Beating an Addiction to Pain Medication

Beating an Addiction to Pain Medication

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It is not easy to beat an addiction to pain medication, because the mind manufactures pain even when the body is perfectly fine.  This can happen in anyone who has become dependent on opiate based painkillers and is struggling to get off of them.

What happens is that your body typically regulates itself on a day to day basis with a certain amount of opiate activity in the body.  Your brain sort of drip feeds you enough opiates throughout your everyday life so that you do not feel miserable.  If your natural body simply stopped with your natural supply of opiates one day, you would feel pretty terrible all of a sudden.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: the princess brat

Well what happens when a person gets addicted to pain medicine is that they feed their body with an artificial supply of opiates, over and over again.  They keep doing this and the body eventually says “OK, I get it.  You are supplying me with plenty of opiates.  I will go ahead and just stop producing my normal, natural supply of opiates that I would normally feed my own body with.”

So then the person eventually runs out of pills, and their body goes into withdrawal.  It is saying to them “hey wait a minute!  Where did all of those opiates go?”  And so they experience withdrawal symptoms and get dope sick.

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Now when you introduce pain into this equation, things get a whole lot worse, real fast.  Someone who is medicating chronic or severe pain with the medicine and then gets addicted to it is going to have a hard time managing that pain in the long run.  Essentially what they are doing is changing their tolerance for the medicine, and making it so that normal doses no longer alleviate their pain at all.  They end up having to take larger and larger quantities just to get the same effect, and even then they will still typically complain that not all of the pain has been alleviated.

So what can be done?

One solution is to check into a drug rehab and get taken off of the pain medicine.  This is an important step and it might be easier than you think.  Most rehabs do a pretty decent job of treating opiate withdrawal and can even take a hard core heroin addict and get them through the entire withdrawal without too much discomfort.  There will be small amounts of discomfort but the medical staff can usually manage it pretty well and keep it to a minimum.

They do this by using medications themselves, usually Suboxone or Subutex, but some use other medicines as well.  These are partial synthetic opiate pills that do not necessarily get the addict high, but they do fill up the opiate receptors in the brain that are starving for opiates, and thus alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

This type of medication can also double as a long term chronic pain medicine.  Using it in this way is not always the best choice, but for some opiate addicts who struggle to stay clean, it might make sense.  Obviously you will want to talk with your doctor and figure out if taking Suboxone in the long term is right for you.

There are alternatives to this method.  You can treat chronic pain without any opiates at all, and without using Suboxone either.  For many recovering addicts, finding alternative therapies might make the most sense.  Suboxone is not a magic pill that will cure any addict.  Many addicts who take the drug end up relapsing, though some do stay clean from their drug of choice.  But recognize that there are ways to get through chronic pain without resorting to pills all the time.

For starters, ask your doctor to refer you to a pain clinic.

 

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