Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Become aware of the signs of prescription drug abuse. This article lets you know how you can tell if you or someone you love is misusing painkillers. Also signs that doctors and pharmacists can watch for when dealing with prescription pain medication.

Prescription drug abuse is becoming a more common problem in the U.S., and it can have serious consequences, including addiction and death. It is important to know the signs of  prescription drug abuse so you can spot it in your loved ones or in yourself if you are taking prescription painkillers.

Prescription drug abuse can be harder to spot than some types of drug abuse because many people who abuse painkillers have a prescription for the drugs they misuse or abuse. Painkiller abuse is common among teens, but is also a growing concern among older adults. Women are more likely than men to abuse prescription drugs, but people of both genders can have a problem with painkiller addiction. There are, however, some common signs that can indicate that a person may be abusing painkillers.

Many people who abuse painkillers donít realize that they have a problem. They may think that painkillers are safe or that thereís nothing wrong with taking more painkillers than theyíre supposed to or taking someone elseís pain medication. If you are taking painkillers, you should be aware of signs that you may be abusing painkillers or have an addiction:

  • You take more than the recommended dose of your painkiller.
  • You feel like the right dosage doesnít work and you need to take more to feel good.
  • You take your painkiller in a way other than recommended on the label, perhaps by chewing, crushing, or dissolving your pills.
  • You feel like you canít get by without painkillers and you spend time thinking about getting painkillers.
  • You shop around for a doctor or pharmacy where you can get painkillers.
  • You ask friends or family members to share their painkillers with you.
  • You have taken painkillers from someone without asking or telling them.
  • You are ashamed of your use of painkillers.

Family members of those who take painkillers should also be aware of the signs of prescription drug abuse. Also, doctors and pharmacists should watch for signs that a patient may be abusing painkillers:

  • Running out of painkillers early or needing a refill sooner than expected
  • Not following a doctorís orders about painkiller use
  • Taking more pills than prescribed
  • Taking pills in a way other than indicated on the label, such as by crushing and snorting or dissolving in water and injecting
  • Shopping around for doctors who will prescribe painkillers
  • Complaining of a variety of aches and pains without any physical cause, and seeking painkillers from a doctor to treat them
  • Buying or stealing painkillers from others

Family members and friends can look for signs that a person may be using painkillers without a prescription. Many people who abuse painkillers get them from a family member or friend, so it is important to be aware of the signs that someone in your house may be abusing prescription drugs, like:

  • Someone elseís painkillers are missing
  • Empty bottles of painkillers that donít seem to belong to anyone in the house
  • Constricted pupils in the person abusing painkillers
  • Slurred speech
  • Flushed skin
  • Changes in personality
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Having excess energy
  • A change in sleep patterns
  • A change in appetite
  • Unusual forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness
  • Unusual sweating
  • Acting secretive
  • Loss of interest in personal appearance or hygiene
  • Needing extra money or having extra money
  • For teens, beginning to do poorly in school

It is also important to know the signs of a prescription drug overdose, because such an incident can be fatal:

  • Pupils very constricted, like pinpoints
  • Skin that feels cold or clammy
  • Being confused
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Convulsions
  • Breathing that is very slow or troubled
  • Unconsciousness or not breathing

If you suspect that someone may be abusing prescription drug or has the symptoms of an overdose, seek medical help immediately.


Michelle Meadows, Prescription Drug Use and Abuse, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, September-October 2001 [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Painkillers [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Prescription Drug Abuse: What are the Signs and Symptoms You Should Look For?

Related Article: Painkiller Abuse Overview >>