When is a drug addict not a drug addict? Dependence and addiction is when that person is merely physically dependent on a pain-relieving drug. Most patients in pain management programs are there for very good reasons.
According to DrugWarFacts.org, about 100 million Americans have moderate-to-severe pain for a limited time, chronically or at the end-of-life. Without medication and other pain control treatment, these patients would have a significantly lower quality of life.
Traditional Medical Pain Control
Pain control as a medical practice evolved because it was recognized by the medical community that only one physician should be prescribing pain control medication.
Before the development of this specialty, many patients had more than one doctor giving them painkillers. Patients were found to be developing addictions or even overdosing.
The Pain Control Medical Practice
With reputable pain management therapy, most of these problems don’t occur as long as the patient cooperates. The patient signs a contract that commits the patient to:
- Take pain medications prescribed only by their pain management physician.
- Take all of their medication.
- Take the exact dose as prescribed.
- Take the drugs at exactly at the time prescribed.
- Not to give or sell the drugs to any other person.
The pain control physician will use the weakest drug at the lowest dose to provide control. The patient should realize that it doesn’t mean they will never again feel pain. The goal of the pain management system isn’t pain eradication, but pain control.
When pain control patients are properly weaned off the drug, there are no unpleasant effects. They can forget the movies’ depictions of an addict in terrible distress twisted in sweaty sheets. The step-down approach for those who are merely dependent on a drug is an easy and painless process.
It is an unfortunate fact, however, that some persons have addictive behaviors. These patients will not have such an easy time as most stopping pain-relieving drugs. It is unfortunate that many of these patients are unaware that they are addicts in the making.
How to Become an Addict
The physically dependent patient may show addictive behavior in any, most or all of the following behaviors. These are red flags for addiction. The faster a patient engaging in this behavior is in treatment, the better.
1. Takes too many pills too often
Pain management patients quickly realize that by taking more pills and/or more often their pain control is not increased, although an addict may claim it does.
What usually does drive the patient to this behavior is a feeling of wooziness or a high. It is also often the significant sleepiness it causes that the addict uses to avoid intolerable unpleasantness in their life.
2. Buys pills “on the street”
To make up for taking more pills than prescribed, a pain control patient may turn to dealers. These dealers may be the kind most of us think of who sell drugs they have stolen.
Dealers may get pills from other patients or from their family members or caregivers who steal them unbeknownst to the patient. Many pain control patients are so poor that they tolerate increased pain to buy food or pay rent, however they face criminal prosecution and dismissal from pain management programs.
3. “Doctor shops”
Many addicted patients go from doctor-to-doctor and clinic-to-clinic to get more drugs. Clinics called “pill mills” are in strip malls across the country catering to these addicts. Now, in many locations, patients prescribed narcotics are registered and are prevented from receiving prescribed painkillers to which they are not entitled.
For Those Who Become Addicted
From 5 to 17 percent of Americans are addicts. When one becomes an addict while a patient in a pain management program, the first step is to honestly relay concerns and the dangerous behavior to the physician responsible for their care.
Addiction is a serious disorder that needs treatment physically, mentally and emotionally. Without the right treatment program, addicts have little chance of regaining their former lives.
Most successful treatment involves inpatient programs that include support from professionals in the following areas:
- Supervision of drug detoxification
- Art, music or other therapy
- Massage therapy or acupuncture
- Exercise and fitness routines
Just as a patient would never treat themselves for cancer, they should never try to “tough it out” or “go it alone” in addiction recovery. Addiction is a serious illness.
It may take more than one course of treatment and a lot of work, but asking for, receiving and then using help is the first step toward eventual recovery.