Stethoscope on a blue background. Prescription pill addiction

Tricky, Tricky—Prescription Pills & Addiction

Fact Checked and Peer Reviewed

Signs of Prescription Pill Addiction:
What to Look For with Those Sneaky Little Capsules Your Doctor Gave You (or You Got … Elsewhere)

We tend to trust doctors. They studied and worked long and hard to get where they’re at. Most have your health in mind and genuinely want to help you. When you are diagnosed with a condition that requires attention, it’s a good idea to listen what they say.

When I was in my 20s, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. It’s a condition similar to Crohn’s disease, and it’s not fun. Basically, it’s where your guts decide to revolt, and the inside of the large intestine begins to inflame. Since painful cramping usually accompanies a flare, my doctor at the time prescribed painkillers to be used “when needed.” For me, this was an invitation to manage other things besides pain—I soon figured out that those little magic pills acted on an area in my brain that liked what they did. Soon, I was lying to my doctor about my pill abuse; I didn’t want to give it up.

“I have substance-use disorder, which is a fancy way of saying that I dig drugs and alcohol, despite the train wreck I inevitably become when I use them. ”

My substance-use disorder accelerated with pills.

I have substance-use disorder, which is a fancy way of saying that I dig drugs and alcohol, despite the train wreck I inevitably become when I use them. Today, I’m in long-term recovery from prescription pill addiction. Back in the day, pills were my drug of choice. They seemed “cleaner” and “safer,” since a physician provided them. Also, I simply enjoyed them much more than alcohol. Pills—opioid-based drugs in particular—seemed to take me back to a once-forgotten time. It was as if I were six years old again and my mother had just taken a warm blanket out of the dryer and wrapped it around me. Pills were like magic. I would swallow them, and 10-20 minutes later I’d be in another realm.

Taking pills quickly became an obsession. I first doctor-shopped, but that soon came to an end because the prescriptions always ran out. Eventually, my multi-drug pill fixation and my accompanying alcohol use led to lengthy blackouts. I was eventually arrested for trespassing in other people’s homes, ostensibly looking for prescription pharmaceuticals.

I was fortunate to have finally found recovery and gained the tools I needed to stay serene and happy without the need for pills. What are the signs of prescription pill addiction you should look for with painkillers, stimulants, or benzos? More importantly, what do you have to gain by genuinely reflecting on your own use (or abuse) of pills and taking action to release yourself from their deadly grip?

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

1. Be open and honest with your doctor.

Trust your doctor’s advice, but inform yourself about the risks of any medication. I can’t stress it enough that most physicians have only your best interest in mind. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies do not. Recently with the opioid epidemic currently wreaking havoc throughout the United States, it’s been revealed that Big Pharma had something in mind other than patients’ well beings: profit. Addictive painkiller drugs like hydrocodone or oxycodone are profitable, since people who misuse these drugs will come back for more.

Most physicians today are aware of the risks of prescription pill addiction with painkillers, and know that their abuse can lead to heroin or other illegal opioids. Be upfront with your doctor about your pill use. If you’re like me, that’s hard to do! Honesty seems like a weakness when you’d rather manipulate. But your doctor will appreciate any information you can give her; after all, she can only treat your condition best through what she knows.

2. Are you taking them as prescribed?

The biggest red flag for any medication misuse is whether you’re doing what the label says you should be. I always took more than I needed. I wanted to squeeze out as many endorphins as I could, to get to the place I wanted to be.

What makes matter worse with pills is that even though they may seem “safe,” they have the potential to be deadly. That’s the “tricky” part about them. With some types of pills, it’s not just the active opioid that’s dangerous in overdose, either! For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol®) often accompanies the opiate-based ingredients. When you take amounts above the prescribed dosage, acetaminophen can wreck your liver.

The other question to ask is whether you’re taking painkillers when you don’t have any pain. Or, similarly, if you’re taking a benzodiazepine like alprazolam (Xanax®) when you’re not really having a panic attack. If you’re ingesting a drug to get high, warning bells should ring. It won’t be long until your brain adjusts to the overload of neurotransmitters, and then you’ll need to use just to feel normal. That’s addiction.

3. There are much worse things in life than recovery from pill abuse.

Abuse of prescription pills can easily get out of control. You aren’t weak and you’re not a failure. It’s easy to think that you are really in control of how you take a medication that’s legally been provided to you by your physician. What about if you don’t think you have a problem, but others do? Well … you probably do. The issue with addiction is that it tricks us into believing we have control. Now, with the advent of a massive heroin crisis that’s impacting many good people, simple little pills can lead to even more deadly addictions.

The fact is that people do recover! And getting into recovery can shape you into a much better person than you were before the addiction began. Fortunately for all of us, today you have options to stop the pill-munching madness—options that many did not have previously. What’s more, you can take steps today to learn how to live again without the need for medications to make you feel alive. A life in recovery is worth living. Personally, I’m glad I finally found it.

A future free of addiction is in your hands.

Recover from addiction at home with medication and online therapy––from the leader in virtual addiction care.

Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer, an award-winning Hazelden author, and a public speaker on recovery from addiction. He lives with his family in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. Workit Health, Inc. and its affiliated professional entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.

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