If there is one thing I can recommend to the world, it is this: do not get addicted to painkillers.
But I’m serious. I work in a treatment center as a nursing assistant, taking care of sick addicts and alcoholics. The people addicted to opiates (painkillers) are as miserable as they come. And those who are suffering from chronic pain issues on top of this chemical addiction seem to be particularly miserable. The reason for this is because of the way that our bodies react to opiates.
Every person has a small trickle of opiates that their body delivers to their brain naturally throughout the day in order to combat basic muscle soreness and fatigue throughout the day. In other words, we are already “on” opiates as part of our natural body processes, and our brain receives a small trickle of opiates just so we can feel normal. When we take painkillers, we are introducing a flood of opiates to our brain that goes beyond this normal level.
Playing this game is a losing battle, because once the addiction has kicked in and tolerance starts to build, you eventually have to use more and more of the drug just to feel normal. This is no surprise when it comes to chemical addiction, but it becomes a particularly nasty reality when chronic pain is involved. Eventually, you have to keep taking the painkillers just to get back to the baseline of feeling normal. Going without the opiates means that you’re in for a nasty withdrawal. Thus the cycle of addiction.
But I’ve seen people who were addicted to painkillers that managed to get off of them and start living a normal life again. Here is how they did it:
1) Treatment – It all starts with treatment, or detox. You have to get all of the opiates out of your system in order to make a start on recovery. The baseline for this is total abstinence from all opioid drugs. The reason for this is that if you reintroduce any opiates into your system, it will start the addictive cycle all over again and you will start craving more opiates at the physical level. So abstinence is the key, and getting there involves detoxifying your body.
Personally, I recommend doing this at a treatment center because the physical withdrawal from painkillers can be so uncomfortable. Most treatment centers give you non-addictive medications that can help ween you down off of the opiates. You might feel some small discomfort but it is nothing like the misery of going through it cold turkey.
Attending treatment has other benefits as well, including the fact that you will be educating yourself on recovery principles and also be exposed to a supportive peer group that can help you through networking. Don’t avoid treatment because of the stigma of drug addiction….there are all sorts of different addictions to be found in the average treatment center, including alcoholics, street drugs, and also “normal” people who happen to have painkiller addiction.
2) Alternatives to painkillers – there are other ways to manage pain. Most painkillers operate like this: they are the rag in the alarm clock. Your brain is registering pain singles and going off like an alarm clock because something in your body is hurt, and using opiate pills are like sticking a rag in the alarm clock to silence it. This does nothing to actually reduce the pain at a physical level, it merely masks it.
On the other hand, there are medications out there that actually do reduce pain instead of just masking it, such as Nsaids for example. These actually reduce inflammation and thus treat the pain right at the source. There are also alternative therapies out there that can target pain at the source without resorting to opiates, such as pain patches or TENS units. Pain clinics can be particularly useful for finding just the right combination of treatments to avoid using addictive medications.
So essentially overcoming painkiller addiction is a 2 part process: first, you have to become abstinent from the opiates, and then you have to find new ways to manage and treat your pain (if that is what you got you addicted to opiates to begin with). Most people never explore these alternative therapies because “they don’t work.” The reason they never worked is because the person was addicted to painkillers at the time and never allowed themselves to fully detox from them. Once this has happened then the possibility exists for new therapies to take over that are able to treat the pain.