Following a severe surgery or injury, or in the case of a chronic condition known for causing intense pain in the patient, doctors have the ability to prescribe heavy painkillers – opioids – to help alleviate some of the pain during recovery. Many patients do utilize opioid prescriptions, but recent years have shown an alarming misuse of the drugs. While opioids temporarily do lessen pain, they also come with a laundry list of warnings, including addiction as one of the scariest and most common side effects. 

Because of this, it’s very important to be fully educated on opioid painkillers if you, your son or daughter, a close friend or family member is prescribed opioids. Being fully aware of the risks associated with opioids and the link between pain and addiction can help prevent a nasty situation from unfolding.

Opioid functionality: dependence and addiction 

One can develop either a dependence on opioids or an addiction to them because of the way they work in the brain. A dependence is caused when the brain builds up a tolerance to the drug, which happens very quickly with opioids. This means that in order to get the desired effect, such as pain relief or euphoria, a higher dosage is needed the longer you take it. Unfortunately, this is a quick path to overdose. 

Higher doses are required the longer the medication is taken because the brain, in trying to maintain normal functionality, compensates by changing the activity of involved neurotransmitters; this can also lead to nasty withdrawal symptoms as the brain has altered its normal processes to cope with the effects of the drug. Now that the drug is gone, the brain is forced to once again rewire itself, causing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like nausea and vomiting, chills and body aches. 

An addiction occurs when one can’t stop using the opioids even when aware of the danger and potential damage. Opioids produce an intense euphoria, caused by a massive release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This brain chemical plays an important role in the brain’s learning, memory, motivation and reward systems. Opioids take over the dopamine system of the brain, resulting in intense cravings for the drug.

Things to consider

It isn’t wrong or bad to try and lessen severe pain, especially when it’s keeping you from going about your daily life. However, it’s important to be aware of how you’re lessening this pain. If your doctor prescribes an opioid for your pain medication, and you are uncomfortable with either the amount, length of time or the particular drug in general, you can say something and figure out another method of pain-relief better suited to your lifestyle. 

The good news is there are many methods of pain-relief that don’t include opioid prescriptions. This includes other medications such as ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen. Chiropractic care works to lower pain through gentle manipulations of the body. Exercise done properly stretches, strengthens and improves physical functioning, easing pain in a natural way. Yoga, mindfulness and acupuncture offer new and unique methods of pain relief through recentering the mind and gently healing the body. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy provides different perspectives on pain and mentally helps clients improve their mood regarding pain, which can, in turn, make them feel more self confident in managing it.    

Reaching out

The National Institute on Drug Abuse cautions that once an addiction develops, it is nearly impossible to break the addiction without professional assistance, typically because it comes in tandem with an underlying condition such as anxiety or depression, stress or trauma, to name a few. In order to properly treat the addiction, these conditions need to be addressed as well. Treatment helps individuals address these issues, change dysfunctional thought and behavior patterns, develop healthy coping skills and find purpose and meaning in a life of sobriety. 

If you have used/do use prescription opioids and have struggled with addiction or fear its possibility, consider reaching out to Silver Ridge Recovery. Speaking with a trained therapist will not only give you the strength you need to avoid addiction, but can provide you or someone you know with concrete steps on how to overcome an opioid addiction. Call 855-945-7788 to get started today.