LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Laura Hartzfeld never expected to become a drug abuser.
The mother of three began taking pain medication to help her cope with an injured tailbone. But soon she noticed the pills helped her through everyday chores around the house.
“I noticed I was a little more short tempered, or I didn’t have as much patience,” she said. “And then I’d get the prescription and suddenly everything would flow a bit better in my house.”
Before long, she was hooked. Hartzfeld became part of a growing number of housewives struggling silently and secretly with substance abuse.
“Suddenly I went, ‘Wow … That feels good,'” she said. “The pain medication just set off that one thing in me. And one day I said, ‘A drink would be a good idea.'”
She always obtained her pain medication from a doctor and believed she kept her drug abuse secret. But her dependency continued to grow.
“I would exaggerate my symptoms to the doctor (to get pills) and I had a doctor who was sympathetic,” she said.
Hartzfeld’s experience is not unique.
Sales of prescription opioid pain pills nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deaths from opioid overdoses have grown by similar proportions.
Kelly Westfall also thought she was hiding her substance abuse issues. In her case, a glass of wine at dinner led to drinking several glasses in a sitting.
In hindsight, her problem was apparent to many around her.
“My gardener knew, and eventually I found out my mailman knew,” she said. “And then my facialist said, ‘You would always say you went to lunch with friends, but you always smelled like alcohol.'”
Both Hartzfeld and Westfall are now sober and are and raising awareness about the prevalence of substance abuse among women, and want them to know there are treatment options.
Women face unique challenges in combating substance abuse, researchers say, often falling more quickly into addiction than do men.
Still, both Hartzfeld and Westfall said they’re already feeling healthier.
“I was like 94 pounds,” Westfall said. “My eyes were yellow — I mean yellow. And I was gray, so I was dying.”