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I'm Wondering if my Good Friend Has a Prescription Drug Problem?

by Becky
(Grand Rapids, MI)

For the ten plus years that I have known my friend Crystal, she has always complained of one health problem or another including depression. I use to think she was just a hypochondriac and/or had emotional problems but now I realize there are some possible "red flags" in her behavior that could be symptoms of prescription drug addiction.

She constantly refers to the various medications she's been on or is currently on to treat her various maladies. For years she would tell me that her doctor had to "re-adjust" her medications because the current ones weren't working right.

In the past couple years she has withdrawn from life and claims to have chronic fatigue syndrome. She sleeps most of the day and is awake only a few hours in the evening. She has undergone several medical tests in order to determine her eligibility to receive disability from the government.

She says she can't work anymore and has not worked for over two years despite her very desperate financial situation. She has offered me various medications over the years whenever I have mentioned a physical ailment such as backpain, headache, cold, etc.

She always seems to have "extra" vicodin, muscle relaxers, anti-depressants, etc. and she goes to special effort to find over the counter medications like decongestants that still contain psuedoephedrine. She has done a lot of pharmacy jumping recently to get in on the free refills that some offer for switching to their pharmacy.

She says its to save money because they're so poor which is probably true but I wonder if it's to get more drugs than she could at one pharmacy. She grew up in home with alcohol and drug abuse and saw the damage it caused. She hated it and was hurt by it.

Her husband is also an alcoholic and one of her sons is showing signs of becoming one also. She's had a rough life in many ways and I want to help her but I don't dare broach the subject of drug abuse with her. I might be wrong and she would be so hurt by my accusation. She might just be chronically depressed. Any help you can provide will be appreciated. Thanks.



Hi Becky

Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction are a very common and often under-reported problem. In fact more people abuse perscription drugs than major illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and ecstasy combined.

The fact that your friend has abused so many different drugs and for such length of time, does seem to indicate dependence and a significant problem. Whether depression is her primary illness and is one of the contributing factors to her drug abuse - or the drugs and dependence on them the cause of the depression is difficult to say.

But she does need professional help, to treat her dual depression and dependence related disorders. Most specialised addiction/dependence treatment programs do this and were she to enlist in such a program, they could help not only make the correct diagnosis, but start her on the road to recovery from her ailments.

The catch to all this however is that she needs to want to change and get proper help, if she's ever going to get back to living a 'normal' life. It sounds like she's in denial about the extent of her problem and uses the drugs to help justify why she's ill, rather than seeing them as part of the problem she needs to overcome.

So however good your intentions may be, irrespective of what you say/do, it's very difficult to get through to someone like Crystal who's in denial and help them see what's really going on. In fact it can often lead to hostility, anger and extreme defensiveness should you suggest you think she has a problem and needs help.

But I'll also never forget what a very good addictions counselor told me once. "Real friends are prepared to tell you what you don't want to hear to your face. Those that aren't will simply talk about you behind your back." So it may be worth gently trying to have a conversation with Crystal about your concerns and suggest she at the very least talks to someone who understands the fields of depression and addiction, to see what they suggest. At least then you know you've been honest about your feelings, even if she doesn't react well.

You have to remember these three core principles relating to someone you care about struggling with an addiction: "You didn't Cause it, You can't Control it, and You can't Cure it." The only way Crystal is ever going to get better is if she acknowledges her problem(s), takes responsibility for doing something about them, and then commits to getting the proper help she needs.

So unfortunately at the end of the day, there really isn't a lot you can do for someone who doesn't want to be helped. But it certainly is worth trying to talk to her, and in doing so you might plant the seed for her to re-look at her life, even if it does take time to germinate.

Best of Luck

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May 18, 2010
Please Stay Involved
by: Bill Beret

I hope that you stay by your friend during this difficult time, and even hold a drug intervention if that becomes a neccessity. This is a hard time, but your friend needs you desperately.

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