Counselor’s Desk: Guarding against prescription addiction

I had my wisdom teeth taken out in college. It was my first time having any sort of surgery, my first experience with anesthesia, and my first experience with painkillers. The surgery went well and I was sent home with my prescription bottle for Lortab. I have always been a rule follower, so I took the pills like the bottle said; every 4-6 hours. This bottle lasted until I got my first dry socket after forgetting and taking a sip of my milkshake out of a straw.

The dentist packed my tooth with clove oil and sent me home with more Lortab. I remember one morning heading to class and realizing that I forgot my morning pain pill. I didn’t realize this because I wasn’t in pain. I was just used to taking it every morning. I called my roommate to bring it to me and she said hesitantly, “I don’t think you need it anymore, Kate.” I took offense, “Of course I do! The dentist said I did!” On the inside though, I knew the truth. The truth was that I didn’t need it anymore for the pain, I just liked taking them. I stopped taking them that day.

I am a substance abuse counselor who has never struggled with addiction. Many of my clients will ask how I can help them if I’ve never been through addiction myself. Does a cancer doctor have to have cancer to help his/her patient? This question usually takes care of their doubt.

I don’t have to have struggled with addiction to understand what havoc it wrecks on a person’s life and I always advise clients to work a program with a sponsor who can understand how addiction actually feels. I’ve never dealt with addiction but I can understand how an addiction to prescription medications could easily happen. I tell the story above to clients because I could have easily been one of my clients.

I wanted to write this article to shed a light on a subject that is not often talked about. As a child of a pharmacist, I grew up trusting doctors and taking whatever prescription they gave me. As an adult, I have learned to listen to my intuition and to talk to my doctor about prescriptions that have a high potential for abuse. I don’t feel like the everyday person ever thinks of the potential for addiction when they take medicines, however many of my clients never thought they’d be addicted to their prescriptions either.

A common misconception about my job is that I only treat clients who come in addicted to cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, etc. but the majority of my clients are addicted to prescription medications. So what are the warning signs of addiction?

Are you running out of your prescription before your refill is due? What sort of emotions to do experience if you don’t have access to your prescription? Are you taking your medication for reasons they are not prescribed?

For example, when taken outside of its proper parameters, Lortab does help with pain, but it can also give some people energy. Xanax helps with anxiety but can also numb other emotional pain. Adderall helps with attention deficit disorder but can also give energy and cause the same side effects as cocaine.

If you are afraid that you or someone you know may be struggling with prescription abuse, please don’t hesitate to seek the help that you need. Many of my clients commonly say that they wish they had sought help earlier than they did. Call Tombigbee Outreach and we can help or refer you to an agency who can.

Kate Crawford is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is the director of Tombigbee Outreach in Demopolis. For more information about Tombigbee Outreach, call 334-287-2428.