Medical Truths that Contradict Common Painkiller Addiction Myths
Addiction to painkillers is a growing problem, but it is also a highly complex one. Many, if not most, individuals who become addicted to prescription painkillers start using them as a way to relieve pain. Addiction occurs because of a misunderstanding of the drug’s effects or continued pain. For this reason, prescription painkiller addiction must be examined in a completely different light from other illegally abused drugs. Here are seven common myths about prescription painkiller addiction and the truth behind them.
Myth #1: Painkillers Will Always Cause Addiction
Prescription painkillers could be an effective short-term way to treat and eliminate pain in individuals who are truly suffering. There is no need to suffer through a decreased quality of life simply because you fear becoming addicted. If the prescribing doctor is careful enough to thoroughly assess the patient’s medical and emotional conditions before a plan is established, a successful treatment can be conducted.
Myth #2: I’m Strong Enough to Take Painkillers and Not Become Physically Dependent
Opiate dependence is a physiological condition that causes changes to the brain and is not related to willpower. In most cases, the body adapts to the drug, requiring more and more to achieve the same effects. This is called tolerance. The absence of opiates will produce withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to be physically dependent on an opiate without being addicted to it. Individuals with family histories of addiction should use extreme caution when taking painkillers.
Myth #3: All Individuals Taking Prescribed Painkillers Will Eventually Become Addicted
While addiction to prescribed painkillers is a growing problem, some people who take opiate painkillers for a short time and strictly in a prescribed manner do not become addicted. Most patients are prescribed painkillers as part of an ongoing medical treatment program in which they should be monitored regularly. This ensures that physicians are watchful for signs of possible early addiction and can take appropriate actions to stop it.
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However, physicians don’t always spot warning signs, especially in patients who suffer from chronic pain. In an effort to treat suffering, physicians sometimes increase dosage while not realizing that they are really fostering an addiction. In addition, some individuals hide their addiction symptoms, which can include increasing dosage without medical approval or obtaining prescriptions from multiple physicians.
Myth #4: My Doctor Won’t Let Me Get Addicted
While no physician wants a patient to develop an addiction, they aren’t all trained to prevent it from happening. Some are not properly trained or simply do not give the individualized attention that is needed in order to identify addiction. That it why it’s imperative that patients communicate openly with their physicians about symptoms and alternative treatment options.
Myth #5: Individuals Who Experience Symptoms When They Stop Taking Painkillers Are Addicted
Addiction is often confused with tolerance or dependency, even by medical professionals. In fact, everyone can develop a dependency on a drug, even over-the-counter options. Dependency is characterized as a state resulting from chronic use of a drug, such as opioids, that can produce tolerance even in low doses, causing physical symptoms of withdrawal when discontinuation or reduction of dosage occurs. Addiction is defined as continued drug seeking and use of a drug despite serious negative consequences to one’s life and health. For example, a person may spend so much time obtaining and using drugs that they begin to miss work.
Myth #6: I Don’t Have to Worry about Becoming Addicted to Painkillers Because It Isn’t Common
Although most people don’t become addicted, opiate drugs do have an addictive quality. Patients should be well-informed and aware of the risks of developing addiction and/or physical dependence to the drug. Patients should never increase or decrease their dosage without medical approval. In addition they should never decrease the time between dosages. Not only do these actions increase the risk of addiction, they also increase the risk of an overdose and death.
Myth #7: Eliminating or Easing Pain Is All That Matters in Prescribing Painkillers
While pain elimination is the primary goal, it goes hand-in-hand with the patient’s quality of life. Physicians want to both eliminate pain and improve the day-to-day functioning of the patient. Therefore, if higher doses of opioids are required to eliminate pain but the patient does not have any increased functionality, a different treatment plan might be needed.