The fact that something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it safe.
Someone who is abusing prescription medications can experience serious physical and mental side effects, as well as the risk of a fatal overdose. If you are worried about a friend or family member’s misuse of their medication, know that you are not a helpless bystander. There are several steps you can take to encourage them to get the help they need.
Get the Problem Out in the Open
The stigma surrounding addiction means that it’s tempting to simply ignore signs of prescription drug abuse and hope the problem will clear up on its own. However, this is a dangerous approach. Addiction is a chronic, progressive illness. Without treatment, the negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health will only continue to increase.
Pick a quiet place and a time when your loved one is likely to be calm to discuss your concerns. Start by listing specific behaviors that you have noticed, such as taking double doses of medication, doctor shopping, or mixing medications with alcohol. Express that you are worried about your loved one’s wellbeing and want to help. Request that they make an appointment with a healthcare provider to address their use of prescription medication. If you are able, offer to attend the appointment to provide moral support.
If your loved one is not responsive to your concerns, don’t give up. Recovery is not an easy process. It can take several tries to convince someone with a substance use disorder to seek treatment.
Seeking the assistance of a professional interventionist may be advisable if you are struggling to get through to your loved one. An interventionist can help you plan a meeting of friends and family that is most likely to convince your loved one to get help.
Dispense Medication Responsibly
If you have prescription medication in your home, make sure pills are located in a secure place that can’t be accessed by anyone who doesn’t need the medication. Often, people who abuse prescription drugs will steal pills from friends and family when their own supply is insufficient.
If you live with the person you are concerned about, discuss taking control of the medication to make sure it is used as directed. This approach may not work in all cases, but someone who admits they have a problem may be grateful for your help in getting back on track.
Promote Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Often, prescription drug abuse begins when someone has a legitimate medical condition that requires opioid painkillers or benzodiazepines for anxiety. The problem starts when the patient begins to rely on the medication to manage their condition instead of investigating non-pharmaceutical approaches.
Stressing the value of nutrition, exercise, socialization, and good sleep habits in managing chronic pain and/or anxiety can help your loved one by decreasing their reliance on prescription medication. Share recipes for healthy meals, invite your friend or family member to a yoga class or a workshop on using essential oils to promote mental health, or plan a weekend hiking trip together. Acting as a role model for wellness can encourage your loved one to make positive changes.
It’s hard to see a loved one suffer, but there is a fine line between helping and enabling. If your actions are allowing your loved one to continue substance abuse with no consequences, it’s time to take a different approach. Do not:
- Lie to friends and family to cover up your loved one’s behavior
- Provide money or pay bills on your loved one’s behalf
- Hire a lawyer or pay bail when your loved one is arrested for addiction-related behavior
- Allow your loved one to put others at risk with actions such as driving under the influence
Enabling behaviors may solve short-term problems, but they do nothing to address the issue of what’s causing the substance abuse. The best way you can help someone who has developed an addiction to prescription medication is to stress the need for treatment and support any recovery effort.
Get Support for Yourself
When you’re worried about a loved one, your own needs may take a backseat. However, self-care is not selfish. If you aren’t giving yourself a chance to process your emotions and deal with the effects of your loved one’s behavior, you won’t be able to effectively encourage them to seek treatment.
Writing in a journal, talking to an objective friend, or seeking professional counseling can help you gain the perspective you need to decide how to best move forward. Additionally, if your loved one decides to seek treatment at Pennsylvania’s Mountain Laurel Recovery Center, our family program can be part of your personal healing process.