The Hidden Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Content reviewed by Karen Rubenstein, LMFT, Chief Clinical Officer at Cliffside Malibu.

Prescription drug abuse and misuse have been on the rise for the last several years. Despite many prescription medications having numerous beneficial effects for health concerns, they also have the potential to produce dangerous side effects, especially when misused and abused. In order to actively prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse in yourself or your loved ones, it is essential to become educated about the risks associated with taking prescription medications. With education, you will be able to identify where and why concerns with prescription drug use started. You will also recognize warning signs of prescription drug abuse if they begin to surface in yourself or your loved ones.

Drug Misuse vs. Drug Abuse

The terms “drug misuse” and “drug abuse” are often used interchangeably to define the same concept, even though these terms describe different circumstances. Prescription drug misuse is when individuals consume drugs but do not follow the directions given by their healthcare provider. Examples of prescription drug misuse include:

  • Taking the incorrect dose
  • Taking a dose at the wrong time
  • Forgetting or skipping a dose
  • Stopping medicine without approval from a doctor

On the other hand, prescription drug abuse is when an individual takes a drug for a reason other than its intended purpose. Examples of drug abuse include:

  • Using medication without a prescription, such as taking someone else’s
  • Using medicine other than prescribed, such as getting high

Why Do People Abuse Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drug abuse has become a significant public health crisis in the nation, affecting all age groups. People may abuse prescription drugs for several reasons, including:

  • To feel good
  • To get high
  • To be accepted by peers
  • To relax or relieve physical tension
  • To reduce appetite
  • To increase alertness, attention or concentration
  • To prevent withdrawal symptoms
  • To ease curiosity surrounding substance effects

All substances impact everyone differently, but abuse of prescription drugs typically occurs from a combination of risk factors. These risk factors include:

  • Previous or current addictions to other substances
  • Family history of mental health disorders or drug abuse
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Exposure to social environments where substance use is normalized or glorified
  • Easy access to prescription drugs, such as having medications in a medicine cabinet
  • Lack of knowledge regarding prescription drugs as well as consequences of use

Conversations surrounding prescription drug abuse are becoming more normalized because it continues to produce chaotic consequences for an individual’s well-being. These conversations have caused some people to become hesitant to accept painkillers when prescribed to manage pain, even after intense surgeries. You can reduce your risk of abusing prescription drugs by carefully following your doctor’s instructions while acknowledging your personal increased risk factors.

What Are the Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse?

The causes of prescription drug abuse are complex and multifaceted. Some of these causes include:

  • Drug availability: Prescription drugs are readily available substances. People addicted or dependent on drugs may fall victim to prescription drug use because they can get ahold of the addictive substance faster and easier.
  • The misconceptions regarding the safety of prescription drugs: Many people believe that because these substances are regulated, they are less harmful than street drugs. However, these substances can be just as dangerous when taken for a reason other than their intended purpose and can cause addiction, dependency or other substance use disorders.
  • Doctor shopping: Often, an individual’s addiction or abuse of prescription drugs begins with a legitimate medical condition. If a primary care doctor does not renew an individual’s prescription, they may seek out medical care and prescriptions from other doctors, known as doctor shopping.

Warning Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

While warning signs of drug abuse may look different for everyone, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the top signs of prescription drug abuse so you can recognize it in yourself or your loved ones. These warning signs may include:

  • Continued use of prescription medication even after physical pain (or what it was prescribed for) has ceased
  • The preferred treatment method is taking medications instead of engaging in therapy or other treatment modalities
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms are experienced with doses
  • Increased tolerance for the prescription medication results in needing more to achieve the desired effect
  • History of drug addiction
  • Increased isolation from family, friends or other loved ones
  • Engaging in secretive behavior to obtain the drug, such as stealing, forging them, lying about losing them or receiving prescriptions from more than one doctor

If you or your loved one is showing these signs or is significantly struggling with the consequences of prescription drug abuse, help is available. There are programs specifically tailored for individuals looking to treat or recover from their drug addiction, dependency or other substance abuse issues.

Prescription drugs can be effective when used correctly but dangerous when not prescribed. Cliffside Malibu offers specialized detox and treatment for individuals seeking recovery from prescription drug use and abuse. Our team will create an individualized treatment program for you that addresses your unique needs and treatment goals. You will have access to a collaborative group of professionals who want the best for your recovery. To learn more about our facility, please call us today at (855) 403-5641.