We all believe we know our families, mothers and fathers, siblings, husbands and wives, better than anyone else. And most times, we’re probably right. But there are often things going on that no matter how much we love or care for them, we simply don’t see. Maybe we just don’t want to see. How do you know if someone close to you is using prescription pain pills way beyond what the doctor ordered? And if they are, how can you help them beat their prescription opiate addiction?
While anything from Adderall to cough medication to sleep aids fall under the general banner of prescription drugs, SAMHSA identifies opiates as the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone are the most commonly abused opiates, and they are used in formulations of cough medications as well as brand-name pills including Percocet, Vicodin, Tylenol 3, and many more. Between 1999 and 2013, deaths resulting from opiate prescription drug abuse almost quadrupled.
What Are Signs of Prescription Opiate Addiction?
Is there someone in your family that you might suspect of prescription opiate addiction? Don’t wait until it’s too late. These are some common warning signs:
- Sedation or lethargy
- Slurred speech
- Changes in the size of the person’s pupils
- Fluctuating sleep habits
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Changes in appetite and mood
- Poor concentration or attention
- Financial issues or sudden need for more money
- Failing to keep up with responsibilities or losing interest in hobbies
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Going to multiple doctor appointments or changing doctors frequently
If the person has used drugs in the past, then you may already know most of the signs. One certain sign of someone who has already been in rehab for prescription opiate addiction is a preoccupation with other substances—even something like marijuana, which many people deem to be harmless. Marijuana is a gateway drug that keeps the brain’s addiction circuitry firing, so if a former opiate user is once again toying with alcohol or marijuana, you can be sure they are slowly working their way back to opiate or even heroin addiction.
Don’t believe the stories they tell about why they need money. If you suspect them of prescription opiate addiction, don’t give them cash to buy cigarettes, pay bills, or for any purpose—because if they’re using, it will just go for drugs. If they insist that they need to fill up the gas tank, for example, drive along with them and pay for the gas yourself. If you notice money or valuables disappearing around the house, don’t blame yourself for misplacing those specific items. If things go missing more than once, be suspicious.
What Can You Do?
You can’t force them into drug rehab, no matter how much you love them or beg them. You can only put the information in front of them about local programs to treat prescription opiate addiction, and stop the behaviors that enable their use. Even though it seems as if you are protecting them by allowing them to live in your house and pay for things, helping them meet their basic needs, you are really just telling them that there are no consequences to their actions. In order to be motivated to make a real change, those with prescription opiate addiction must be allowed to feel the consequences of their actions.
The most successful method for treating opiate prescription drug addiction, according to SAMHSA, is Medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, also known by its brand name, Suboxone. SAMHSA also tells us that taking the medication is not enough; the person also needs to be involved in a comprehensive program of individual and possibly group counseling.
Methadone and buprenorphine provide the help the person needs to resist their cravings for more opiates. Both medications stay in the system long enough to prevent withdrawal symptoms for at least 24 hours. That means they can live each day productively without using illicit drugs. With time and counseling, they can regain their place among family and friends who care about them. They also regain their self-respect, living life with their head held a little higher because they know they are no longer lying about prescription opiate addiction and stealing from loved ones to pay for the habit.
Going to 12-step groups also helps because it puts the person in touch with other people who are enduring the same struggles. While Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have recommended abstinence-based therapy, both groups are a bit more accepting of people who admit that they are on medication-assisted treatment (MAT). However, there is no need for an MAT patient to disclose that they take methadone or buprenorphine when they attend meetings, at least until they find a sponsor that they feel they can confide in.
Nobody Will Regret the Relapse More Than the Addict
The saddest thing about looking out for a loved one who is fighting a prescription opiate addiction is the knowledge that they hate and despise their own weakness. There is still so much stigma against addiction, and people fail to recognize that it results from a medical condition and not from a moral weakness. They wonder why the person struggling, “can’t just stop.” Narcotics Anonymous describes addiction as a physical sensitivity to drugs, and there are additional scientific theories involving the brain’s production of neurotransmitters called endorphins, all of which helps to explain why some people succumb to addiction while others do not. Opiates in particular have a marked effect on the brain and it’s chemistry, which makes it one of the hardest addictions to beat. This is why relapse is so common when dealing with prescription opiate addiction, and nobody regrets a relapse more than the addict.
It’s Not Too Late
If you suspect that someone you love has a prescription opiate addiction, your priority is to get them into treatment. If you worry that they will overdose, your state’s laws may allow you to obtain some naloxone to keep on hand in case of emergency.
Above all, hold your loved one accountable for their behavior. Put the information at their fingertips and insist that they get help. While the decision to get help must be their own, you can do your part by backing them into a corner so that they agree to treatment. They will be angry at you and tell you that they will never forgive you—but don’t worry. At least they will still be alive.