Drugs have been a significant problem in the US for many decades, and they show no indication of slowing their pace any time soon. This will continue to result in countless lives being destroyed by drug misuse, and not only the ones participating in the misuse, but the devastating effects it can have on their friends, family, and loved ones.

One of the biggest contributing factors has become drug misuse, and while this may sound similar to drug abuse, it is a wholly separate problem from abuse and deliberate addiction. Drug misuse is always unintentional and can start very simply by individuals that would never consider using a drug for recreational purposes. 

It is important to know all you can about drug misuse, and how it can affect anyone who legitimately uses medication or other substances. Additionally, it can be vital to understand what the signs are of drug misuse so that you are informed on how to identify a potential situation of misuse. This can help you recognize the symptoms of drug misuse both in others around you, as well as yourself, so that help can be sought. 

Some measures can be taken to help prevent or minimize the risk of drug misuse, but they aren’t always foolproof. Ensuring that drugs are safely stored when not needed to prevent accidental or early dosing, and making sure that old and outdated prescriptions or prescriptions that are no longer needed are properly disposed of, are two of the most common ways to prevent drug misuse. Sometimes, however, this isn’t enough and misuse can still happen.

The side effects of drug misuse can be incredibly serious, and they can vary as widely as the spectrum of conditions that they are prescribed to treat. Since drug misuse can happen with any prescribed medication, the misuse can occur across several drug families including stimulants, depressants, benzodiazepines, and even opioids. Once misuse happens and the side effects are felt, it is often too late, and the individual should consider seeking some professional assistance. 

What Does Drug Misuse Entail?

Drug misuse is very different from intentional drug abuse, and can only occur with over-the-counter or prescription medications. While it is possible that over-the-counter medicines can be misused, serious side effects are rarer than when prescription medications are misused, which can result in medically significant and potentially deadly outcomes. 

Drug misuse can vary and can involve something as simple as forgetting to take medicine at a prescribed time, or otherwise not following the medical instructions outlined in their treatment plan and prescription instructions. The most defining feature is that the term ‘drug misuse’ only applies to those who are taking a drug without the desire or objective “to get high”. 

For example, if an individual has been prescribed a sleep aid, such as Ambien or similar substances, they may experience drug misuse when taking a second pill after the first one “didn’t work”, or failed to help them gain restful sleep. While the medical directive from their healthcare professional may advise against taking a second dose in the same night, someone who fails to get the desired effect may take a contraindicated follow-up dose, qualifying as drug misuse.

This can be inconsequential, life-threatening, or anywhere in between. Each individual’s experience will depend greatly on the drug that is being misused, as to how it is being misused. Someone who begins taking two pills instead of one “because one doesn’t help the pain much”, could be setting themselves up for an incredibly strong chemical dependency, and an intense and potentially medically serious withdrawal when they stop taking the drug.

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How To Know If You Are Starting To Misuse a Drug

There are many ways to tell if you or someone you know may be starting to misuse a drug, and while some may be apparent to those outside the circle of those close to the individual, many will be only recognizable by the one misusing the drug. Some of the most common signs will also be the most obvious, while some will be subtle changes to behavior or psychological stability.

All prescription medications come with specific instructions which detail the dosage, the frequency, and the precautions for the prescribed drug. Misuse can often be easily determined if the prescribed individual is not adhering to those instructions. The most common ways that this is done is either by not adhering to the dosage frequency and taking a dose earlier than is indicated or by taking a higher dose at each prescribed dosage time. 

The proper dosage and frequency according to confidential doctor instructions, however, is not something that someone other than the individual misusing the drug would know. With this in mind, many other signs could indicate that someone close to you may be having a problem with drug misuse. These signs will often be physical or behavioral and may be relatively subtle.

For those close to the individual, behavioral changes are likely going to be the first signs noticed. When someone begins having trouble with drug misuse, they will frequently display increased irritability, aggression, and even hostility. This will also usually be accompanied by lethargy and an unusual lack of motivation.

There may also be sudden or drastic changes in eating habits or appetite, along with similar changes to their personal and professional priorities. Followers on social media may see postings become disjointed, manic, or noticeably different than usual. Those who have developed a very strong dependency during their misuse may also become involved in criminal activity or other legal problems, exacerbated by increased spending on their drug misuse.

The appearance of an individual living with drug misuse will also begin to change, drastically in some cases. Many drugs will affect the eyes, either causing them to become bloodshot, or reducing pupillary response in both dilated and constricted pupils. Frequently the individual will begin to care less about their physical appearance, hygiene, and will develop poor coordination.

Other key signs will include the constant mental focus on obtaining more of the drug, or subsequently using the drug. The individual will also likely allow personal and professional relationships to suffer or deteriorate in the face of using the drug. Many times the individual will express a desire to stop using but may be deterred by the sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms. 

Side-Effects of Drug Misuse

There are countless prescriptions designed to help treat almost every condition under the sun, and when used under proper supervision according to the healthcare provider’s instructions, they can be incredibly effective. When a drug is misused, however, the same side effects that were manageable or even non-existent under proper use can become much more serious, and in some cases even deadly. 

The side effects of drug misuse will depend to a great extent on both the individual misusing the drug, such as their age and medical condition, as well as the specifics about their misuse such as the particular drug being misused and how it was being misused. Many of the side effects will be related to the drug in question, while the symptoms experienced and the intensity of those symptoms will depend more on the medical condition and medical history of the individual. There are short-term effects and long-term effects that will often be present depending on the misused drug, and how long it was misused.

Short-Term Side Effects Of Drug Misuse

  • Significant or drastic changes in appetite
  • Unusual levels of wakefulness or drowsiness
  • Unusual changes in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Emotional instability and mood swings
  • A sudden propensity for stroke or seizure
  • Psychosis
  • Coma
  • Death
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Long-Term Side Effects Of Drug Misuse

  • Mental illness
  • Blood-borne infections such as HIV/AIDS & hepatitis
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Kidney disease and renal failure
  • Liver damage and potential failure
  • Permanent changes or damage to key areas of the brain, such as memory formation, storage, and retrieval
  • Reduced pleasure in things once enjoyed, such as food, sex, and favorite hobbies
  • Potentially permanent reductions in cognitive abilities, like problem-solving, learning, and critical thinking
  • Damage to personal and professional relationships which may be irreversible

What To Do If You Are Starting To Misuse A Drug

If you or someone close to you may be having an issue managing their drug misuse, the best thing to do is reach out today and speak with an experienced addiction professional on a confidential basis. Once misuse has started building a chemical dependency in the individual misusing the drug, it can be incredibly difficult, and even dangerous in some cases, to attempt the detox and withdrawal stage alone.

By working with experienced addiction counselors, the individual seeking treatment can help create their own treatment plan, and begin building a solid foundation for future recovery. By completing the detox and withdrawal stage in a clean and safe environment, it can be done with as much comfort as possible, and with competent medical supervision, the potential for dangerous medical complications can be significantly reduced.

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens

Amanda is a prolific content writer, and is in recovery from disordered eating. She has a passion for health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and being a mother of a beautiful daughter.

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