Many people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area develop conditions that require serious pain relief. Mild pain can usually be managed with OTC (over-the-counter) medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. However, pain that results from surgery, broken bones, automobile accidents or a debilitating medical condition can be severe enough to warrant something stronger. In that case, your doctor might prescribe opiate pain relievers.
Narcotic medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone are highly effective at relieving pain. However, that relief comes with a high price tag. The more you take, the higher the price will be. Let’s have a look at why it’s essential to keep your intake as low as possible.
Physical Dependence and Withdrawal
Using opiate pain medications for more than a few days increases the risk of dependence. Physical dependence on opiates means that your body needs those drugs to function normally. If the supply is reduced or cut off, you may experience a variety of unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms:
Opiate withdrawal is like having the worst case of flu imaginable. It won’t kill you, but you might wish you were dead. Physical withdrawal symptoms occur during the first week after you stop taking painkillers. After that, some symptoms can linger while others come and go erratically.
Pain pills rewire the brain. The normal balance of brain chemistry is disrupted. Instead of relying on natural painkillers produced by the body to maintain balance and feel okay, someone with an opioid dependence can only restore balance with medication.
The severity of withdrawal depends on how much of the drug you’ve been taking and for how long. The more you take and the more often you take it, the more intense and severe withdrawal can be.
Tolerance is a phenomena by which more potent and more frequent doses of pain medication are required to get the desired effect. Whereas one tablet every day removed all your pain at first, you now need three tablets to get the same effect. Tolerance continues to increase until the only way you can get relief is to increase your dose.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal from opiate pain medication isn’t just physical. You might experience psychological withdrawal symptoms as well. Here are the most common symptoms, but you might also have others:
Psychological symptoms start later and can last much longer than physical symptoms. Whereas the worst physical symptoms are usually over in about a week, psychological withdrawal can last for weeks or even months.
Both the intensity and the frequency of withdrawal symptoms are reduced over time after you stop taking the drug. However, psychological symptoms can persist to the point that you resume using the medication. That can happen even when you’re no longer in any physical pain. It can also happen even though you suspect that taking more medication is probably a bad idea.
A Difficult Habit to Break
If you become dependent on pain medication, your doctor may try to wean you off the drug by slowing reducing your dose. Although a slow taper is less unpleasant than quitting cold turkey, you can still experience significant withdrawal symptoms. Again, the degree of discomfort depends on how much medicine you’ve been taking and for how long.
Your doctor may be reluctant to prescribe opioid pain medication over a long period of time. This is especially likely if you’re no longer experiencing the severe pain caused by your original illness or injury. If you have developed a dependence, you might start to shop around for other doctors who will satisfy your need for the drug.
If that doesn’t work, you might resort to buying street drugs like heroin or black market pain pills. The biggest danger of using street drugs is overdose. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate pain medicine that’s sold on the street. It can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine, and it can cause death in minutes.
Getting the money to finance an opiate habit isn’t easy. If you have a physical dependence, you’ll need opiates every day just to function and feel normal. To finance and maintain a habit, you might do things you otherwise wouldn’t do. There’s no pleasure involved in taking drugs anymore. There is only the endless cycle of getting enough medication to avoid the pain of withdrawal.
What Makes Opioid Medicines So Addictive?
Opiate painkillers don’t actually eliminate pain. Instead, they change the way your brain processes pain. When you take a prescription painkiller, you might still feel pain. However, it won’t bother you as much, and you’ll feel better emotionally. As long as you continue to take the drug, the pain is manageable.
There are neurotransmitters in the brain called endorphins. These biochemicals are naturally produced by the body to relieve pain, maintain emotional balance and generate pleasurable feelings. An endorphin rush is what runners experience after a jog. Exercise stimulates the release of endorphins in the body, and the endorphins induce a high.
Opiate pain relievers produce the same effect in the brain as endorphins. Someone who doesn’t use these medications regularly will typically experience a marked reduction in pain, a deep sense of ease and comfort and a feeling of euphoria. It’s the same high you feel after a good workout.
Meanwhile, the brain reduces natural endorphin production because the opiate medication is supplying it instead. Eventually, the endorphin system can shut down entirely or produce only minimal amounts of endorphins. At that point, the only way a person who is dependent on pain medication can feel good is when opiates are in the body.
As time goes by, the pain medicine produces little pain relief and even less pleasure. It just keeps the withdrawal symptoms temporarily at bay. People with severe chronic pain can reach the point where pain pills stop working altogether and the dosage must be increased. Opiate dependence is easy to develop but extremely difficult to kick.
How to Use Pain Medication Without Getting Hooked
Anyone with a prescription for opiate painkillers is at risk for dependence. Not everyone likes the effect of pain pills at first. They may experience nausea and vomiting. However, with continued use, these negative side effects usually disappear. Then, the person may begin to enjoy the effects of the drug.
Taking just one or two pills every day as prescribed can create a dependency. If you’re taking pain medicine, it’s important to monitor your intake and to use the medicine only when necessary. It can be difficult to keep your dosage to a minimum, especially when you’re feeling a lot of pain. That’s why a dependency is so easy to develop.
As your pain decreases, reduce your intake. Stop taking the medication altogether as quickly as possible. The sooner you cut back or stop, the milder any withdrawal symptoms will be.
If you have questions about prescription pain medication or are concerned about becoming dependent, consult a physician. Your doctor may be able to assist you with tapering off pain pills. There are also prescription medicines available that can relieve pain but are less likely to cause dependence.