In the U.S. today, more people are addicted to prescription meds than those who abuse heroin, meth, and cocaine–combined. It usually starts as a result of surgery, an accident, or a chronic pain condition that has become unbearable over time. The sad part is that it turns good people into mush. They lose their closest relationships, their homes, their children, their livelihood–all for a pill. For many, it’s also a part of their caregiving journey.
As a caregiver, it’s easy to fall into this trap. After all, you’re home all day–many times isolated–and you have access to lots of medications. You might be a tad depressed, your back hurts, you’re exhausted–and if you could just sleep, just not be in pain for a few hours…
Or your loved one finds themselves reaching too many times a day for something to alleviate the pain and loneliness, –maybe it’s your spouse or parent or child who is struggling with a prescription med addiction. It might start in college–the new craze is to take Ritalin or other drugs to help you study harder and longer and be extra alert during tests. It might be with a spouse who had back surgery and the pills “helped,” but now they have a hard time letting them go.
Oprah and Dr. Ozdid a special on this topic, and the people they interviewed were heartbreaking examples of how common this problem really is–people you wouldn’t expect. “Whether it’s Xanax, Vicodin, Valium or Percocet, Dr. Oz says more than 50 million Americans have admitted to trying prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons.”
Women, young women with children, older people, teens–all walks of life face this problem. As we well know, Betty Ford, President Gerald Ford’s wife struggled with this very problem and then opened the Betty Ford Clinic to help others battle addictions.
I watched this happen to an acquaintance. She was a young mother with three boys and a husband who traveled for his work. Rumors and concerns swarmed around her, and friends tried to intervene. She finally hit bottom and had to have a liver transplant. If anyone knows about organ transplants, then they know that it plunges you into a world of doctors, medicine, and a life-time of pills. I heard that sadly, she passed away about 5 years after her liver transplant. She had gone bad to abusing prescription drugs. Her boys no longer have their mother. Hers is ultimate warning: addictions can become so big and so consuming that it can literally consume your life.
Is Prescription Drug Abuse Common Among the Elderly? Yes.
According to DrugAbuse.gov, “Persons 65 years of age and above comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for approximately one-third of all medications prescribed in the United States. Older patients are more likely to be prescribed long-term and multiple prescriptions, which could lead to unintentional misuse.
How to Prevent or Cope With Prescription Meds Addiction:
- Before you start to have a problem: get rid of the pain pills. If your surgery is long past, don’t leave them in your medicine cabinet. Toss them. Even if you think you would never be tempted, remove the temptation–for you and your family members.
- Be a vigilant counter. Make sure you know how many pills your loved one needs, and be sure they stick to it. If you only have one prescription of pain pills and you count them out, then it’s easy to keep track and know if pills are missing.
- If you’re not the only one picking up prescriptions, then be aware that many people who are addicted use multiple doctors and multiple pharmacies. Check the bottles, check the dates, check the doctors.
- If you suspect a problem, then start paying attention. Check their purses, backpacks, bathroom cabinets, cars, and other hiding places. This is serious, you need to know what’s going on.
- If you find a problem, start attending Al-Anon. As the support person, you need support and education. You need to create a game plan, and you need to know you’re not alone.
- Know that this won’t’ be easy, especially if your loved one has a condition that really does include pain. Be willing to give them “tough love.” This could cost them their life, and I’d rather my spouse, child, or parent hate me than for them to die.
- If your loved one is old-er, they may be obstinate (that of course, can come at any age) and they may refuse to attend Nar-Anon meetings (for those who abuse narcotics) but visit their website, become educated, and don’t give up.
- Notify their doctors that prescription drugs are a problem, but realize that if they’re truly addicted, you may see agitated, even violent behavior as well as shakes, nausea, sleeplessness, and all kinds of antics.
- Look at your own behavior: how have you contributed to this situation? Be honest with yourself. Don’t look at it as blame, treat yourself with the same compassion as you would your best friend. You were tired, you looked the other way, you made excuses, you needed to keep the peace. You can’t move forward until you admit there’s a problem, and that you’re somehow a part of this whole picture–but know that you’re also a part of the solution. Until you acknowledge the situation, it doesn’t have a chance to change.
You can’t control or “fix” anybody else. You’re only 100% responsible for you. Caregiving comes with many challenges, and the abuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem we have to start talking about. Don’t isolate yourself, make excuses, or feel you’re all alone. You’re not. There are others who have struggled with addictions, with being a family member of those addicted, and their insights and their example can help.