How to Detect If You or Your Loved One is Addicted to Prescription Medication

June 20, 2018 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture

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Prescription addiction happens covertly, so you may not detect your own or your loved one’s dependence until much later in the process. Many people who abuse prescription painkillers simply tell others – and themselves – that they take their pills because of pain.

“Most of the time you are unable to decipher [an addiction] until an individual has experienced more deficits than benefits from abusing the medications,” Dr. Nancy B. Irwin, a primary therapist at Seasons in Malibu, says. “In other words, unless there are apparent impairments in functioning as a result of abuse, most individuals do not even realize they are abusing.”

The fact that prescription opioids come from a doctor tend to lull one into thinking that he or she is simply taking medicine instead of abusing hard drugs. “Prescription medication can be obtained legally and is largely covered by your health insurance,” Dr. Irwin says. “[Some believe] street drugs carry more risk than prescriptions because you are unaware of any additives or other drugs it could be combined with.”

On the contrary, prescription painkillers are actually one of the most common causes of lethal drug-related accidents in the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve at least one prescription opioid. The report also reveals that more than 15,000 Americans died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in the year 2015 alone.

To help you or your loved one pull out of this dangerous cycle, here are four key questions that can unveil whether or not someone’s prescription medication use has developed into addiction.

1. How often are you taking the medication?

If you suspect prescription opioid abuse, Dr. Irwin says this should be one of the first questions to ask. Are you or your loved one taking the pills every few hours or are you actively trying to space them out as much as possible? Are the dosages low or high?

Bear in mind that all prescription medication must be taken as prescribed. Many doctors also write prescriptions for pain medication to be taken only “as needed.” If you find yourself or a loved one taking these medications on a regular basis or in higher doses, the prescribing doctor needs to know. Taking higher doses or more frequent doses is a sign of possible addiction.

2. Can you stop taking the medication?

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 is unable to stop taking the medication after the appropriate amount of time, check to see if discontinuing the medication causes problems. This would be a tell-tale sign of dependence. Dr. Irwin says, “The abuse begins to happen when individuals become physically dependent on prescription medication and the desire to avoid the physical and psychological discomfort from withdrawal symptoms outweighs the choice to stop taking the medication.”

3. How do you act when you don’t have medicine?

If you or your loved one forgets the medication at home or can’t get a refill on time, what happens? Your behavior during this time is usually a telling sign as to whether you are an addict.

According to Dr. Irwin, initial signs and symptoms include changes in behavior or mood, decreased tolerance of others, increased agitation, irritability, anxiety or impulsivity.

“You will see changes in cognition which can include memory loss, confusion, poor concentration or focus, complaints regarding physical aches and pains, body sensations such a pins and needles, poor G.I. functioning or an urgency to get to the medication.”

Typically, right before a prescription runs out, addicts get “panicky” and spend a great deal of time scheduling doctor appointments and pharmacy pickups out of fear of missing a dose.

4. Where are you 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. Whenever possible, it is best that the person gets all of his or her prescriptions filled from the same pharmacy. A pharmacist who gets to know the patient and his or her medications is in a good position to help spot signs of possible prescription addiction. If you or your loved one makes an effort to avoid seeing the same pharmacist, know that this may be a sign of addict behavior.

While prescription pain opioids are often useful and sometimes necessary to treat moderate to severe pain, they are far from harmless. The key is to monitor one’s intake of these prescriptions and maintain an open and honest dialogue with a medical professional.

Recovery from Prescription Medication Addiction

Not everyone who receives prescription painkillers become dependent, but when addiction does take hold, it’s important to look beyond the drug abuse. “The addiction is a symptom to underlying psychological and physiological ailments that have yet to be treated,” Dr. Irwin says.

The problem with addiction is that it contributes to the brain being hijacked and leads to poor judgment, often rendering them unable to seek help on their own. If you find that your loved one refuses to acknowledge their drug abuse, Dr. Irwin suggests an intervention along with other family and friends. “Be vigilant, stay informed, consult with professionals and ensure that you continue to be persistent.”

On the other hand, if you recognize the addiction symptoms in yourself and are ready to recover, allow yourself the time to heal. Get assistance and do what you can to prioritize your health and overall wellbeing.

“Prescription addiction requires a focused approach to eliminating the dependence and then facilitating a long-term plan for success,” Dr. Irwin says. “Seasons in Malibu thinks about that plan from the moment [the person] walks through the doors.” The recovery team’s approach includes a systemic treatment model that strongly takes the individual’s family, environment, vocation and activities of daily living into account, she says.

When dealing with drug addiction, remember that having a good spirit and keeping an open mind help tremendously during the recovery period. “Prescription abuse and dependence can be more difficult to spot early on, that is why staying vigilant, maintaining an open line of communication and seeking help immediately can make the crucial difference for you or your loved one.”


Dr. Nancy B. Irwin is a Certified Hypnotherapist and the Primary Therapist at Seasons in Malibu, a world class, dual-diagnosis, CARF-accredited drug rehab and addiction treatment center in Malibu, CA that specializes in treating addictions such as alcoholism, cocaine addiction, opiate addiction, prescription drug abuse and more. Dr. Irwin earned her doctorate in clinical psychology from California Southern University and is a certified practitioner of Time Line Therapy, Emotion Free Therapy, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). Over the years, she’s shared her expertise on CNN, CNBC, Fox, MSNBC and other popular radio and TV shows.

Addiction from the Outside Looking in

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beauty girl cryHeath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, River Phoenix – and other talented celebrities we had all seen and grown to love, only to later learn that these gifted individuals were are all victims of addiction. During my own active addiction I had many friends who overdosed, went to jail or passed away due to their drug abuse. Unfortunately, these crises weren’t concerning enough for me to get sober. It took more internally-driven motivation for me to straighten out and, after years of drug use, I finally got clean and am now standing on the outside of addiction looking in.

Celebrity Deaths

For most people, it is normal to not feel emotional about a celebrity who dies in tragic circumstances. Let’s be honest here: It’s not like they are family or we know them personally. But as an addict in recovery, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of sympathy and concern–not only sadness over the loss of a great human being, but for the family of the deceased. It had been almost a full year since I had chosen to get sober when I heard the news of Cory Monteith’s passing. As many people know, he was one of the stars on the hit T.V. show Glee. When I read the news on the Internet, I immediately started crying. I wasn’t sure if I was crying for Lea Michele, his on-screen and off-screen girlfriend; his family who had lost such a young member of their clan; or if it was the fact that he had overdosed alone. He died in a hotel room, by himself. The same sick, terrifying feeling overcame me when I saw the breaking news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. The feeling was almost a morbid sense of relief that I never had to worry about that kind of ending for myself, but it was an intense reminder that a relapse is only one step in the wrong direction. Addiction has many faces. It can afflict a celebrity, a friend or a respectable-looking passerby in the street. I often remind myself that it is humbling to feel sad when someone passes away from drug or alcohol addiction.

Personal Acquaintances

Two months after I had gotten sober, I was told that a former friend of mine had passed away due to substance abuse. It was a friend I used to use with, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but that did not lessen the blow. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling that I had never experienced, even with the loss of other people unrelated to substance abuse. In this instance there was something about the possibility that it could have been me. I have now cut off all contact with my old ‘playgrounds and playmates’ so I definitely don’t surround myself with any negative influences, but I still pray for the sick and suffering. It doesn’t cause any less pain to know that people I used to see everyday are out there still living in the same sick cycle that I had been caught in. I have a strange sense of compassion when I think of the path I was on that many people are still traveling.

Feeling Empathy

It’s odd to discover that people you barely know or don’t know at all can affect you. When a addict you were acquainted with dies, the feeling is similar what you feel when a celebrity you like dies, except it almost seems more real, in a sense. We generally put celebrities up on a pedestal, which places them at a distance, one step removed. However, when another “regular” person dies from addiction, it engulfs you. Before an AA meeting, if a regular member of the meeting has passed, they will be recognized at the beginning of the meeting. When this happens, it seems as if a cloud has fallen over his or her friends and the rest of us who were unfamiliar still feel empathy. It took a long time for me to realize that it is okay to feel such sadness for those who fall victim to addiction and lose the battle.

I think too many people with addiction problems often feel judged by those who have not experienced substance abuse – as if it others expect that they should just be able to get clean. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. So, if you find yourself crying or feeling upset over someone who has lost their battle with addiction and paid the ultimate price, then let it all out. When you’ve never been an addict or have a good amount of sobriety under your belt, it’s easy to forget about the small things on your gratitude list. Having empathy for others who have struggled with addiction is never a bad thing, and is a poignant reminder of how important it is to stay sober.

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

The Dangers of Prescription Drugs

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TGDGprescriptionIt’s almost expected that when you visit the doctor, you will receive a prescription for medication. If you are in pain, the doctor prescribes medicine that will reduce the pain. If you are having anxiety or mental issues, the doctor or specialist will likely recommend pills for that. In fact, there is a pill that can be prescribed for nearly anything that ails you these days.

Obtaining “Legal” Prescription Drugs

As addicts, maybe even those who have not abused prescription drugs, we know how easy it can be to obtain a prescription. It may take a bit of “doctor shopping” before you find a doctor who is willing to write you a prescription, but it can be extremely easy to get the kind of drugs you are looking for. Doctor shopping is a term used to describe when a patient visits multiple doctors to try and obtain multiple prescriptions for controlled substances, usually addictive narcotics or opiates such as Vicodin or Oxycontin. Some addicts are reluctant to carry out such a scheme, so they just look for others who use prescription drugs and are willing to sell their prescriptions. Furthermore, since addictive narcotics are so commonly prescribed, it is easy to search anyone’s medicine cabinet to “find” what you are looking for.

Spiraling Down

A big concern with prescription drugs is that consistent use may lead to addiction and a higher potential for abusing other drugs–a downward spiral many people have traveled. This may not seem likely for all people who receive prescription medications, but to those of us with addictive tendencies, it seems like a guarantee. With a prescription like Oxycontin, for example, which has been nicknamed the “legal heroin,” it’s easy to see why a prescription medication can lead to problems. An additional concern is the dangerous effects of mixing prescription drugs with other drugs or alcohol. We often see accidental overdoses in cases where people have combined multiple prescription drugs at the same time, or most commonly, combined pills and alcohol. Sometimes this is accidental. It is easy to forget you took a pill, and then accidentally take another medicine or even sip a drink without even thinking about the risks.

But I’m not an Addict!

In sober recovery meetings, I regularly talked with people who were addicted to pills because at the time, I was abusing prescription drugs myself. The people who shared their stories about prescription drug addiction often started their story with how they had sustained an injury or got into an accident and were prescribed painkillers. They would go on and on with their life story and, for some reason, I could never understand the point of their story. Finally I figured it out: Unlike me, these addicts had not taken their prescriptions with the intention of getting high or ever relying on these pills to function, but addiction does not discriminate. Some of these people had never even touched an illegal drug in their lives. They had relied on the recommendations of their doctors and had taken the pills as they were prescribed. Once the prescription ran out, however, they realized that they had developed a dependency on the pills and were helpless without them. Once the dependency on the prescription pills took hold and their doctors wouldn’t renew their prescriptions, these people felt they had nowhere to turn but to the streets for either the purchase of more painkillers or the use of illicit drugs to satisfy their body’s need for the drug. Luckily, many of these people found their way to addiction treatment and rehab programs.

What Is Being Done about Our Prescription Addiction Problem?

So what’s being done about the abuse and reliance on prescription drugs? There has been implementation of programs to reduce incidence of doctor shopping, and also more stringent monitoring of what kinds of prescriptions are being abused (and handed out). However, it never seems to be enough. The CDC has reported that every year at least 15,000 people die from prescription drug overdoses. We have heard positive news about one prescription drug that has been a problem–the pharmaceutical company Actavis is ceasing production of a popular cough syrup commonly known as “Lean.” Yet, drug companies continue to release prescription drugs that are highly addictive. Zohydro, a new painkiller that is similar to Vicodin, has been shown to be much more dangerous than Vicodin because it only contains hydrocodone and no other active ingredients. For that reason, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick attempted to place a ban on the drug, but a federal judge overturned it.

We need more laws that protect the population from addictive prescription drugs. Must we wait and wonder when the madness from the pharmaceutical companies will end? Does it take years and years of drug abuse and overdoses to put more regulation on prescription drugs? It’s important to know that not all prescriptions are abused, but how many deaths will it take before someone in government or a regulatory position will step up and change the rules?

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Some Signs You May Need Rehab

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Are There Signs That Rehab Is the Right Decision?

Are There Signs That Rehab Is the Right Decision?

Most addicts will enter treatment on the heels of a crisis situation. For some, this will be personal. For others, it will be legal or financial. And some people have health crises that motivate them to get help in quitting their addictions. While most addicts believe these are reasons for using or drinking more, they are really outcomes of the behaviors of addiction.

Signs You Might Need Rehab

Those who are ready to stop the cycle of dependence, abuse and addiction frequently go into treatment or rehab. One indicator or sign that you might need rehab could be that you are having trouble at work or home because substance abuse is interfering with these relationships. Your troubles at work or home may manifest as chronic lateness to work, important appointments, and personal engagements or just skipping out on any of these altogether.

Other signs you may need rehab include:

  • being hungover or high at work or during important family occasions
  • saying or doing inappropriate things during these events
  • co-workers, boss or family members telling you that you are drinking/using too much

Perhaps there have been legal consequences, such as getting DUI or Reckless Driving tickets, missed court appointments, or failure to pay fines, alimony or child support

Financial signs that you need rehab might include things like spending so much on partying that there is not enough money to pay rent, car payments, utilities or food.

Health issues are another common area of recognition that drugs and alcohol are a problem. If any of these are happening for you, perhaps you might consider a rehab situation.

Stumbling Towards Rehab

Most addicts will maintain their conviction that they can control the situation by stopping, slowing down or otherwise controlling their use. This is certainly the way the addicted mind works. After numerous failed attempts to quit, addicts will most often remain convinced that they are “just fine, thank you.” One of the most difficult things to do that will occur in the life of an addict will be when they finally reach the point where they will actively ask for and accept help from outside sources. At that point, they may have already paid a very high price for their addiction. Some addicts have lost jobs, significant relationships, custody and visitation rights with children, their health may be seriously compromised, and jail may be a real possibility.

When Rehab Makes Sense

Rehab makes sense for most people, because an addict has created a structure in their life that supports their use and abuse of substances. Therefore, an interruption in that structure or routine may be the necessary tool that allows them to make the behavior changes and alter the mindset of active addiction. This can be done in 30, 60 or 90 day programs. Some rehab centers offer either residential or out-patient programs to allow for other responsibilities to be maintained. While it may be a hardship for the addict to seek and receive treatment, it is usually the best route to halt the ongoing cycle of abuse and dependence.

Rehab: The Road to Recovery

Relapse will likely be a part of early recovery for most addicts. This is like learning to ride a bicycle. While some riders will be very cautious and not fall off the bike, most will have a crash or two while they are developing skills for staying upright and riding easily. Family and friends who understand recovery are helpful, but most often they have been so negatively impacted by the addict’s behavior that they are not able to be supportive. Most of time, family members have their own feelings and issues around the addiction as well. Family programs are very useful for those who have an addict in early recovery. Knowing how and when to provide support and when to stand firm are difficult navigating tools family members need to learn. Ongoing support for early recovery is essential for addiction treatment. Those who know and understand both the addiction and the recovery processes are your best bet when you are looking for help with getting treatment for a possible addiction.

 

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

Prescription Painkiller Labels Are Changing

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prescription-labelsProven addictive opioid pain medications—such as oxycontin, morphine, and fentanyl—prescribed for their long-term effects on managing pain are being relabeled due to their high risk for abuse, dependence and overdose. This new FDA ruling targets specific drugs in an attempt to curb abuse and addiction will take affect by the end of this year. These new label regulations also serve to remind physicians of the dangers prescribing these medications to patients who suffer from low to moderate pain or short-term pain.

How the New Labels Are Different

Current language on these prescriptions indicate usage for moderate to severe pain. The change in prescription labels will indicate use for only those patients who need treatment of long-term, severe and chronic pain. This will reduce the number of patients being treated with these medications, which were originally developed for treatment of cancer and other end-stage diseases where dependence and/or overdose issues were not concerns.

In the past, trying to regulating prescriptive use of long-acting painkillers has had little effect on the numbers of addicts who have either abused or overdosed on these medications. Physicians continued to prescribe these analgesic painkillers and they continued to contribute to the overdose deaths of increasing numbers of patients. Research indicates that the rate of overdose in women by prescription painkillers from 1999 to 2010 rose over 400% from the previous period, to over 48,000 deaths. Men overdosed during this same period at a rate of 265% and still rank higher than women.

New label changes should reduce the number of oxycontin prescriptions. Meanwhile, further educating physicians who treat chronic pain is important. Those who abuse painkillers are inclined to experience pain differently than others. Some have used analgesics for years to mask emotional pain and are addicted to the medication for day-to-day existence. These persons may have physical injuries that indicate need for medications, but cannot separate symptoms of pain from withdrawal symptoms. Professionals in treatment for pain medication addiction can provide treatment and education to both the addicted and their physicians, who may not recognize symptoms of addiction.

This attempt by the FDA to control the growing problems of pain management and addiction to prescription painkillers is one step that may assist in that process. However, the problem has many facets to be considered; and many facets of solution will need to be employed. Use and abuse of prescription painkillers is going to be an issue to address at many levels.

Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work, with a specialization in substance abuse treatment. Having worked in this field for over 20 years, she is currently working on her certification as an addictions’ counselor.

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