empty medication bottles

The Difference Between Medication Use and Drug Abuse


Sober Recovery Expert Author

empty medication bottles

Prescription drug abuse has been increasing dramatically over the years, and painkiller overdoses are among the most common drug-related accidents. Unfortunately, many people who abuse these medications are obtaining them both illegally and legally. Since doctors and clinics regularly prescribe medication, people who get them legally can go on to sell them to others.

One reason prescription medication abuse is now pandemic is the illusion that abusing medicine isn’t the same as abusing drugs. This phenomenon is even more nuanced when the medication has been prescribed directly to the patient. Sometimes doctors prescribe pills that are stronger or at a higher frequency than necessary, which can lead to addiction. Even when this isn’t the case, many users up their dosage because they view the increase as a harmless medical decision. However, prescription painkillers are not harmless and can be life-threatening when misused.

How can one distinguish legitimate medicine use from prescription medication abuse?

So, how can one distinguish legitimate medicine use from prescription medication abuse?

Most people who abuse prescription painkillers will tell others – and themselves – that they are taking them because of pain. Whether or not this pain is real is only one aspect to consider when determining if medication use is valid.

Signs of Drug Abuse

Here are some questions to ask when assessing whether someone you know is showing signs of drug abuse:

Is the medication prescribed? If not, where are they getting the medicine? Most people with severe pain symptoms shouldn’t have an issue getting a prescription from their physician.

How frequently are they taking the medication and what is the dosage? Is the person taking pills every few hours or are they actively trying to space out the doses? Are they taking a low dosage or a high dosage? These behaviors may indicate if a person has developed an addiction to the medication.

How does the person act when they don’t have medicine? If they forget their medicine at home or can’t refill their prescription in time, how do they act? Their behavior during this time is usually a telling sign as to whether or not they are an addict. Those who are addicted might also find that they need to continually increase their dosage.

Does the person try to go to different doctors? If they're doing this because they can’t get a prescription from their primary physician, they might be “doctor shopping”perhaps without even knowing it.

How long as the person been taking painkillers? Prescription painkillers are usually not an ideal way to manage chronic pain. They’re much more effective for acute pain, which should pass in a matter of weeks in most cases. If a person is still taking medication months or even years after the initial prescription, it’s possible that they’re addicted.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to start the path to recovery today.

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