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Published On: March 31, 2016|Categories: Substance Abuse|

People may need to take pain medication for a number of reasons, including post-op care or chronic pain relief. And while relieving one from pain is a good thing, especially if that pain is debilitating and chronic, it does not come without its risks. 

Many of the long-term pain-relieving medications on the market today are addictive and can lead to drug dependency and/or addiction if not carefully monitored. Not everyone who uses painkillers will become addicted, but as a friend or family member, it’s important to know the signs of painkiller addiction in order to help prevent or address a drug problem should the need arise.

Addiction vs dependency

First, it is important to know the difference between addiction and dependency when discussing the effects of long-term pain medication. Dependency is a physical condition that occurs when someone develops a tolerance to a particular medication over time – this occurs because the body adapts to the new levels of chemicals in its system and requires a higher and/or different dosage to continue properly managing said pain.

Addiction is when one departs from medical instruction regarding their prescription; they may increase their dosage on their own or seek alternate routes of obtaining additional pain medications. This can include illegally purchasing the painkillers, shopping for doctors willing to prescribe additional prescriptions (often without the doctors’ knowledge) or engaging in other unethical or illegal activities with the end goal of procuring additional medication.

If you are concerned about your loved one, it’s helpful to know the signs in order to draw attention to the problem or get them the appropriate amount of help they need.

Signs of painkiller addiction

If you suspect disordered use of painkiller medication, take a look at the signs displayed to help determine whether or not you should have a conversation with your loved one.

Painkiller addiction symptoms include:

  • Seeking out new doctors for the sake of obtaining more medication
  • Failing to follow the written instructions of prescriptions
  • Using increased amounts of medication
  • An off-routine sleep/wake schedule
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Withdrawing from friends or family, or failing to partake in previously enjoyed events and activities
  • Mood changes, including increased depression or anxiety
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms from painkillers will occur when one’s body has become so accustomed to routine consumption of the med that suddenly stopping causes the body to go into a somewhat shocked state. These withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever

To ensure your loved one successfully manages a healthy lifestyle after taking pain medication and doesn’t relapse into addiction-like doses that can occur from quitting “cold turkey,” consult the prescribing doctor and closely follow instructions when discontinuing any medication. 

How can I help prevent addiction? 

At any dosage level, and for all types of painkillers, the potential for addiction is an ever-present threat. One of the best things you can do to prevent painkiller addiction is to know the signs and understand the medication your loved one is taking. This way you’ll be aware of when and if new medications are added, whether or not they’re being properly consumed and what the anticipated side effects would be.

As you support your loved one during this time, it is essential to keep two points in mind to help decrease the risk of addiction to whatever painkillers have been prescribed, especially if addiction runs in your family:

  1. Ensure your loved one only takes the prescribed amount. The purpose of this medicine is to reduce pain, but taking medicine in higher doses than prescribed increases the likelihood of developing an addiction and increases the body’s tolerance at a faster rate, leading to consistently higher increases in dosage
  2. Ensure your loved one only takes painkillers over the allotted time prescribed by the doctor. While long-term use of painkillers does not guarantee the development of an addiction, if these medications are not monitored, your loved one can develop dependency issues

While painkillers are prescribed by doctors to treat many types of pain – including inflammation and moderate pain to intense pain following serious operations – it is necessary to recognize the different types and doses of pain medication.

There are three types of painkillers: over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin, paracetamol (used to lower the body’s temperature) and opioids. Opioids, like morphine or Oxycodone, are the most common prescription drugs associated with addiction because of their strong addictive nature. 

Why are painkillers so addictive?

Mismanaged, opioids can create strong addictions because they change the chemistry of the brain and trigger the brain’s reward center, causing a desire for more of that feel-good sensation the drug-induced. As usage continues, the number of nerve receptors for the drug increases, while the body’s ability to create natural painkillers diminishes. However, even strong painkillers don’t have to lead to addiction. They must be used as recommended.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 54 million Americans have taken prescription drugs for illicit reasons during their lifetime. That’s a huge percentage of the U.S. population. In order to bring this number down, it’s absolutely crucial for those using opioids and other pain meds to adhere to the proper dosages and instructions; it’s equally important for their loved ones to be aware of the signs of abuse in order to offer assistance if ever needed.

Seeking treatment for painkiller misuse? 

Pain management is not easy, but it’s not something you or your loved one needs to tackle on their own. With treatment programs and even medication management assistance available, you can learn to properly use pain medication without running a high risk of addiction. 

To get started today, contact High Focus Centers by calling our offices at 800-877-3628.

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