Of the many prescription drugs that are currently available, many of them are classified as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, or sedatives. Although these drugs serve a variety of therapeutic purposes, they’re also subject to abuse. Seven million people in the United States took some type of prescription drug for nonmedical purposes in 2010, which is about 2.7% of the population. This included 5.1 million users of pain relievers, 2.2 million tranquilizer users, 1.1 million users of stimulants, and 0.4 million sedative users–and some people took drugs from more than one of these categories. Prescription drug abuse can cause many different effects. Some effects, such as behavioral and personality changes, are generally common to all types of drugs while physical signs tend to be specific to a particular category of drug. This guide will cover both the physical and psychological signs of prescription drug abuse to help you decide whether a loved one should visit drug & alcohol rehab.
1) Disappearing Medication
People sometimes begin abusing drugs by taking someone else’s prescription medication, typically someone in the same house. Anyone taking prescription drugs should carefully monitor the pills remaining in the bottle to ensure the amounts are correct. An individual may also dilute liquid medication, such as cough syrup, with water to hide the use of this medication. Empty drug containers in the trash are also one of the signs of prescription drug abuse if no one in the family is taking those drugs for legitimate purposes.
2) Changes in Finances
A change in a person’s financial situation is also one of the common signs someone needs drug abuse treatment. This oftentimes manifests because an individual is short of cash due to the purchase of prescription drugs, but missing valuables from the home can also mean someone is abusing drugs. A person with an unexplained abundance of cash may be selling prescription drugs.
3) Changes in Personality
Prescription drug abuse can cause a number of personality changes. These changes may be due to the physiological effects of drug abuse as well as changes caused by attempts to hide the abuse from others. Identifying personality changes due to drug abuse can be especially difficult to detect in adolescents since puberty itself can cause mood swings. However, changes in appearance and emotional instability can also result from drug abuse, as can an anxiety disorder or depression. These signs often occur in combination. Specific personality changes that can indicate drug abuse include aggressive behavior, anger, and hostility, usually directed toward authority figures. People who withdraw suddenly from friends and family members may also be abusing prescription drugs. Additional signs of prescription drug abuse include a loss of interest in activities the individual previously found enjoyable and general apathy.
4) Changes in Behavior
Changes in behavior often accompany personality changes, and dramatic behavioral changes are one of the important symptoms of drug abuse. This often includes changes in sleep patterns, such as staying awake all night and sleeping all day. An increased disregard for family rules, such as breaking curfew, failure to come home for dinner, and refusal to do chores may also indicate prescription drug abuse. Changes in appearance can be a warning sign, especially a reduction in personal hygiene and a lack of concern over personal cleanliness. An abrupt decline in performance at work or school could also indicate drug abuse. Children who are abusing drugs often begin socializing with less desirable friends. Other signs of prescription drug abuse include secretive behavior such as unexpected phone calls.
Opiates are drugs that are derived from narcotic alkaloids found in poppy plants, the two most abused of which are morphine and codeine. Prescription drugs containing opiates include hydrocodone and oxycodone, which are often sold under the brand names Vicodin and OxyContin, respectively. Pain relief is the most common therapeutic use of opiates; however, they also have a high potential for abuse due to their narcotic effects. 1 in 12 high school seniors reported nonmedical use of Vicodin. Opiates are often prescribed to treat chronic pain resulting from a terminal condition; they should be used with extreme caution for any pain which isn’t severe or chronic. The symptoms of opiate abuse include decreased respiration and blood pressure, poor coordination, constipation, and sweating. Opiate abuse can also cause confusion and depression. The symptoms of opiate abuse can be especially severe when it is mixed with alcohol.
Sedatives are generally drugs that reduce physiological functions. Prescription drugs in this category include alprazolam, which is commonly sold under the brand name Xanax. Diazepam is often sold under the brand name Valium, and zolpidem is typically sold as Ambien. They are typically prescribed as a treatment for anxiety and sleep disorders. The symptoms of sedative abuse include involuntary movements of the eyeballs, typically rapid jerking motions. Use of these drugs can also cause drowsiness, dizziness, and difficulty in walking. The behavioral signs of sedative abuse include confusion and a loss of judgment. Zolpidem belongs to a subclass of sedatives known as hypnotics, which can cause memory loss and sleepwalking.
Stimulants are drugs that increase physiological functions. Abused drugs that fall into this category include methamphetamine, which has a very high potential for addiction. Prescription stimulants include methylphenidate, which is sold under the trade name Ritalin. This particular stimulant is typically used to treat ADHD. Stimulants may also be prescribed for weight loss and some types of sleep disorders. The most common symptoms of stimulant abuse include an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and rapid weight loss. The behavioral signs of this form of drug abuse include impulsive behavior, restlessness, insomnia, and agitation.
If a loved one displays a combination of these symptoms of prescription drug abuse, you should consider whether inpatient or outpatient drug treatment is best in order to have a full recovery.