Doctor shopping is a term that denotes visiting multiple doctors or healthcare facilities in an attempt to gain increased access to prescriptions or pills. This behavior often involves falsifying or lying about medical history, symptoms, and records to obtain a desired outcome or diagnosis that would enable a person to obtain additional prescription medication outside of what would typically be prescribed by one doctor for one medical condition.1
It is important to be able to recognize if you have a loved one who is engaging in doctor shopping, as it might signify an addiction.
What Are the Dangers of Doctor Shopping?
Doctor shopping is a federal crime and is illegal in all 50 states. It can also be a strong indicator that you or someone you love is dealing with an addiction.1
Doctor shopping is very different than going to a second or third doctor for an honest additional medical opinion regarding you or your loved one’s care. This behavior relies on fabricated stories and false facts to get what the person wants, which is typically a diagnosis that would enable them to obtain prescription medications.1 This also includes not disclosing that they are filling prescriptions from other physicians.1
A person who is doctor shopping may want to obtain prescription medications, known as controlled substances. Controlled substances include drugs such as:
- Prescription stimulants, like Adderall or Concerta
- Opioid painkillers, like Percocet or Vicodin
- Benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Ativan
These substances come with a very high risk of abuse and addiction and are typically highly monitored by doctors when they are used in standard medical treatment.2
Many people may assume that because a substance is prescribed by a doctor it is not harmful. However, when a person who is doctor shopping has multiple medications from several different sources, there is no continuity of care from one physician who has their complete history. This means that each doctor a person sees cannot discern whether it is safe for a person to be prescribed a certain medication. This becomes a problem that has the potential to cause serious health effects such as drug overdose and death.1,2
What Are the Signs that Someone is Doctor Shopping
If your loved one is struggling with a medical or psychiatric condition for which you’ve noticed that they are visiting multiple doctors on a regular basis, you may fear that they are doctor shopping. While this can initially be a hard thing to detect in a loved one, there are several key factors to look out for.
Signs that a person could be engaged in doctor shopping include:3
- Visiting the doctor very frequently without a reasonable or grounded explanation
- Paying for a doctor’s appointment with cash
- Filling a high number of different prescriptions at different pharmacies
- Looking for a new doctor
- Failing to be satisfied with the care they get from any doctor
- Directing anger at a doctor or the sentiment that “no doctor understands me and what I need or am going through”
- Asking for an increased monthly dosage
- Being on expensive medication despite being unemployed or not having medical insurance
- Demonstrating secretive behavior
- Having prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies
- Claiming to have lost or misplaced medication
- Visiting a doctor outside the state or country of residence
Why Do People Engage in Doctor Shopping?
Most people who engage in doctor shopping are also struggling with drug addiction. Signs of drug addiction include but are not limited to:4
- Extreme mood swings
- Changes in physical appearance
- Disinterest in hobbies or social activities
- Possessing drug paraphernalia
- Problems with finances, work, school, or relationships
- Engaging in dangerous activities while using drugs
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly quit
- Needing more of the drug to feel the desired effects
- Worsening physical or psychiatric conditions due to substance use
- Inability to control or quit use
Drug addiction can originate from many places, including prescription drug use. Many people who find themselves addicted to prescription medications will attempt to go to several different doctors in an attempt to keep receiving the medication or type of medication they are addicted to.
How to Treat Doctor Shopping
If you suspect that a loved one may be doctor shopping due to a struggle with prescription medication addiction, help is available in the form of substance abuse treatment. Recovery programs occur on an inpatient or outpatient basis and include therapeutic interventions, such as:
- Group counseling
- Family therapy
- Individual therapy
- Drug counseling
- Support groups
- Alternative and complementary approaches like meditation and music therapy
Doctor shopping is an indicator of an addiction that needs to be addressed. If you or someone you know needs help, please call 800-681-1058 (Who Answers?) today.
- Sansone, R.A., & Sansone, L.A. (2012). Doctor shopping a phenomenon of many themes. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 9, 42-46.
- University of Michigan. (2021). Opioid “Doctor Shoppers” May Not Have to Look Far for Drugs. Michigan Health Lab.
- Medical Counsel of New South Whales. (2018). The doctor shopper will see you now.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.