Caring Currents

Prescription Addiction Part 4: One Family's Story

Last updated:

August 07, 2008
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My friend Stephanie describes the experience in the awed, stricken voice of someone relating a particularly chilling nightmare. Her mother, who she’d always been close to, began to act secretive and irrational. Her overall health was good, but she complained of insomnia, and said her sleeping medication was no longer working.

At the time, Stephanie wasn’t focused on her mother’s medications, however; she was worried that her mother had dementia or some kind of mental illness, and she wasn’t sure which was worse. She tried to persuade her mother to see a doctor, but found her increasingly hard to communicate with. She was spending more and more time alone, and was often muddled and quick to anger.

For Stephanie, the breaking point came when her mother accused her of stealing a piece of jewelry. She wouldn’t listen when Stephanie objected to the accusation, but it was after this incident that her mother finally agreed to see a doctor.

Stephanie was astonished when her mother’s physician concluded that she had a prescription drug addiction and recommended a detox program. “At first I couldn’t believe it, and then everything began to make sense,” she says.

To this day, Stephanie doesn’t know how much medication her mother was taking, or how many different doctors she was seeing to fill the prescriptions -- and she’s convinced her mother doesn’t know either. Her mother had prescriptions for sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication, but was vague when Stephanie questioned her about how much she was taking and how often she was taking it. “When she couldn’t sleep, she’d take another pill, or go see another doctor, who would give her another prescription,” Stephanie says. “It was a vicious cycle, and she didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.”

Her mother entered a five-day detox program at the local hospital, and, according to Stephanie, “It was exactly what she needed.” It was a relief for her mother to finally understand what was going on with her and to get help.

Stephanie advises those taking care of seniors to stay as involved as possible -- to find out exactly which medications they're taking and to be sure they're following the prescribed dosage. She now keeps a "health file" for both of her parents, including the names and contact information of all their doctors, copies of their prescriptions, and details about their medical diagnoses and procedures. “I realized that I couldn’t rely on my mother to give me the precise details, and, like everyone else these days, I'm too busy to keep track,” she says. “Now I keep a record, and I go to their doctors’ appointments whenever I can.”

Stephanie story has a happy ending. As soon as her mother came out of the hospital, according to Stephanie, she was her old self again. Stephanie says the experience has even made her more tolerant of her mother's worrying and maternal intrusiveness. “I’m just so grateful to have her back!” she says.

Image by Flickr user clarity25 under the Creative Commons attribution license.