Are You Abusing Your Prescription Medication?

Prescription painkiller abuse has been increasing dramatically over the years. Overdoses of prescription painkillers are one of the most lethal and common drug-related accidents and unfortunately, many people who abuse these medications are obtaining them both illegally and legally. Because so many doctors and clinics are relatively quick to prescribe them (sometimes these places are referred to as "pill mills"), people who get them legally can go on to sell them to others. The problem with prescription painkillers has been called an epidemic and rightfully so.

One of the reasons a problem like this has been able to take such a strong hold on otherwise non-addict citizens is because prescription medication can provide the addict with the illusion that he or she is simply taking medicine rather than abusing a hard drug. This phenomenon is even more nuanced when the medication has been prescribed directly to the patient. Sometimes doctors prescribe pills that are stronger or at a higher frequency than necessary, which can lead to addiction. Even when this isn't the case, many who are in pain up their dosage on their own because they view the increase as a harmless medical decision. But prescription painkillers are not harmless. And when they're overdone, they can be life-threatening.

So how can you tell the difference between a person who is taking their medication for legitimate pain with healing and health in mind vs. a person who is abusing prescription painkillers? Most people who abuse prescription painkillers will tell others--and themselves--that they are taking them because of pain. Whether or not this pain is real is only one aspect to consider when trying to figure out if someone us abusing this kind of medication or using it properly.

If you think that someone you know might actually be abusing their prescription medication, here are some things to think about:

  • Is the medication prescribed? If not, where are they getting the medicine? Most people with serious pain should not have an issue getting prescription medication from a doctor who can oversee their pain treatment plan.
  • How frequently are they taking the medication and what is the dosage? Is the person taking the pills every few hours or are they actively trying to space them out as much as possible? Are they taking a low dosage or a high dosage?
  • How does the person act when they don't have medicine? If they forget their medicine at home or can't get a refill on their prescription in time, how do they act? Their behavior during this time is usually a telling sign as to whether or not they are an addict. Those who are addicted might also find that they need to continually increase their dosage.
  • Does the person try to go to different doctors because of an issue they are having with getting their prescription written from their original pain doctor? If this is the case, they might be "doctor shopping," perhaps without even knowing it.
  • How long as the person been taking painkillers? Prescription pain killers are usually not an ideal way to manage chronic pain. They're much more effective for acute pain, which should pass in a matter of weeks in most cases. If the person you know is still taking this medication many months or even years later, it's possible that they're addicted.

Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.