Prescription Painkillers… Not everyone becomes addicted.
By Anastasia E. Tsouroupakis
The healthcare community in conjunction with various branches of the government, regularly warn us of the risks of becoming addicted to prescription medication, so much so that when many of us are suffering or recovering from surgery we hesitate to take anything to help us deal with the pain. However what these sources fail to inform us is that addiction is not always the outcome of taking pain medication. In principle, medical opiates such as Percodan and OxyContin (just to name two) are prescribed by physicians to provide effective relief (not cure) from pain. Anyone taking these medications for even a short duration will become physically dependent, this is not the same as being addicted. If you have been prescribed opiates to deal with chronic pain, or pain as result of surgery, your body will eventually adapt to the effects the drug but again, this is NOT the same as addiction. When the patient stops taking the opioid or lessens the dosage his or her body will experience withdrawal symptoms which can last anywhere from as little as six hours to as long as three days , depending on the opioid (1). Addiction however, is a behavioural condition which has physiological overlaps, “It’s generally present when an individual continues to use substances despite negative consequences on their life, gives up important activities such as work, school, family or other relationships because of the substance use, uses a substance compulsively and is unable to stop once they’ve started, uses a substance for reasons other than those for which it was intended such as pain relief, or craves a substance even when they’re not in physical pain” (2).
In general, our genes and our environment (family, economic, social groups) affect and dictate the way we behave and react, studies suggest a small percentage of the population, 5-10% are born with a predisposition to becoming addicts, in these individuals their brains are hardwired differently and taking opioid drugs could be catastrophic, “For people with an inborn vulnerability to opioid addiction, taking pain pills can lead to an intoxicating rush that makes the brain want more. Repeating the high reinforces the cycle and sets the stage for drug addiction” (3). Stories on the news and the internet with titles like “Mom of three takes OxyContin for minor surgery and is now a strung out addict” are numerous and instantly create fear and panic because if it happened to her it can happen to me right? No! What we are not told is that in addition to their environment, chances are this person most probably was already predisposed to becoming addicted. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing definitively who is predisposed, there is no brain scan, no blood test which can predict who will become addicted.
We have provided you with ten signs that indicate you or someone you know are addicted to painkillers:
- Increase dosage – he/she becomes used to the dosage and seeks to increase their dosage.
- Change in Personality; this includes mood swings and the inability to remain focused
- Social Withdrawal
- Ongoing use; he/she continues to use long after the medical condition has dissipated
- Spends large amount of time trying to obtain prescriptions. This includes driving far distances to see a variety of doctors and obtaining a variety of subscriptions.
- Change in daily habits and appearances; sleeping habits, chronic cough and runny nose, red glazed eyes.
- Neglects Responsibilities
- Increased sensitivity, can become over stimulated and hallucinate
- Blackouts and forgetfulness
If you know anyone who is exhibiting these symptoms they need to seek medical attention, prolonged used of medical opiates can cause respiratory depression; essentially the breathing slows down and then stops resulting in death. If you are trying to seek help for an addict please remember, that once someone is addicted “the condition can be as firmly rooted as any other chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure” (4). Rather than treating it as a character weakness or flaw, regard it as a serious medical condition which requires diagnosis and ongoing treatment. Once the judgement and shame attached to addiction are removed, and replaced instead with unconditional kindness, love, and understanding, the sufferer will be more open to considering your help.
Best of Luck!!