Drug abuse doesn’t just happen with illegal substances like heroin and cocaine. It can happen with any kind of medication, including over the counter and prescription meds.

Any time a medication is used for something other than what was intended, it is being misused. It can be very easy to justify the use of meds for alleviating symptoms– especially if you already have the medications in the house–but it’s also all too easy to cross the line from occasional use to dependence and abuse. With psychotropic medications (those prescribed for mental illnesses), the risk of abuse is even higher, as some of those medications are not meant for long-term use and are easy to become dependent on. This happens commonly with anti-anxiety meds, such as clonazepam (Klonopin®) or alprazolam (Xanax®).

On the other hand, your partner may not be abusing their prescription meds, but instead using alcohol or marijuana as another means to alleviate their pain, whether that pain is physical or mental. Substance abuse and psychiatric illness–especially for people with anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia–often go hand-in-hand. Your partner may be trying to self-medicate in order to relieve their symptoms, but mixing alcohol with prescription medications can be a deadly combination. Medications that are sedatives, such as those prescribed for anxiety or sleep, combined with large amounts of alcohol, can result in your partner’s breathing and heart rate to slow to the point of stopping.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA), commonly abused prescription medications include the following:

  • Pain meds: Codeine (Empirin®, Tylenol 1, 2, 3), Hydrocodone (Vicodin®), Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), Meperidine (Demerol®), Methadone (Dolophine®), Morphine, Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®), Propoxyphene (Darvon®)
  • Anxiety meds: Alprazolam (Xanax®), Chlordiazepoxide HCL (Librium®), Clonazepam (Klonopin®), Diazepam (Valium®), Lorazepam (Ativan®)
  • Sedatives: Butalbital (Fiorinal®), Meprobamate (Miltown®), Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal®), Phenobarbital, Secobarbital (Seconal®)
  • Stimulants (ADHD meds): Amphetamine-dextroamphetamine (Adderall®), Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), Methylphenidate (Ritalin®), Sibutramine (Meridia®)

If your partner is taking any of these, be on the lookout for signs of dependency or abuse.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Partner is Abusing Medication?

  1. Ask them. Yes, that might be hard to do, but it may also save your partner’s life.
  2. Look for signs of drug addiction. This Mayo Clinic page lists signs and symptoms to watch for in someone whom you might suspect is abusing drugs.
  3. If your partner has family history of drug abuse or alcohol addiction, know that this increases the chances of your partner also having addictive tendencies.

Getting Help

If your partner has an alcohol/drug abuse problem and also has a psychiatric illness, they have what’s called a dual diagnosis. You and your partner will want to seek treatment from clinicians who have training with dual diagnoses, as this is handled differently from just addressing the mental illness alone or just addressing the substance abuse alone. While many people think, “If I can resolve my mental illness, my dependence on drugs will go away on its own,” it doesn’t work like that. Both issues have to be addressed simultaneously.