior.
If you suspect prescription drug abuse, look out for changing patterns and schedules. Fatigue, not coming home at the right time, lack of personal hygiene, problems at work or school and unusually secretive behavior can all be cause for alarm.
2. Gender Might be a Risk Factor
It’s worth noting that the rate of prescription drug addiction is rapidly increasing amongst women. One 2017 report from the Office of Women’s Health claims that more men than women use these types of drugs, but actually the rates of misuse are increasing faster for women.
Deaths from prescription opioids amongst women increased by 471% between 1999 and 2015, and the percentage for men is less than half of that at 218%. To this end, while it’s never okay to make concrete assumptions based on gender, it’s important not to assume that addiction only happens to men or people in certain income brackets, for example.
4. Financial Difficulty
Financial changes are a key indicator that something is wrong. This is because the more a person becomes addicted, the more they need to satisfy their high. So, they will likely be purchasing higher volumes of a given rug as time goes on.
As their addiction takes hold, they may start to go to extremes such as stealing from family members and fall behind on payments and bills because their addiction becomes too expensive.
You may also notice that a person suddenly has more money than normal, which could indicate that they are involved in the selling or transport of drugs.
5. General Personality Changes
Personality changes are a normal part of drug use, but they can be subtle enough that you don’t notice them until an addiction becomes severe. Sometimes they may take the form of mood swings or simply “shutting down” and disengaging. They may be more likely to request privacy, stay out late at night, or withdraw from activities they enjoy.
If you bring up a topic like drug use and they get particularly emotional, this may be a sign that they are ashamed and trying to hide something. In general, if people are consistently emotionally volatile or more withdrawn than usual, this could be a sign that something is wrong.
6. Physical & Behavioral Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic, prescription drugs that are most likely to be abused are opioids (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin) for pain, anti-anxiety medicine (e.g., Xanax, Valium), and stimulants (e.g., Ritalin, Dexedrine).
Symptoms of sedatives include drowsiness or dizziness, as well as confusion and memory loss. The results of misuse of stimulants over a long period of time include weight loss, insomnia, and restlessness, as well as sometimes-rash behavior.
Opiates can cause a drop in blood pressure, constipation, sweating, confusion, and depression. When any of these types of addictions are combined with others such as illicit drugs or alcohol, symptoms will likely be intensified.
7. Social Withdrawal or Isolation
When people begin to do things like neglecting normal responsibilities, sleeping for long hours, hanging out with new people, or even just isolating themselves for no apparent reason for long periods of time, this can be a sign that something is seriously wrong. Depression, anxiety or paranoia may be present or even exacerbated because of the addiction.
What should you do?
Prescription drug abuse is a complex issue and can affect anyone, yet many people are likely to be in denial about it simply because it’s legal and therefore may not “seem” like an addiction in the same way heavy drug or alcohol use may be.
But the truth is that people easily can fall into the trap of prescription drug misuse simply because they start out using them to quell pain, anxiety, or even mental illness. Sometimes teens might be more prone to addiction if they feel a lot of pressure to perform socially or academically, and people at high-pressure jobs may use things like stimulants just to “get through a day.”
If this description fits you or someone you know, consider calling a treatment center to get help as soon as possible.