3 Ways to Spot Addiction to Prescription Opioids

Written by Buprenorphine Doctors

Photo by Pietro Jeng from Pexels

There are scary names floating around the opioid crisis: heroin, fentanyl, or morphine. But addiction doesn’t always jump out at you. What do you need to watch out for?

Keep an eye on prescription opioids. These are the painkillers which doctors can legally prescribe. You’d think they’re less dangerous than illegal opioids, but they’ve done their part to fuel the American opioid crisis. Their manufacturers are under legal fire for the way prescription drugs have been marketed and given out. If you or a loved one take prescribed opioids for pain relief, consider a few signs you might’ve already seen.

Taking the Medicine the Wrong Way

There’s a right way to take opioids for pain relief. If a doctor outlines a plan with reasonable doses for a short time, follow their directions.

But there’s also a wrong way to take opioids. When you take them differently than your doctor directs, you’ve taken them the wrong way. If your prescription recommends one dose at nine a.m. each day, taking one dose at eight and another at three is the wrong way. If your prescription recommends two milligrams in a dose, taking three or four milligrams per dose is the wrong way. Either choice is opioid abuse.

Opioid abuse isn’t exactly opioid addiction, but it’s often the first step.

Taking Someone Else’s Medicine

This sign seems obvious. But it might be sneakier than you think: it could be giving someone a painkiller because they mention a pain and because you’ve got pills (not because you’re a doctor, and not because they have a prescription). Lending an opioid is inherently the wrong way to take it.

Helping yourself to someone else’s prescription is dangerous, and it’s opioid abuse. When you take the opioid, you have no guidance from a doctor who understands your pain. You can easily take too much and find that your body needs it again. That’s physical dependence, always tied to addiction.

Taking the Medicine for the Wrong Reason

Opioids can give genuine pain relief when taken properly. In that case, you take it for your medical needs.

But there’s another reason to take opioids: to achieve the relaxing high it causes. Let’s call this the recreational reason. If you use your prescribed opioids recreationally, you’ve moved past medical needs. You’re abusing the opioid.

And when your mind pairs the opioid with the pleasure of the high, it won’t separate them again. You’ll need the drug to feel pleasure, and even to feel normal. That is textbook opioid addiction.

What Can I Do?

Always be mindful of the prescription opioids around you, whether a doctor gives them to you or to someone you know. They are potent medicines that can risk greater harm. U.S. data from the last twenty years suggests that nearly 80% of Americans addicted to heroin didn’t begin with the illegal drug; they were first addicted to prescription opioids. They’ve become the first step toward ruined lives for many people.

Just make sure that you take the drugs exactly as prescribed, and that you consider how your body responds to them. Remember: 

  1. Take no more opioids than you’re told, 
  2. Keep them to yourself, and 
  3. Make sure they’re not more than medicine.

We’ve got to watch out for ourselves and for others these days, because addiction can be hard to spot. But no one is alone in addiction, and there are resources and treatments available today.


Buprenorphine Doctors