Because prescription pills come from a licensed pharmacist instead of a criminal drug dealer, few people view themselves as "drug users" for taking these drugs regularly. However, certain pharmaceutical medicines have powerful side effects that appeal to people for non-medical reasons. Even if they start taking them for medical reasons, they may keep taking them after those reasons have subsided, take more than the recommended dose, or get them illegally later.
So how do you tell the difference between a drug misuser and a patient who's just following the rules? The short answer: you can't. If you want to understand the scope and nature of prescription pill misuse, start by considering and comparing the following factors:
As prescription pill diversion and misuse becomes more common, the media often latches onto a particular demographic of users. One example is college students who take Adderall or Ritalin. Previous generations didn't have these pills, so parents fear a dangerous epidemic. However, every student doesn't take stimulants, and even occasional, illegal use doesn't make a student dependent. More importantly, they're not the only ones misusing pills.
Stimulants are also popular among Wall Street brokers and other high-powered professionals. Their "all-nighters" involve overseas transactions, rather than last minute studying, but the results are the same. Trying to stay up and going at a non-stop pace can only physically happen so long without consequences, with or without chemical enhancement. Unfortunately, a modern 24-hour clock is providing a reason for overachievers to try to stay going longer and stronger than everyone else is any way they can even if it is a temporary fix.
Opiate misuse isn't exclusive to "junkies" who want to get high, either. Wholesome grandparents might develop habits after post-op prescriptions, and healthy athletes might become dependent after injuries. Regardless of the reasons that someone first uses a substance, their drug use may eventually compromise their health, career, and relationships. Not all of the people above are your first thoughts when you picture a "typical" drug user but they are examples of people who are all misusing substances and are not the stereotypes we have been taught to believe use drugs.
When you separate the substances from the behaviors, it's easier to recognize overuse. For example, one person may take five painkillers, while another snorts heroin. According to the law and social norms, one is clearly a drug user. But if you don't know where the drugs were obtained or how they were consumed, you can only identify misuse by analyzing the reasons and consequence of their use.
If both take opiates to produce a relaxed, numb "high", they're both recreational drug users with an increasing physical tolerance. They may even have the same origin story, such as an injury that was treated with a prescription. Regardless of whether the original pain still exists, they now take opiates to maintain their physical dependence.
There's no specific dose, volume, or behavior that tells you when use has turned into misuse. Every drug and drug user is different, and pharmaceuticals make this delineation even trickier, because it's socially and legally acceptable to take them. However, there are a few red flags that indicate someone may have a problem.
If you find yourself increasing the amount to achieve the same effects, you may be building a physical tolerance that will result in withdrawal if you decide to quit. If you don't think you can go to work, attend a party, or even get through the day without taking a pill, you're probably neglecting other ways to cope with your problems. If you find that you are having negative consequences in your life with your family, friends, your job, your marriage, or any legal issues, these may be signs that your use is becoming one that no longer serves you and makes you happy and fulfilled but is more about pushing away withdrawal and managing stress and pain.
Only you can determine if drug use is a problem for you and if you want to commit to changing it. If you'd like to find out more, call one of our Guest Service Consultants today.