Using a prescription medicine in a way not intended by the prescriber can lead to drug abuse. Learn about risk factors and treatment for drug misuse.
Prescription drug abuse is the use of a prescription medicine in a way not intended by the prescriber. Prescription drug abuse, also called prescription drug misuse, includes everything from taking a friend's prescription painkiller for your backache to snorting or injecting ground-up pills to get high. Prescription drug abuse may become ongoing and compulsive, despite the negative consequences.
An increasing problem, prescription drug abuse can affect all age groups, including teens. The prescription drugs most often misused include opioid painkillers, anti-anxiety medicines, sedatives and stimulants.
Early identification of prescription drug abuse and early intervention may prevent the problem from turning into an addiction.
Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the specific drug. Because of their mind-altering properties, the most misused prescription drugs are:
Talk with your health care provider if you think you may have a problem with prescription drug use. You may feel embarrassed to talk about it — but remember that medical professionals are trained to help you, not judge you. It's easier to face the problem early before it becomes an addiction and leads to more-serious problems.
Teens and adults abuse prescription drugs for many reasons, such as:
Some people fear that they may become addicted to medicines prescribed for medical conditions, such as painkillers prescribed after surgery. But you can reduce your risk by carefully following your health care provider's instructions on how to take your medicine.
Prescription drug abuse is highest among teens and young adults.
Risk factors for prescription drug misuse include:
Prescription drug abuse in older adults is a growing problem, especially when they combine drugs with alcohol. Having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put people at risk of misusing drugs or becoming addicted.
Abusing prescription drugs can cause a number of problems. Prescription drugs can be especially dangerous — and even lead to death — when taken in high doses, when combined with other prescription drugs or certain over-the-counter medicines, or when taken with alcohol or illegal or recreational drugs.
Here are examples of serious consequences of prescription drug abuse:
Because commonly abused prescription drugs activate the brain's reward center, it's possible to develop physical dependence and addiction.
Other potential consequences include:
Prescription drug abuse may occur in people who need painkillers, sedatives or stimulants to treat a medical condition. If you're taking a prescription drug that commonly leads to drug misuse, here are ways to reduce your risk:
Prescription drugs are commonly misused substances by young people. Follow these steps to help prevent your teen from abusing prescription medicines.
Doctors generally base a diagnosis of prescription drug abuse on medical history and answers to other questions. In some cases, certain signs and symptoms also provide clues.
Blood or urine tests can detect many types of drugs. These tests can also help track the progress of a person who's getting treatment.
Treatment options for prescription drug abuse vary, depending on the type of drug used and your needs. But counseling is usually a key part of treatment. Treatment may also require withdrawal, also called detoxification, addiction medicine and recovery support.
A licensed alcohol and drug counselor or other addiction specialist can provide individual, group or family counseling. This can help you:
Depending on the prescription drug and usage, detoxification may be needed as part of treatment. Withdrawal can be dangerous and should be done under the guidance of a health care provider.
Overcoming prescription drug abuse can be challenging and stressful, often requiring the support of family, friends or organizations. Here's where to look for help:
You may be embarrassed to ask for help or afraid that your family members will be angry or judgmental. You may worry that your friends will distance themselves from you. But in the long run, the people who truly care about you will respect your honesty and your decision to ask for help.
It can be difficult to approach your loved one about prescription drug abuse. Denial and anger are common reactions, and you may be concerned about creating conflict or damaging your relationship with that person.
Be understanding and patient. Let the person know that you care. Encourage your loved one to be honest about drug use and to accept help if needed. A person is more likely to respond to feedback from someone who is trusted. If the problem continues, more intervention may be necessary.
It's challenging to help a loved one struggling with drug abuse or other destructive behavior. People who struggle with addictive behaviors are often in denial or unwilling to seek treatment. And they may not realize how their behavior is affecting themselves and others. An intervention can motivate someone to seek help for addictive behaviors.
An intervention is a carefully planned process involving family and friends and others who care about a person struggling with addiction. Consulting an intervention professional, an addiction specialist, a psychologist or a mental health counselor can help you plan an effective intervention.
This is an opportunity to confront the individual about the consequences of addiction and ask the person to accept treatment. Think of an intervention as giving your loved one a clear opportunity to make changes before things get really bad.
Your primary care provider may be able to help you overcome prescription drug abuse. But if you have an addiction, your provider may refer you to an addiction specialist or to a facility that specializes in helping people withdraw from drugs.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of:
Questions to ask your doctor may include:
Your health care provider may ask these questions:
Be ready to answer these questions so that you can focus on points you want to spend more time on. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your time with the health care provider.