Many people mistakenly believe that addiction is exclusively caused by reckless behavior, a lack of personal character, or cultural pressure. While these things certainly contribute to the epidemic of substance abuse and dependence plaguing the world right now, millions of people become addicted to drugs after doing nothing riskier or more dangerous than filling a legitimate prescription given to them after suffering an injury.
Acute pain is often managed by prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, hydrocodone, codeine, or Lortab. While these drugs are a very effective short-term treatment for acute pain, they are both physically and psychologically addictive.
Understanding Painkiller Addiction
Prescription painkillers are chemical cousins to more infamous narcotics such as heroin and opium. As such, they block pain by binding to certain chemical receptors that the brain uses to send and receive pain signals in the central nervous system.
These same receptors, however, are also involved in the transmission of the following types of emotional pain or distress:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic or anxiety disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Poor self-esteem
- Obsessive disorders (process addictions)
- Intense frustration
- Rage disorders
Painkillers provide short-term relief for these and other psychological symptoms, as well as physical pain. The brain recognizes that relief and then craves it in a powerful, subconscious way. This psychological aspect of opiate addiction is incredibly difficult to overcome without professional help. It creates thought patterns that justify dishonesty with doctors, prescription manipulation, or plain criminal activity in order to keep the relief coming. Many painkiller addicts are unable to recognize their own problem because the disease blinds them to the consequences of their addictive behavior.
Opiates also replace naturally occurring pain and emotion regulating chemicals in the brain. If and when a user stops taking these pills, she will likely experience physical symptoms of withdrawal until her normal chemical levels are re-established. This usually takes anywhere from a few days to slightly over a week. The onset of withdrawal symptoms, however, causes many people to keep using these drugs after their prescription has expired.
Overcoming Painkiller Addiction
Successfully overcoming painkiller addiction requires comprehensive physical and psychological care. The following treatment elements have been proven to be highly effective at helping a person re-program his or her brain to its pre-addiction functioning:
- A thorough diagnosis of any co-occurring psychological disorders or issues
- Extensive personal counseling of various types
- Support group meetings
- Educational classes to empower recovery through knowledge
- Introduction to healthy new coping techniques
- Aftercare programs for continued sobriety support
Many people find that inpatient treatment provides significant advantages for this process, but some take advantage of outpatient treatment as well. If you have suffered an acute injury, or are using painkillers following a surgical procedure, and are concerned about addiction, please speak to your doctor immediately. Be sure to share any personal or family history of substance abuse or addiction and talk to a trusted friend or family member who will keep you accountable.