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Prescription drug dependence: Don’t let it happen to you

If you have a chronic disease or health disorder, medication is most likely part of your treatment program. Unfortunately, some medications that older adults depend on—including painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs—have the potential for misuse or abuse. When you use prescription drugs incorrectly over too long a period, you run the risk of becoming dependent or becoming addicted. Either way, prescription drug misuse may lead to cognitive impairment, debilitating falls and even car accidents. That’s why it’s important to recognize the problem—whether in yourself or in a loved one.

Avoiding addiction

You generally don’t have to worry about becoming addicted if you follow your doctor’s instructions on when and how to take your medication, but it’s also important to:

  • Keep your doctor informed about your health and any side effects of medication.
  • Consider your family history. If a family member has had trouble with addiction or you’ve had a problem in the past, you have a greater risk of becoming addicted.
  • Be aware of physical changes, such as depression, sedation, confusion, slowed breathing, irritability or restlessness. Sudden clashes with family members, friends or co-workers may also be a sign something’s wrong.
  • Ask your pharmacist to print the medicine bottle label in larger typeface if you have trouble reading the instructions.

If you feel you may be addicted, ask your doctor for help. He or she may be able to wean you off the medication, prescribe less-addictive medicine in its place or refer you to a support group or therapist for help with depression or anxiety.