prescription drug abuse

What Are the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse?

Published on December 26, 2019 by First Responder Wellness

Much of what people think they know about addiction comes from images and stereotypes perpetuated by the stigma surrounding substance abuse.  Part of this stigma assumes that addiction appears a certain way, and that people with addictions are easily recognizable. This is far from the truth in many cases, especially in people with an addiction to prescription medications.  Prescription drugs can be easily concealed and may allow someone with a developing addiction to continue to function at a high level for a significant amount of time. Unfortunately, addiction will always catch up with the drug abuser, and many problems may arise as a result, including physical and mental health issues, difficulty maintaining relationships, and poor work performance.  Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse is an important tool for friends and family members of those struggling with addiction.

Recognizing Risky Drugs

In order to stay vigilant against the development of prescription drug addiction, it is important to have a basis of knowledge about what drugs pose a dependency risk.  Common pain medications including oxycodone and hydrocodone are considered highly addictive. These drugs may go by brand names such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Norco. Although these pain medications are legal and commonly prescribed, they are considered opioids and are in the same drug class as heroin.  Patients recovering from injury or surgery are often given these strong medication to cope with pain, but without careful use, addiction can quickly develop.

In addition to pain medications, anti-anxiety medications and sedatives also have the potential for abuse.  Medications like Xanax, Valium, and Ambien are prescribed to people with anxiety, panic disorders, and insomnia, and can create sedation and euphoria.  Using these drugs can lead to tolerance and addiction, especially when combined with alcohol. Lastly, stimulant drugs commonly prescribed to patients with ADHD can also lead to abuse.  Drugs like Ritalin, Adderall, and Dexedrine can be abused by those with prescriptions, or may be purchased by those without prescriptions to promote alertness and focus. These drugs are commonly abused among students and professionals who are required to stay awake for long hours.  

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse

The signs and symptoms associated with prescription drug abuse depend on several factors including the type of drug, the length of use, and the mental health of the user.  Behavioral symptoms commonly associated with all forms of drug abuse and addiction include irritability, mood swings, deceitful behavior, and a general change in personality.  The direct effects of the drug can cause a person to behave erratically, and as addiction develops, a drug abuser may begin to reprioritize every aspect of their life. Addiction rewires the brain in a way that makes obtaining the drug seem necessary for survival, causing the user to neglect family obligations and perform poorly at work.  

Symptoms of opioid abuse may vary from person to person, but common observable effects include confusion, droopy eyes, flu-like symptoms, and drowsiness.  Opioid users may experience euphoric highs that make them seem like they are on top of the world, followed by lows that leave them feeling severely depressed.  Similarly, sedative medications can also cause mental health issues such as depression, and may lead to a short attention span, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and problems breathing.  Stimulants such as Adderall can cause the user to become extremely agitated and anxious, and may also cause a loss of appetite and weight loss.  

Risks of Prescription Drug Abuse 

Prescription drugs are often perceived as safe because they are given out by doctors, but the truth is that prescription misuse can lead to illness, mental health disorders, addiction, and death. Opioids slow down breathing, and can lead to respiratory failure when taken in excess.  Opioid abuse has led to a staggering amount of overdose deaths, and is now considered an all-out crisis in America. Sedatives can also cause breathing issues and decreased heartrate, and withdrawal without medical assistance from some depressant drugs can be life-threatening. Stimulant drugs can cause irregular heart rate, cardiovascular failure, and potentially fatal seizures.

In addition to the terrifying physical health risks associated with prescription drug abuse, misusing these drugs can take a severe toll on mental health.  Many people turn to drug use due to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, but addictive substances only worsen these issues over time. Additionally, even those without a mental illness can induce symptoms of mental health disorders through drug abuse, meaning that a mentally well person can begin to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety due to chemical dependency.  If you or your loved one is struggling with an addiction to prescription medications, it may be time to reach out to a professional treatment program for help. 

The First Responders Treatment Program at Simple Recovery uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses.  We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers, and that existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially difficult. Addiction does not have to mean the end of your career or a lifetime of struggling with your health and relationships.  By taking a holistic approach to treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, Simple Recovery makes it possible for first responders to regain control of every aspect of their wellbeing. First responders dedicate their lives to protecting their community, and at Simple Recovery’s First Responder Treatment Program, we believe in dedicating our time and expertise to helping these compassionate individuals find a path to lasting sobriety and mental wellness. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, call us now at 888-743-0490.