The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that, as of 2017, as many as 18 million Americans have misused prescription drugs in the past year. With such high numbers, it should not be surprising if many people discover that someone they love has abused a prescription medication at some point. While misusing a prescription one time isn’t proof of an addiction, it can be the first step in the wrong direction.
Misuse Versus Addiction
How is it possible to know if someone is simply misusing pharmaceuticals or if they have actually become addicted? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are several observable indicators that a person is struggling with addiction to prescription medications:
- Taking larger amounts than prescribed.
- Staying on the medicine longer than intended.
- Being unable to stop or cut back on the drug even if they want to.
- Spending a lot of time acquiring, using, or recovering from the medication.
- Experiencing cravings for the medication.
- Being irresponsible at home, work or school.
- Needing more of the drug than they used to, to get the intended effect.
- Having withdrawal symptoms when they don’t take the medication.
- Engaging in illegal activities to get the drug.
What To Do
Whether a loved one is simply misusing pharmaceuticals or is actually addicted to prescription drugs, it may be helpful to educate yourself about the type of medication they’re on and whether it is commonly abused. You can also research the signs of abuse for that particular medication.
If you determine that your loved one might be developing an addiction to prescription drugs, initiate a conversation. Plan ahead so that you can find a good location without distractions, at a time when your loved one is most likely to be mentally and emotionally stable. Be careful not to appear judgmental. Simply ask if they’re willing to hear your concerns, and be prepared to give specific examples of their behavior that concern you. Also, be prepared to listen. You don’t have to accept blame or verbal abuse, but encourage your loved one to tell you how they feel.
Ask your loved one to seek out professional support, not only for the medication-related choices, but also for any underlying factors, such as trauma, chronic pain or mental illness. Offer to help them find this support.
If they refuse to listen to you or to admit they have a problem, set boundaries about what you’re willing or not willing to accept. Don’t give up on them, but don’t let their choices compromise your health or wellbeing.
Because addiction feeds off of isolation, it is important to convey to the person that:
- They are not alone.
- You still want to be in their life.
- They are not a bad person.
- You care about them.
- They need to get help because they are important and their life is valuable.
What If They Respond Poorly?
Sometimes, people struggling with substance abuse aren’t immediately able to accept help from loved ones. They may not be receptive to what you have to say, no matter how kindly, lovingly and non-judgmentally they are approached. If this happens, it may be necessary to schedule an intervention with other people who love your friend or family member.
It is usually possible to hold an intervention without hiring a professional interventionist, but an interventionist should be considered in cases where:
- The person struggles with serious mental illness.
- They may become violent.
- They have a history of suicidal tendencies.
- They are taking multiple mood-altering substances.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we are here to help not only our clients but also their concerned family and friends. If you don’t know how to help your loved one, we would be happy to talk with you and offer our professional guidance.