Do I Have A Problem? 5 Key Differences Between Prescription Use and Abuse

Rx Abuse

Nearly half of American adults used a prescription drug in the last month. Over 6.3 billion prescriptions were filled in this country in 2020 according to the latest data. If averaged out across the population, that’s roughly 19 prescriptions per person in this country. It’s safe to say that we are one of the most over prescribed countries in the world. It’s no surprise then, that we also are one of the most addicted countries in the world as well. Whether it’s prescription opioids for pain, amphetamines for focus, benzos for anxiety, or sedatives for sleep, there is a major pill epidemic happening all around us. 

It’s important to clarify that not all prescriptions are bad. They play a crucial role in managing a number of real health concerns, from chronic pain to mental health disorders. But the very real danger of prescription misuse and addiction should not be ignored. Understanding the fine line between using prescription medications as intended and crossing over into abuse can save you a lot of trouble and pain. Here are five key differences to help you navigate this complex issue:

Purpose of Use 

Use and abuse can often be delineated by the purpose behind taking the medication. Are the pills you’re taking prescribed by your doctor or healthcare professional to treat a specific and diagnosed health condition? Are you following the dosing directions and taking them for their intended purpose? Are they being used to alleviate symptoms, improve your quality of life, and promote healing? If you can honestly answer “yes” to each of these questions, you’re probably using your prescription correctly. If you answered “no” to any of them, you may be walking a fine line of prescription pill abuse. Taking them in higher doses than prescribed? Using them for non-medical purposes like recreation or to cope with stress? Definitely may have a problem on your hands. 

Doctor’s Guidance

Just because something is prescribed, doesn’t mean it’s safe - especially if it’s not prescribed by your doctor. Anytime you are prescribed something by a healthcare provider, you should follow the guidance of the prescriber precisely. Talk with your doctor about how to use the medication safely, what the signs of addiction may be, and if there are any side-effects you should be aware of. This is responsible prescription drug use. If you’re obtaining medication without a prescription, are ignoring medical advice and taking doses higher than prescribed, or mixing multiple drugs together, this is drug abuse. Prescription medication should never be used to get high or for fun. 

Frequency & Dosage

Every medication that is prescribed by a doctor will have a frequency schedule and dosage amount. Following these precisely is crucial for safe and effective use. When used appropriately, individuals adhere to the prescribed dosage and schedule recommended by their healthcare provider. They do not exceed the recommended dose or take the medication more frequently than instructed. Abuse, however, often involves taking larger doses than prescribed, taking medication more often than recommended, or using prescription drugs in ways other than directed, such as crushing and snorting pills for a faster or intensified effect. When frequency and dosage are abused, the prescription runs out faster than intended. A 30 day supply of pills may be used up in two weeks. 

Physical & Psychological Dependence

The unfortunate truth is that even prescription drugs have the potential to cause physical and psychological dependence. This risk is increased exponentially when those drugs are abused. However, there is a clear distinction between developing dependence as a result of legitimate medical use and developing dependence due to misuse. Legitimate medical use that results in dependence occurs gradually over time, is managed by the prescribing doctor, and is discussed with the patient. If the cessation of the medication needs to occur, the prescribing healthcare provider will work with the patient to create a safe, comfortable taper schedule. 

Dependence from abuse, however, occurs rapidly without the doctor’s knowledge and leads to addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and impaired functioning in everyday life. 

Impact on Health & Well-being

Ultimately, the impact of prescription use versus abuse on an individual's health and well-being is vastly different. When used as intended, prescription medications can improve health outcomes, alleviate symptoms, and enhance quality of life. Conversely, abuse of prescription drugs can seriously hurt the individual and lead to unintended consequences including overdose, physical and mental health complications, legal issues, strained relationships, and financial problems.

Getting Help for Prescription Abuse

If you're ever unsure about your medication regimen or have concerns about you or someone else’s drug use, give us a call. We’re here to help. 


The Owls Nest


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