Pain Management and Drug Addiction

Pain is one of the leading causes of disability in America, interfering with work, relationships, and family life. It’s also a major catalyst of drug addiction. Although most professionals believe that opioids should be a treatment of last resort, millions of Americans are prescribed the powerful medications every year. These prescriptions have a significant potential for addiction, and for some patients, long-term use can lead to physical dependence. Drug addiction does not have to be an inevitable side effect of chronic pain, and chronic pain doesn’t need to go untreated for an addict in recovery to remain abstinent. Responsible and comprehensive pain management can help patients lead fulfilling lives without the shadow of drug abuse. Chronic pain requires compassionate, careful treatment in order to minimize symptoms and remain free from addiction.

Living With Chronic Pain

Unless you’re part of the 25% of Americans living with long-lasting pain, it’s hard to image how debilitating the experience can be. Chronic pain affects not only the physical body but also the mind, the emotions, and the spirit. Pain makes it harder to go about your daily activities, and deprives you of playing with your children, participating in sports, or enjoying your favorite hobbies. It’s not unusual for chronic pain sufferers to feel lonely and depressed.

Managing pain usually involves taking one or more medications under a doctor’s supervision. For patients with cancer, arthritis, spinal injuries, or other severe conditions, opioid medications may offer the most efficient relief. Opioids, which are either derived from opium or mimic the effects of opium, have the highest abuse potential of any of the medications prescribed for pain control.

Some of the opioids commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain include:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Hydrocodone

Doctors are recommended to assess a patient’s discomfort level, mental health, and history of substance abuse before recommending powerful painkillers. The doctor should weigh the risks of dependence and abuse against the benefits of the medication before writing a prescription.

In reality, there are huge discrepancies regarding who receives prescription painkillers. Some doctors are so wary of over-prescribing substances that they deny patients medication that could help them get back on their feet. These patients are at risk of self-medicating by turning to friends, family, or illicit dealers to get the medications they need. Conversely, some doctors recommend opioids to patients who don’t really need it, potentially starting or fueling a habit.

When Drug Use Becomes Abuse

Unlike most other drugs, the path to painkiller addiction usually starts with a doctor’s orders. But over time, some users become dependent on the drug and start needing more and more (well over what was prescribed to them) to feel the same effect. They may resort to the following behaviors in order to get more of the drug:

  • Stealing money from friends or family to buy drugs
  • Abusing other substances when the drug of choice isn’t available
  • Forging prescriptions or seeing multiple doctors
  • Selling drugs in order to support a habit
  • Snorting or injecting crushed pills in order to get a more powerful high
  • Frequent attempts to quit, followed by relapse and guilt

If you see warning signs of drug addiction, seek help from a knowledgeable specialist. Quitting prescription opioids safely and effectively requires professional supervision to avoid withdrawal and replace the drug of choice with healthier coping strategies.

Managing Pain During and After Addiction

When prescription use evolves into dependence and addiction, it can be hard to imagine a life without both drugs and pain. Neither drug abuse nor chronic pain occurs in a vacuum, so it’s important to find a comprehensive treatment program that will address not only the addiction but also the physical symptoms. The addiction rehab program should be cross-trained in both addiction treatment and pain management, so they can help the client develop healthy coping strategies as he or she is weaned off of their drug of addiction, keeping their pain under control during treatment and going into a life in recovery.

As of now, the most successful treatment for painkiller addiction is a combination of counseling and alternate medications. Drugs like buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone, combined with 12-step programs, have helped many addicts on their road to recovery. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage and yoga can also be highly effective pain management solutions that don’t affect an addict’s recovery. There are many effective alternatives to narcotic medications, but finding the right combination of therapies requires time, effort, and the expertise of a credentialed treatment team.

If you or a loved one are struggling with managing chronic pain alongside a prescription pill addiction, call us today with any questions, or to find out what you can do to manage both.