Managing Pain and Avoiding Addiction

Most people undergo a lot of pain after certain medical procedures such as surgery. They are therefore given pain killing medication so as to be able to manage the tremendous pain. However not all patients manage their pain effectively and after a while they cannot live without popping a pill.

Thousands of Americans rely on prescription painkillers for the relief of pain and discomfort from ailments such as headaches, menstrual cramps, surgery recovery or lingering pain from an injury. Unfortunately however, for many, this reliance on medication can easily and unknowingly turn into physical dependence.

The scary fact is that the most commonly prescribed drugs including OxyContin, Vicodin, Methadone,  Darvocet, Lortab, Lorcet and  Percocet, while offering relief from pain, can also cause individuals’ bodies to start “needing” the drugs in order to feel normal, and the result is the new, even more challenging situation of chemical dependency.

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It is important for all persons who are under prescribed pain medication to stick to the doctor’s advice. Sometimes things get out of hand and you find yourself not having enough to numb the pain. If this could be the case then it would be better to look out for the signs of drug dependency.

Here are ten warning signs to watch for if you think someone you know may be experiencing a dependency on these drugs:

  1. Usage increase: increase of one’s dose over time, as a result of growing tolerant to the drug and needing more to get the same effect.
  2. Change in personality: shifts in energy, mood, and concentration as a result of everyday responsibilities becoming secondary to the need for the drug.
  3. Social withdrawal: withdrawal from family and friends.
  4. Ongoing use: continued use of painkillers after the medical condition they were meant to relieve has improved.
  5. Time spent on obtaining prescriptions: spending large amounts of time driving great distances and visiting multiple doctors to obtain the drugs.
  6. Change in daily habits and appearance: decline in personal hygiene; change in sleeping and eating habits; constant cough, running nose and red, glazed eyes.
  7. Neglects responsibilities: neglect of household chores and bills; calling in sick to school or work more often.
  8. Increased sensitivity: normal sights, sounds and emotions becoming overly stimulating to the person; hallucinations.
  9. Blackouts and forgetfulness: forgetting events that have taken place and experiencing blackouts.
  10. Defensiveness: becoming defensive and lashing out in response to simple questions in an attempt to hide a drug dependency, if users feel their secret is being discovered.

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Being addicted to pain killers does not mean that a person ends up being a drug addict. Addiction to prescription drugs is a brain disease that can be treated successfully. There are different methods of treatment for different types of pain medication such as opioids, CNS depressants and prescription stimulants.

Several options are available for effectively treating prescription opioid addiction. These options are drawn from research on the treatment of heroin addiction and include medications (e.g., naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine) as well as behavioral counseling approaches.

Naltrexone is an antagonist medication that prevents opioids from activating their receptors. It is used to treat overdose and addiction, although its use for addiction has been limited due to poor adherence and tolerability by patients. Recently, an injectable, long-acting form of naltrexone (Vivitrol), originally approved for treating alcoholism, has also received FDA approval to treat opioid addiction (i.e., heroin or other opioids). Because its effects last for weeks, Vivitrol is ideal for patients who do not have ready access to healthcare or who struggle with taking their medications regularly. Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that eliminates withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by acting on the same brain targets as other opioids like heroin, morphine, and opioid pain medications. It has been used successfully for more than 40 years to treat heroin addiction, but must be dispensed through opioid treatment programs.

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