Prescription painkiller abuse is a huge problem in the United States — according to the CDC, as many as 12 million Americans abuse painkillers each year. These drugs, such as oxycodone, codeine, hydrocodone and morphine, are opioids that can be just as addictive as heroin. If left untreated, addiction to these prescription painkillers can be deadly.
But can you tell and how can you be sure if someone you love is struggling with prescription drug addiction? Though it can be hard to tell when someone is high on prescription drugs, you can look for some of these telltale signs of prescription painkiller addiction.
Taking the Drugs Long After Recovering From a Medical Condition
Not everyone who gets prescription painkillers for a legitimate medical condition winds up addicted to them. In fact, most people recover, stop taking their prescribed pain medication and move on with their lives. But some people who get prescription painkillers for a medical condition do become addicted.
If your loved one has received a prescription for pain killers for legitimate medical reasons, you should be concerned if, at the end of the recovery period, the person talks about still being in pain and needing more medication to get well. Of course, there is a chance that the pain hasn’t ceased; but if your loved one continues to extend a prescription, there is a chance he or she has become addicted.
Watch how your loved one acts if the doctor refuses to renew the prescription. If your loved one complains often and bitterly about the doctor’s refusal to renew, he or she might be an addict.
Using Larger Doses and More Often
People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol will develop a tolerance, meaning that they’ll need to keep using more and more to feel the same effects. If your loved one continues to increase the dosage, it’s a safe bet that he or she is developing a higher tolerance.
Preoccupation With Getting and Filling Prescriptions
A person using painkillers for legitimate medical reasons will be satisfied with the amount a doctor prescribes. A person in the grips of a prescription drug addiction will devote lots of time to getting and filling multiple prescriptions from multiple doctors. An addict might travel long distances to procure prescriptions from new doctors and do the same to find multiple pharmacies where they can fill their prescriptions without arousing suspicion.
The Addict Becomes Secretive
Often, people who are struggling with addiction try to hide their substance use from those closest to them. They become secretive about where they go, what they do and who they do it with. They might tell lies to hide their real behavior. They may have new friends — people they use with or obtain drugs from — who are not introduced to family or other friends.
Change in Personality
Personality changes are a huge red flag signaling addiction problems. Your loved one may suddenly exhibit mood swings, unexplained changes in energy levels or an inability to concentrate or perform well at work or school. He or she may withdraw from a social circle, or no longer care to associate with friends, family and loved ones.
Neglecting or Avoiding Responsibilities
A person who’s struggling with addiction becomes consumed with the need to find and use a certain drug or many different drugs, so much so that basic responsibilities are neglected. If your loved one is addicted to prescription drugs, he or she may stop doing basic chores around the house, neglect personal hygiene and fail to pay bills on time or at all. Sudden weight loss is a strong indication of abuse.
Exhibiting Signs of Opiate Intoxication/Withdrawal
It can be hard to tell when someone’s under the influence of opiates, but it’s not impossible. Perhaps the most telltale sign is that a person who is high on opiates will appear to be visibly sleepy, and may even fall asleep frequently. A person with a steady supply of the drug will exhibit this sleepiness periodically throughout the day. Someone who is high on prescription drugs may also flush around the neck and face, speech may be slurred and the pupils will be extremely constricted, even in dim light.
It’s often easier to spot the symptoms of opiate withdrawal than those of opiate intoxication. A person in withdrawal will experience nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, joint pain, insomnia, flu-like symptoms, dilated pupils, yawning and a runny nose.
Prescription drug abuse and addiction are common problems in the United States. If you think someone you love might be addicted to prescription painkillers, addiction counseling can help. People who are addicted to prescription drugs can benefit from the same methods and medications used to treat other kinds of opiate addiction. These treatments are often successful.
About the Author: Contributing blogger Nadine Jackson has been working as an addiction counselor for more than 15 years. She has personally helped dozens of people overcome prescription painkiller addiction.