Prescription drug use is fairly common today across the United States and throughout the world. Our doctors write prescriptions for pills that help us with hormone regulation, high cholesterol, joint pain relief, depression, eye pain, and all sorts of diseases and ailments. 

But what happens when someone you know has gone too far? Maybe you’ve noticed your daughter has been taking more than her regular dose, or a good friend seems to be asking the doctor for pills she doesn’t even need. What do you do? And how can you help?

We spoke with Roseann Rook, CADC, who is an Addictions Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. Timberline Knolls is a residential treatment center in Illinois that helps women and adolescent girls to overcome eating disorders, drug and alcohol addiction, trauma, PTSD and mood and anxiety disorders. Rook gives us some great information on prescription drug abuse and what steps you should take in the event a family member is struggling:

Rook defines the word “abuse” as, “Taking any medication in a way that is different from the way it was prescribed.” According to Rook, some examples include:

  • Taking a medication that was not prescribed to you
  • Taking a larger dose than prescribed
  • Taking the medication in a different way (ex. crushing and snorting them)
  • Using the medication for another purpose, such as altering your mood
  • Using the medication in combination with alcohol or other mood altering drugs (if a person consumes alcohol while taking certain prescriptions the intensity of each will be enhanced therefore giving an effect other than what the medication was prescribed for).

Here’s what to look out for in a friend or family member who may be abusing drugs, according to Rook:

  • Starting to use the medication to feel better, not just ease the pain
  • Increasing the dose without the doctor’s approval
  • Taking the medication even if it’s not needed as much, often or at all
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about it (worrying about refills, keeping track of time to take the next one, looking for excuses to increase dose etc.) 
  • Refusing non-additive drug alternatives

If you notice someone asking for refills more often than is needed, or visiting the doctor – or many different doctors – on a more than regular basis, or notice a negative change in mood, eating habits, or sleep patterns, these may be major indicators that a loved one is abusing his or her prescription drugs.

So what do you do if this is your belief? You talk to him. Let your brother, mother, uncle, or grandson know what you’re seeing and give them a chance to respond. Rook notes, ”It is best to address a family member with observations (exactly what they see) and concerns (how it makes them feel or why they are worried), based on the above signs, rather than accusing or judging.”  

“If a person has truly crossed the line to a psychological addiction you will be meet with a defensive attitude fueled by denial,” says Rook. “As with any addiction you can’t force a person to get help and you need to get your own support. Support can be through your own therapy, a 12 step group like Al-anon, Family’s Anonymous or Co-dependents Anonymous, and education yourself on the power of addiction.”

It’s also helpful to go over your loved ones options with him or her. ”The addicted person may be more open to seeing a therapist or doctor to address underlying issues or behaviors (depression or increased need for the medication) rather than being identified as an addict in need of treatment,” says Rook. “It is imperative that the health provider specialize in addiction. There are still many doctors that over prescribe addictive medications and ignore the signs of an addicted patient.”   

Seek out an addiction specialist through your local hospital or community health center, both for yourself and for your loved one. There are many great books that you can find through your library or on Amazon on help for prescription drug abuse, and, as Rook suggests, finding a support group to join where you can voice your concerns and hear other personal struggles and accomplishments can give you just the help you’re looking for.

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