Recognizing the signs is one of the best ways you can prevent drug abuse. If you think that it can’t happen to you, it can. Be sure you know what to look for.
Substance use disorder does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it cannot happen to you or your loved ones.
In 2018, an estimated 16.9 million Americans age 12 and up misused prescription medications, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. About 59 percent of this group misused prescription painkillers. Some substances, including painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives, can cause physical dependence and addiction, where the person may seek the drug out above other basic needs.
In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, reinforcing the fact that addiction is a medical issue that impacts the entire nation. Opioid dependence is a biological process that happens to the brain and body. Repeated use of opioids rapidly leads to tolerance — which causes the person to need to use more and more to get the same effect — and withdrawal — where the person needs the drug to feel “normal” and not physically sick. The dangers of abusing opioids are great, including overdose and death. In 2017, 47,600 people died from a drug overdose involving opioids in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the keys to prevention is recognizing the signs of potential drug abuse. If you can catch the signs before the abuse begins, you may be able to prevent some of the negative effects of substance use disorder.
Recognizing the Signs of Substance Use Disorder
- Disinterest in activities
- Taking more medication than prescribed
- Mood swings
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Repeatedly “losing” prescriptions
- Noticing your prescriptions go missing
- Seeing multiple doctors (“doctor shopping”)
- Sudden, unexplained drop in grades
Signs of Opioid Abuse:
- Poor coordination and confusion
- Extreme drowsiness (“nodding out”)
Signs of Stimulant Abuse:
- Reduced appetite
- Appearing agitated or excitable
- Trouble sleeping
Other Ways to Prevent Abuse and Overdose
Preventing prescription drug abuse in part involves physicians making judicious and informed decisions when prescribing opioids or other drugs that may cause dependence. Other things to keep in mind:
- Make sure you keep all medication in the home secured and dispose of old prescriptions properly.
- Your prescribers and pharmacists have access to Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs to help them identify signs of doctor shopping in patients and to prevent drug diversion. This tool may help healthcare professionals recognize signs of substance abuse more quickly and can potentially aid in the conversation about getting treatment.
- If you know or suspect a loved one uses opioids, carry the rescue drug naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose. Administering naloxone is not harmful even if the person is not overdosing from opioids.
How to Get Help
- Find a doctor board certified in Addiction Medicine by searching this tool.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a treatment center locator.
- The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids has resources to help parents understand substance use disorder and treatment.
- Attend a free support meeting through the SMART Recovery network.
- Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon provide support for alcoholics, addicts, and their families.
In Case of Emergency
Call 911 or Poison Control at 800/222-1222.