The fear of living or dying with pain is very real to many people. So is the fear of addiction… a common fear associated with taking pain medication. Seriously ill patients who obviously want to experience as little pain as possible are often afraid of the consequences of taking ongoing or high doses of pain-relieving medication. This fear prompts some to forego quality of life in lieu of taking the drugs that would most effectively alleviate their suffering. Is pain management without addiction possible?
The good news is that most patients who take medication for pain do not become addicts. According to Harvard Health, 97% of users don’t become addicted to opioids. For most patients, the risks of not treating the pain (mood disorders, depression, and possible thoughts of suicide) are higher than the risk of addiction.
In 80% of cases, simple medications can minimize or eliminate the pain experienced. In moderate to severe cases, opioids are prescribed. Opioids, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Dilaudid, and Demerol, are the most commonly abused type of pain medication. This is because they cause some people to experience a feeling of euphoria, especially if taken when there isn’t pain. Plus, if opioids are used for 30 days or more, patients generally build up a tolerance to them, which means a larger dose is needed to kill the pain, and if opioids are stopped abruptly, it can cause withdrawal symptoms.
Addiction and dependence are not the same. Addiction happens when there is a loss of control or compulsive behavior that interferes with normal life. When a person is dependent on a drug, it means that there will be unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if a person stops taking the drug abruptly. With addiction, removal of medication results in psychological consequences; with dependence, the consequences are physical. Health conditions improve when patients are dependent on the right drug, administered in the right dosage, but health conditions always decline when addiction exists.
Get Screened Properly – The risk of addiction is low if the patient is well-screened. There are key indicators that a physician can pick up on to help him or her decide which patients are better suited for taking opioids long term. Consult with your physician and mention your concern about addiction if he doesn’t begin the screening process himself.
Know Your Level of Risk – Those who have a history of addiction to medication, alcohol or tobacco or who have a family history of addiction are more likely to form an addiction to pain medication. People who have a history of mood disorders are also more likely to form an addiction. If you fall in those categories, consult with your physician before taking any opioids.
Try Other Pain Management Methods – Pain medication isn’t the only option. Try natural pain solutions like physical therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, massage and reiki before resorting to long-term opioid use.
Take the Medicine Exactly as Prescribed – If you are taking opioids for longer than a week, it is extremely important that you take them exactly as prescribed. Many people think that they will lower their risk of addiction if they reduce their dose or wait until the pain is so bad that they have to take it. When the pain gets really bad and then the person gets relief from the painkiller, an addiction is more likely to form, however.
Know the Signs of Addiction – Knowing the signs of addiction ahead of time can help you seek help before it’s too late if needed. Signs of addiction include: