What may have started as a temporary, doctor-prescribed medication might now feel like something you can’t live without. Painkiller addiction, physical and psychological dependence on opioid medications such as hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl, is one of the most common addictions in the United States. Prescription drug abuse is also responsible for the majority of drug deaths in the U.S. today.
All this is to say: you may feel like you can’t live without your pain meds, but you can. You will need help from friends, loved ones, and professionals, but many others have been in the same position and still managed to reclaim their health and happiness through treatment.
Change starts today. If you or a loved one struggles with painkiller addiction, our specialists can answer your questions and connect you with all the resources you will need. Please give us a call today at 385-327-7418.
How Opioid Addiction Starts
Some people carry the assumption that addiction is a choice or habit that can be dropped quickly. This misconception conflicts with decades of evidence showing that addiction is a brain disorder. When the reward center of your brain activates, it mutes feelings of pain. At the same time, feelings of pleasure, and overall well-being increase. This is due to the release of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that can stimulate said reward center to the point of euphoria. Opioids work by essentially hijacking this system.
Opioid addiction can begin in various ways. Someone may be offered a pill illegally at a party and like how it feels or receive a doctor’s legitimate pain prescription. When a person takes opioids legally for a specific condition or surgery, it is prevalent for them to become dependent. Then they turn to more dangerous (and illegal) opioids like heroin once they can no longer get their prescription renewed.
Prescription drug abuse is a risk for anyone who takes pain meds. This is because of the way the drugs affect the reward center. It is also because the longer someone is on opioids, the less effective their body is at producing endorphins naturally. This leads to a stronger desire for pain meds, as they have become the only way to achieve a heightened sense of well being paired with a reduced sensation of pain created from increased endorphins.
There is also a biological consequence, where more opioids are needed to achieve said effect due to the over-exhaustion of neurons from consistent use. You may wonder why you can’t just “use willpower” to stop taking the drug, and this is because repeated drug use physically changes parts of the brain, which is why stopping can cause physical withdrawals.
Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse
There are numerous signs of prescription drug abuse to be mindful of in yourself and others. By recognizing the signs of dependence, you can more effectively identify if you or a loved one need to take the step of seeking treatment. Painkiller addiction symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- Wanting to stop taking a drug, but not being able to
- Thinking about using drugs often
- Feeling like you can’t function without drugs
- Taking drugs without knowing what they are
- Being arrested for drug use
- Work or school performance suffering
- Using drugs to cope with anger, sadness, or anxiety
- Stealing to pay for drugs
- Negative impact on your relationships
- Fearing running out of drugs
Despite the profound physical, social, and emotional consequences of drug addiction, users find it nearly impossible to stop on their own. Because addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive or uncontrollable drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences and long-lasting brain changes.
Someone struggling with prescription drug abuse might find themselves lying, isolating, and avoiding more frequently. Addicts may have significant changes in moods, interests, and behaviors in comparison to when they were not abusing opioids. They could have differences in speech, attention span, eye movement/dilation, and energy. They may not feel like or seem like themselves.
If you or someone you care about are displaying any of these signs, then it may be time to think about treatment.
Treating Painkiller Addiction
There are various paths to take when treating opioid addiction. One route is individual outpatient counseling, which includes talking about and processing the thoughts and experiences that cause an individual to use and help set recovery goals. The therapist may use specific behavior therapies to fit your needs, such as DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), couples or family therapy, and motivational enhancement therapy.
Another route is outpatient group counseling. Individuals who also struggle with painkiller addiction are led by trained professionals to support each other’s recovery and process their feelings and struggles. The members of these groups also learn healthy ways to cope with the ups and downs life brings. It can be extremely validating and motivating to be surrounded by people who can relate to what you’re going through. Many people also choose to combine group and individual outpatient counseling.
Sometimes, higher levels of care are necessary. This is particularly true for people who feel like they need extra supervision or removal from external triggers (such as family members or friends who use) to stop using physically. Hospital and residential settings are best for these specific situations. It is also a very good idea to utilize these settings to detox safely. It can be extremely dangerous and even fatal to detox without careful monitoring.
These forms of care are an effective combination of medical and psychological treatment. Both outpatient and inpatient/residential treatments offer many helpful resources, including HIV/STI testing options, employment education, transportation options, and safe/sober housing leads. They can also help develop plans for relapse prevention and other post-treatment care.
Living Without Your Pain Meds
Painkiller addiction is a serious, life-threatening brain disorder that consumes the lives of thousands of Americans. It starts with the endorphins released into the brain by the opioids, which create a heightened sense of well being while blocking pain. Because the opioid user will require larger and larger doses to achieve said effect over time, the brain’s chemistry eventually changes completely.
Prescription drug abuse affects both the mind and body and can create severe relationships, school, and the workplace. It can also cause dependence to the point of physical withdrawal. However, there are numerous treatment options, from outpatient therapy to group therapy to hospital and/or residential care.
Opioid addiction has taken thousands of lives, but thousands of former users have also taken their lives back.
Realizing you or a loved one could be struggling with prescription drug abuse can be a scary, overwhelming realization. You may be in disbelief, not knowing where to start or what the future holds. However, identifying an issue and trying to change what is not working are the first and most important steps toward a life free from painkiller addiction.
There is never shame in asking for help. In fact, there is strength in it. If you or someone you love are struggling with opioid addiction, there is always hope. Give us a call at the number below, and speak with someone who can help you begin your recovery today.
Written by Madison Grey
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