Signs Your Loved One Is Doctor Shopping
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Signs Your Loved One Is Doctor Shopping

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

February 26, 2019

Drug addiction can originate from many places, including becoming addicted to legal prescription medications. Many individuals who find themselves addicted to prescription medication will attempt to go to several different doctors in order to keep receiving their prescriptions. This behavior is dangerous and can lead to several negative consequences.

Drug addiction does not only involve illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin; today, countless people abuse prescription drugs. According to an infographic on the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s website, titled Popping Pills: The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic in America, 52 million Americans age 12 and older have abused prescription drugs in their lifetime. Prescription drug abuse has become a serious health concern in the U.S., and it is a growing problem.

The Seriousness Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Countless studies have confirmed that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, no matter if the drugs are illicit or prescribed by a medical physician. The mind and mood-altering chemicals found in drugs manipulate and mimic the brain’s natural neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send and receive messages and direct autonomic (involuntary) functions like breathing. Prescription medications can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs to the brain. For example, the prescription stimulant drug Ritalin achieves its effect on the brain by acting on the same neurotransmitter as cocaine.

Once someone is addicted to drugs, their brain tells them that they need the drug to survive. Due to this, they will make getting and using the substance a top priority in their lives, oftentimes more than the needs that surround food, sleep, work, and family obligations. Loved ones and physicians often observe this through doctor shopping, which is a term used to describe someone who sees various doctors in the hopes of getting more drugs.

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What Is Doctor Shopping?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, doctor shopping is when someone sees multiple physicians in the hopes of receiving multiple prescriptions, without professional referral or recommendation. The doctors are not aware that the patient is seeing other treatment providers, in turn, prescribing medications without knowing that the patient may be taking this or other drugs. This can result in dangerous doses and even deadly combinations.

The majority of drugs that people doctor shop for are controlled substances, meaning doctors can only give patients so many of them. The most common drugs people doctor shop for are opioid painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, and ADHD medications like Adderall.

The Dangers Of Doctor Shopping: Increased Fatal Overdoses

Many people wrongly assume that a substance prescribed by a physician can’t really be harmful. However, when multiple prescriptions from various doctors are being taken at the same time, serious health effects may occur. There is a serious prescription overdose epidemic currently happening in the U.S., with opioids being the primary concern. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a greater number of people fatally overdose on opioids than they do from all other types of drug use combined, including illegal drugs. When opioids are in the brain, they can cause slowed breathing and long-term effects on brain function.

What Are The Signs Of Prescription Drug Abuse?

If you believe a loved one is abusing a prescription medication, there are a few signs you can look for.

  • Doctor Shopping: If you notice that your loved one complains that their medications aren’t working like they used to, and that they are seeking other doctors to get their prescriptions, this may be a concern.
  • Unexplained Illnesses: Take note of when your loved one complains about feeling sick and may call into work or cancel obligations with family or friends. Perpetual sickness may be a result of someone experiencing withdrawal which is a sign of addiction.
  • Mood Swings: Any abnormal behavior like aggressive actions, outbursts, and constant mood swings are important to take note of.
  • Physical Changes: Many types of drugs, including prescriptions medications, will alter a person’s physical appearance causing bloodshot eyes, dilated or contracted pupils, a lack of personal hygiene, and a general deterioration of their appearance.
  • Financial Problems: If your loved one is complaining about financial issues, or is asking for money when they never used to, or in sums greater than is typical, this could be a sign of drug abuse.

What Are The Signs Of Doctor Shopping?

Doctor shopping is one telltale sign of prescription drug abuse. If you believe your loved one is doctor shopping, be careful to take notice of these common excuses and warning signs.

  • Frequently giving the excuse that they’ve lost their medications
  • A loved one finding bottles for similar prescriptions from different doctors
  • Paying for a doctor visit or medications with cash, despite having medical insurance
  • Going to see a doctor that is out of their city or county
  • Claiming a prescription was lost or stolen
  • Asking for a prescription by its brand name or for a specific dosage
  • Asking for an increased monthly dosage
  • The person becomes anxious when asked to answer questions about their prescription or apparent symptoms
  • Someone is on expensive prescription medication despite being unemployed

The Legal Implications Of Doctor Shopping

Not only is doctor shopping very dangerous to someone’s health, but it is also a federal crime. According to the CDC, many states have made laws with the hopes of reducing the number of doctor shopping incidents in the United States.

All states have a general fraud statute adopting the legislation from the Narcotic Drug Act of 1932, which states that no one can attempt to obtain a narcotic drug by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, or the concealment of materials indicating their other prescriptions. Twenty states have adopted specific doctor shopping laws that prohibit a person from knowingly keeping information about medications they have received from other doctors, from their physician.

The justice system understands the complicated relationship between doctor shoppers and drug addiction and will often help a first time offender with drug abuse problems attend a rehab program instead of going to jail. However, the most likely sentence that will occur if caught doctor shopping, is prison time. The length of incarceration varies from state to state, but the typical sentencing for a doctor shopper is up to 5 years and $5,000 in fines.

Treating Prescription Drug Addiction

Doctor shopping is a serious offense that can result in time behind bars and drug addiction. Thankfully, there are treatments available to help someone suffering from prescription drug abuse and to prevent it from further ruining their life. According to NIDA, the most effective treatments for drug abuse and addiction, for both prescription and illegal drugs, are behavioral therapies and medication.

Behavioral therapy includes individual and group therapy and is effective at helping rehab patients handle cravings and relapses, improve relationships and attitude, and in avoiding drugs and risky situations. Medication is sometimes included in treatment to help someone cope with withdrawal and is often used for those suffering from opioid addiction.

Doctor Shopping Is Serious And Can Ruin A Person’s Life

If you suspect a loved one is doctor shopping and struggling with prescription drug abuse, it is crucial that you reach out right away to address these concerns and find help for them. Not only can a person’s health deteriorate from drug addiction, but most everyone around them will be affected if they go to jail for the crime of doctor shopping.

Don’t hesitate to help someone you love. Chances are, they want to stop—but simply can’t find a way on their own. Contact us today at if you want to do everything you can to stop a loved one’s doctor shopping and find them the help they need to recover from prescription drug abuse. Their entire life may be on the line.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information - Doctor Shopping: A Phenomenon of Many Themes

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Doctor Shopping Laws

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition)

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Drug Abuse

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