In the past people who constantly worried about their physical health were classified with Hypochondriasis, and were called hypochondriacs in ordinary language. However with the release of the DSM-5, the manual that helps physicians and mental health professions to diagnose and treat their clients, this classification has changed. According to the American Medical Association, the DSM-5 now designates those who have high anxiety surrounding their health accompanied by significant somatic symptoms to have somatic symptom disorder. However those who have significant, persistent (lasting more than six months) anxiety surrounding their health but do not experience somatic symptoms are diagnosed with illness anxiety disorder.
According to a 2001 article released in the journal The Nurse Practitioner, between five and nine percent of primary care patients exhibit symptoms of hypochondriasis (illness anxiety). An article released by Medscape in 2013 reported that most people are diagnosed with this disorder before the age of 30, and it is 10 times more likely to occur in women than in men. These people are intensely anxious about having a physical ailment that is yet undiagnosed according to the Mayo Clinic. They may also spend excessive time and energy researching illnesses, which results in a disruption of their everyday lives. The same article from Medscape indicates that the core feature of anxiety illness is not the preoccupation with symptoms but rather the fear of having a serious disease. Debilitating anxiety is at the heart of this mental disorder. A 2009 article released by Medical News Today cites several other signs of illness anxiety:
- Preoccupation with a perceived illness despite medical evaluation that shows no illness
- Feelings of despair or hopelessness resulting from seeing multiple physicians who find no illness
- Depression surrounding their ongoing perceived ailment
- Uninterested in other aspects of daily life or general happenings
- Think normal bodily functions (sweating, bowel movements, coughs) indicate a serious illness
- May use vague phrases such as tired liver
- May focus on one particular organ (heart) and anxiety grows as subsequent tests come back negative
Unfortunately the longer the person focuses on a symptom, the worse the anxiety becomes. When the medical profession fails to meet their needs, they may choose to self-medicate.
Misuse of Prescription Drugs
If persons continue to experience illness anxiety, they may be driven by their anxiety to find solutions for their perceived illness. They may be so convinced of their looming disease that they will take prescription drugs non-medically.
People with illness anxiety may exhibit the following behaviors:
- Taking higher dosage of prescription medication than prescribed
- Taking medicine more often than prescribed
- Purchasing prescription drugs without a prescription
- Secrecy about the use/frequency of use of prescription medication
- Obtaining multiple prescriptions for medication
- Pretending to lose a prescription, requiring a physician to write another one
- Stealing medication from family and friends
- Selling property to obtain prescription medication
Unfortunately many people who take prescription medication to alleviate their symptoms (or their anxiety about them) become addicted to the medication they take. Over time the body can become physically dependent on the medication, while at the same time psychological dependence can develop as a person believes that he or she cannot survive without the drug.
Dealing with Both Illness Anxiety and Addiction to Prescription Drugs
People with both an addiction to prescription drugs and illness anxiety disorder are given a Dual Diagnosis. It can also be called a concurrent or comorbid diagnosis. This simply means that you are dealing with two issues at the same time. Co-occurrence (or Dual Diagnosis) of both addictive and mental disorders is highly prevalent. Statistics published in a 2001 article in Psychiatric Services suggest that almost half of people who have a current addictive disorder also have a current mental issue. Because addiction coupled with a mental health disorder can be more challenging to overcome, it is important for you to find an addiction treatment program that specializes in co-occurring conditions, and not just one or the other. You need the help of professionals who are trained, qualified and experienced in treating these problems. Don’t try to do it alone.
Treatment for addiction to prescription drugs occurs in two phases. Detox, or getting the drug out of your system, takes place first. The time in detox varies depending on how long you’ve been addicted and how much you were taking. During or after detox you will undergo either inpatient or outpatient treatment (or both) for your addiction and co-occurring illness anxiety. Treatment can last 30 days (considered short-term), 60 days, 90 days, or longer. Therapy can involve group and individual therapy, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings and other types of treatment depending on your needs and work and family situation. You will deal with the causes of your illness anxiety as well as the things that triggered you to take prescription drugs. You will also challenged to find healthy ways to deal with your illness anxiety without the use of drugs.
Getting Help for Your Prescription Drug Abuse
We understand the dynamics of illness anxiety disorder, and we also understand the dynamics of addiction development. We can help you. Call our toll-free help line any time, 24 hours a day. You can talk to one of our admissions counselors who can help you identify the best treatment options for your situation. Don’t let anxiety and addiction control your life any longer. Call us today, and start on the road to recovery.