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Preventing Prescription Drug Misuse

signs of prescription drug use

Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chris Botzum

Many treatment plans for psychological and physical wounds alike include the use of prescription medications. Certain types, such as those to treat pain or anxiety, have the potential to cause dependence. Dependence is when your body has become used to the presence of a drug.

Prescription drug misuse is concerning. It can hurt readiness and impair a warrior’s judgment. It can result in dependence, withdrawal symptoms when you quit, suicide or accidental death. Prescription drug misuse can also negatively affect relationships, cause financial trouble and lead to early or less than honorable discharge.

It is important to play an active role in your health care. Take time to ask your provider questions before starting any medication. Questions to ask include why you are being prescribed a specific medication and for what reason. Asking these questions will help you better understand the medication you are prescribed and its role in your recovery.

Know the Signs

It is best to never let misuse begin. Signs include:

  • Needing more of the medication to get the same effect (i.e., “tolerance”).
  • Having withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling jittery or nauseous, at or even before it is time for the next dose of the medicine.
  • Using up your supply of medicine before your scheduled refill time.
  • Going to multiple providers to get prescriptions.
  • Using a medication in ways other than the way it was prescribed.

If you are showing any symptoms of prescription drug misuse, call your provider. Seeking care early can lead to successful, positive outcomes.

Learn the Commonly Misused Prescription Drugs

Below are types of prescription drugs that are most frequently misused:

  1. Opiates: Prescribed to lessen pain, such as from injuries or surgery.
    • Pain relievers, including codeine, oxycodone and morphine.
    • Misuse effects: constipation, confusion, feeling high and nausea.
  2. Central Nervous System Depressants: Used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety.
    • Sedatives or tranquilizers, such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium), non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (e.g., Ambien) and barbiturates (e.g., Nembutal).
    • Misuse effects: slowed brain activity; abrupt stopping of medication after developing dependence can result in seizures.
  3. Stimulants: Sometimes used for treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy or for depression if you have not responded well to other treatments. Has a high risk of developing tolerance.
    • Attention and energy stimulators, like dextroamphetamine (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin).
    • Misuse effects: losing touch with reality or feelings of hostility or paranoia with repeated misuse.

Ways to Prevent Misuse

Talk to your provider or pharmacist to learn about your prescribed medication. This will help you understand why you’re using it, what it does and potential side effects. In some cases, they may be able to recommend other options instead.

Other ways to prevent misuse include:

  • Check with your provider to see if an alternate medication that may be less habit forming is available.
  • Inform your provider about all medications, supplements or other remedies you are taking. Consider sharing your substance use such as tobacco and alcohol. This is important because some medication may not mix well with others and could cause a reaction.
  • Do not stop or change medications without speaking to your provider first.
  • Do not use someone else’s prescription – even if it seems similar to yours.
  • Dispose of leftover medication safely.

Reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center to confidentially speak with a trained health resource consultant 24/7, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our “Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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