How to identify drug seeking behavior

The term “drug seeking behavior” refers to a pattern of attempting to obtain prescription narcotics from medical professionals by using underhanded methods, such as lying or coercing. This behavior usually indicates a drug abuse problem. Learn more about drug seeking behavior here, and how it can be identified.

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Oftentimes, a person exhibiting drug seeking behaviors will be addicted to the drug they are trying to get. Getting help for drug seeking behavior and the accompanying drug addiction early is very important. If local doctors and hospitals label a person a drug seeker, it will eventually become impossible for them to obtain medications, which can cause them to turn illegal drugs.

So how do you identify addiction by identifying drug seeking behavior? And how do you address it?  We review here, and invite your questions about prescription drug addiction at the end.

Identifying drug seeking behavior

A person who abuses drugs regularly will exhibit drug seeking behavior and will routinely attempt to obtain prescription medications, such as opioids or tranquilizers, from medical facilities, such as emergency rooms and doctors’ offices. In an effort to obtain these drugs, individuals may resort to exaggerating symptoms, pressuring, doctor shopping, and lying.

Unfortunately, most individuals who seek drugs in this manner will not readily admit that they have a drug problem. In fact, some may truly believe that they have a particular illness or need a particular drug. This denial makes getting treatment much harder and can lead to severe problems down the road. Individuals will often need to be convinced to enter treatment on their own to address their drug problem, which isn’’t always an easy task. How can you tell if someone has drug seeking behavior?

How to tell if someone has drug seeking behavior

At first glance, drug seeking behavior may be somewhat difficult to spot. However, upon closer inspection of a person’s actions, it will often become apparent. Below is a list of common signs and actions to look for if you need to tell if someone has drug seeking behavior.

  • •    claiming to have lost a prescription or have had a prescription stolen
  • •    claims of needing a specific narcotic, because they are allergic to or otherwise unable to take non-narcotics
  • •    describing a list of “textbook” symptoms
  • •    exaggerating the severity of symptoms
  • •    exhibiting signs of drug abuse, including withdrawal symptoms or skin tracks
  • •    frequent visits to different out-of-town doctors
  • •    frequent visits to emergency rooms with complaints of pain, anxiety, or other symptoms the sought-after drug can relieve
  • •    going to two or more doctors within a short period of time in an effort to get a specific drug (sometimes referred to as “doctor shopping”)
  • •    not interested in an actual diagnosis, but still wants specific drugs
  • •    unwilling or unable to provide medical records or contact information about previous doctors

Drug seeking behavior itself won’’t stop until the underlying drug addiction is treated, which first requires a drug addiction diagnosis.

Identifying drug seeking behavior……what next?

1.    Schedule an intervention. Since it can be difficult for a drug addict to admit that they have a problem, an intervention may be in order for anyone that exhibits drug seeking behavior. In order to stage an intervention, you may want to consult the advice or services of a qualified addiction specialist. He or she can be present during the intervention to keep it on track. The main goal of an intervention is to help open a drug abusers eyes and make them realize that they need treatment, which isn’’t usually easy. During a drug intervention, outline consequences for refused treatment as well as what can happen if treatment is accepted.

2.    Get a diagnosis. After a prescription drug addict accepts help for addiction, the next step is to seek a diagnosis. Diagnosing a drug addiction generally requires a doctor or addiction specialist to ask a possible drug addict a series of questions about their drug use. The answers to these questions, as well as possibly their behavior during the assessment, will usually be the foundation of a drug addiction diagnosis.

3.    Set up a treatment plan. When a person decides to get help for their drug problem, the next step is getting them into treatment. They must first meet with an addiction specialist and undergo an assessment to determine the best course of action for their treatment. Depending on their needs and individual situation, they can then enter either inpatient or outpatient drug treatment.  Drug detox may also be necessary.

Help for drug seeking behavior questions

Getting help for drug seeking behavior starts by addressing drug addiction or dependence. This can be a frightening step for many people, but it is often one of the best decisions that most drug addicts make.

Because of this, we’d be more than happy to answer any questions and address any concerns you may have. Simply leave them in the comments section below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Reference Sources: NCBI: On the meaning of ‘drug seeking’
ARSBN:  “The dog ate my prescription” drug-seeking behaviors every nurse should know
FDA: Important drug warning
NCBI: How Frequently are “Classic” Drug-Seeking Behaviors Used by Drug-Seeking Patients in the Emergency Department?
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. I would like to reply on the other side of the person who is or may be addicted. I currently have lower back pain which is severe most of the time. I asked my doctor to give me the lowest dose of pain medication due to fear of becoming addicted to pain medication. The truth is my back is still killing me and I am afraid to tell my doctor that the medication is not working or enough. I am scheduled to have surgery in 3 weeks (I had to get a procedure for breast lumps before I could schedule this surgery). In the meantime I am in agony. I went to the ER a long time ago and was treated like I wanted drugs. I was given decadron to which I am allergic to. HELP ME. I don’t even like how the pain medication makes me feel. I just want relief.

  2. I suspect my adult daughter is abusing Adderall. I recently found two prescriptions (from same doctor – different dates) and a vape pen. She is confused, extremely talkative, compulsive, agitated, irritable, has panic attacks, loss of appetite, has lost about 20-30 pounds, is chronically forgetful, and goes incommunicado (via phone, email and text) and disappears for periods of time without any explanation. She has headaches and recently said she has heart issues. I have also had others tell me she has hallucinations and paranoia and she asserts she can see and speaks with dead people and ghosts.
    She is divorced with three children, whom she rarely opts to see.
    Since she has a prescription, she asserts that a drug test that reveals adderall in her system does not indicate drug addition. Is there a reason she would vape adderall rather than take the pills as prescribed by her doctor? If so, what are the effects of vaping adderall?

  3. Recently I was admitted to hospital for leaving drugs like I.was addicted to alprazolam .5 and tramadol and kamini tablets which contains opium. The doctor at the hospital prescribed me medicines, one of which is Tapal 50 which is tepentadol. Now I am addicted to tepentadol and if I didn’t take I feel withdrawal. I take 10 tablets daily of 50 mg. I want to quit this can you help me to quit this, what should I do to completely quit this coz I can’t do anything if I don’t take tepentadol. Withdrawal make me sick and I can’t do anything. Plz help me.

    1. Hi Sanjeev. Call now for treatment help at 1-877-960-2408! The treatment consultants can help you find the best treatment program for your needs, location and budget. The helpline is free, trustful, and available 24/7.

  4. I read your blog and I found it pretty interesting. It’s pretty sad that people have to resort to those tactics in order to obtain drugs to feed their addiction and to help people overcome their addiction is a good thing.

    However, it’s unfortunate that many people in the medical community are looking in the wrong direction or come up with a misdiagnosis.
    Your site brings to mind many years ago when I was mugged in the street. I was beat the hell out of with a baseball bat along with three other people. I went to the police station and tried to identify the muggers but I couldn’t. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital and I opted to wait a few days feeling that the injuries were not that serious. When I went to the hospital (which is located in a bad drug neighborhood) a few days later and told them that I was beaten with a baseball bat, they automatically assumed that I was just seeking drugs and as I recall they didn’t do xrays or anything because they did not believe it – instead they just kept insisting I was looking for drugs. Years later I found out I broke my collarbone and because people were hyper vigilant looking for drug seekers, this is the situation that the hospital staff put me in.

    So in closing I would say yes be vigilant about people seeking drugs in a hospital or other medical institution. But also listen to what the people seeking treatment have to say. If you are to skeptical, cynical, don’t care or are too lazy to check out their story when they provide references, then you don’t belong in the medical community. Find yourself a new job instead of trying to be an angel of death. Perhaps grape picking might be a better career choice for you.

    Best regards

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