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Pain Management and Chemical Dependency

A chemical dependency to prescription medication can develop whether or not you have a history of addiction. In particular, medications for pain management can quickly become addictive. These prescriptions contain opioids that treat acute pain after an operation or injury and the severe, chronic and debilitating pain associated with illnesses such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. Most well known of these medications include codeine, oxycodone (OxyCotin), morphine (MS Contin), meperidine (Demerol), and hydrocodone (Vicodin). Even people using these substances as properly can develop a tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Pain and addiction specialists view physical tolerance and dependence as normal conditions that often develop together while someone is on pain medication. Tolerance is quite common and expected in pain management. The body adjusts to the amount of medication an individual takes over time. The initial dosage may not manage pain as well after a week, so often doctors prescriber a higher dose to achieve the same effect. Dependence is a little more complicated, but is still considered normal to prolonged use of pain medication. The body becomes used to having the drug it’s system over time. Suddenly stopping the medication creates an imbalance and the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, physicians gradually lower dosage of pain medications when he or she decides the patient no longer needs treatment. Weaning off medication allows the body to readjust to operating without them with minimal to no discomfort.

Addiction, however, refers to the use of medication not to treat pain, but to alter one’s mood or emotions. Individuals who take more than prescribed, seek stronger doses, ask for more potent medications, and/or use left over medication might be addicted to pain medication. The doctors of individuals in recovery from or actively engaging in addictive behaviors  have a difficult time accurately assessing and prescribing the proper medication for effective pain management. Most doctors in this situation will treat their patients conservatively. Unfortunately, this often means the patient’s pain goes under treated which can in itself trigger substance abuse. However, individuals without a history of addiction are just as susceptible to pain medication abuse.

Doctors want to alleviate their patients’ discomfort while maximizing their ability to function. If a patient reports a treatment as ineffective, most physicians will either increase the dosage or prescribe a different medication. Repeated and aggressive requests for higher dosages, however, tips the doctor off to the more serious issue of addiction. Individuals familiar with addiction may be more sophisticated about concealing and feeding this new addiction to pain management. In both cases, the physician and loved ones of the patient should watch carefully watch the patient’s interactions with his or her pain medication. If a pain medication is identified, the next step is to guide the patient towards a chemical dependency treatment program that can address physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction effectively and thoroughly.

Transparency is  the best way to prevent addiction. People recovering from addictions can and do benefit from pain management medications without damaging their sobriety, as long as they approach their medical care honestly and continue their chemical dependency program. Supplementing conservative, traditional pain management care with alternative medicine strategies will aid in a successful treatment for everyone. By being candid with your doctor and drawing upon the support of family and friends, you can have your pain effectively managed without compromising your recovery, health, or happiness.

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