According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate all American adults on an around-the-clock basis for an entire month. At this figure makes clear, many American adults expect to receive powerful painkillers for even minor ailments. A pulled muscle, a bad scrape or a painful tooth might all bring about demands for extremely powerful painkillers, as adults look for ways to keep pain from impacting their lives in ways large and small. Unfortunately, even though painkillers are plentiful, they are also far from benign. In fact, many powerful painkillers have the ability to “sneak up” on the people who take them.
Consider this: An article in the journal Neurology reports that many people who take painkillers develop rebound headaches. When they attempt to stop taking painkillers, they develop severe headaches that make it difficult for them to think clearly and function normally. As a result, people keep taking painkillers in order to keep these headaches from occurring. It’s a common problem, as the drugs that were once used to combat pain become drugs that are needed in order for people to just feel normal.
While painkillers can be powerful, and addictions to these drugs might be considered commonplace, there are some steps people can take in order to heal and feel at ease with their bodies and their pain levels. This might mean, however, that people need to check into formal rehab programs for addiction, so they can leave their pain behind and start living a normal life once more.
Important Tools in the Fight Against Pain
Painkillers have been used for millennia to help people feel comfortable as their bodies heal from injuries or fight against deadly diseases. Some painkillers available over the counter have the power to reduce swelling and decrease the sensation of pain, and for those who are struggling with pain, these over-the-counter pills can provide quite a bit of relief. Unfortunately, many people choose to skip over tools such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil in order to access narcotic medications. These narcotic drugs are much more powerful in the fight against pain. Common narcotic pain medications, available only with a prescription, include:
These drugs link to specific receptors located in the brain and spinal cord, and they trigger powerful chemical reactions throughout the body. The sensation of pain is decreased, and at high doses, the user might feel a sense of spreading euphoria. Worries and concerns seem to simply drift away. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these drugs are all designed to help people in varying stages of pain, from mild to moderate to severe, and if they are taken properly, they can be quite effective and do not tend to lead to addiction. However, there are people who choose to abuse these drugs and leave their doctors’ instructions behind.
From Use to Abuse
Painkiller addictions often begin innocuously. People who develop these addictions may have a legitimate pain issue, and they may honestly be afraid of taking doses of medications that are too small and don’t provide adequate pain relief. In order to keep these worries at bay, people may take larger doses of medication than recommended, just to be sure that the pain cannot break through. Other people take doses of drugs on a distorted schedule, taking medications much more frequently than their doctors recommended.
While these modifications may seem benign, it’s important to remember that these drugs are quite powerful, and they cause chemical reactions in the body. People who take drugs on a modified schedule are flooding their bodies with chemicals, and they may be doing a significant amount of damage as a result. Over time, the drug use moves from something the person has complete control over, and can stop at any time, into something the person cannot control on any level. The use becomes compulsive, and is done just to help the person stave off feelings of withdrawal. When they body is physically dependent on these drugs, the person may simply need to keep taking the drugs, all of the time.
While addiction is quite personal, and each person who has an addiction might be different from another person who is dealing with the same issue, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that people who have a drug abuse issue tend to:
- Spend a significant amount of time thinking about drugs
- Try to stop using drugs, and find that they cannot
- Need drugs in order to feel good or have a good time
- Use drugs while angry
- Make mistakes at work or school due to drug use
- Hoard drugs, in order to avoid running out of them
- Steal drugs, or steal money in order to buy drugs
People addicted to prescription painkillers may go to great lengths in order to get the drugs they crave. For example, some people tell their doctors that their pain issue is much larger than it truly is, in the hopes of obtaining stronger types of pain medications. Some other prescription painkiller addicts forge prescriptions, and then attempt to fill those prescriptions at multiple pharmacies.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Anyone can become addicted to prescription painkillers, since the drugs are so strong and the chemical reactions they bring about can be so intense in anyone who chooses to take them. There is some evidence, however, that suggests that particular classes of people may be at a greater risk of developing an addiction to these drugs. This could be bad news for women.
In a study in the journal Bioscience Horizons, researchers attempted to determine what made people consume over-the-counter painkillers, and how much those who did take these drugs understood about the chemicals they were putting into their bodies. Researchers found that women took a significantly higher amount of these drugs, and they had a smaller amount of knowledge about how these drugs worked, when compared to men. Many other studies have brought back results much like this, suggesting that women are more likely to ask for and obtain pain relief when compared to men. A report in the Journal of Social Issues suggests that women do take painkillers more often due to societal-based issues. Women are allowed to express pain, and it’s societally acceptable for women to ask for help for their pain. Where men are asked to “tough it out,” women are expected to ask for help as it is assumed that they cannot handle pain on their own.
Since women take painkillers more often than men do, it follows that more women than men become addicted to painkillers. They have higher exposure levels, and they are, therefore, more likely to develop addictions to these powerful drugs. If men simply don’t take these drugs, their risk of addiction remains relatively low. But, the risk of addiction in women might go beyond simple exposure based on gender. In fact, there are some classes of women who are more likely to develop an addiction, when compared to other women.
A study in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that 32.8 percent of women who had endured domestic violence had taken illicit painkillers or another prescription medication. These women were looking for ways to help them cope with the physical and mental pain they were feeling due to their dysfunctional relationships, and prescription painkillers seemed to provide the perfect outlet. This is a result that’s been replicated in multiple studies. Women who have lived through some form of abuse simply seem to be more likely to obtain prescriptions for painkillers, and they also are more likely to develop addictions due to that use. Then, they begin abusing the drugs on an illicit basis.
Women who began using drugs or alcohol early in life are also at an increased risk of painkiller abuse and addiction. In particular, according to a report on Medline, women who abused marijuana in their teenage years were more likely to abuse prescription painkillers later in life. It’s unclear why marijuana would work as a gateway drug in this manner, but it’s clear that the link exists.
Risks of Painkiller Addiction
Painkillers can block pain and cause euphoria, but they can also slow down breathing and heart rate. People who abuse these drugs may be taking incredibly large doses of the drugs they abuse, and as a result, they may be flirting with an overdose on a regular basis. According to the NIDA, more people die from overdosing on painkillers than from overdoses to heroin and cocaine combined. It’s not a minor problem, in any way, and people who abuse these drugs may skirt close to death, over and over again.
Pregnant women addicted to painkillers may give birth to babies who are addicted to the same drugs, and these babies may face extreme withdrawal symptoms when they are born and removed from the mother’s supply of drugs. These babies may be small, and they may be incredibly fussy and irritable, with jerking muscles, irregular breathing and severe gastric problems. Mothers who are addicted and breastfeed their babies might also be exposing their small babies to drugs, and these babies may develop the same symptoms.
Painkiller addictions might also land women in legal trouble. The FDA is currently working to educate prescribers about the risks of prescription drug abuse and addiction, and hopes to have 60 percent of prescribing doctors educated on the topic by 2015, according to news reports. This could mean that addicted women will find it harder and harder to obtain the drugs they are addicted to, or it could mean that women could be caught and prosecuted for the steps they take to get the drugs they are addicted to. Either of these consequences could be devastating for women, and they make the need for rehab seem all the more intense.
The great tragedy of painkiller addiction is that too many people are too embarrassed to seek substantive help for the problem. Women in particular tend to associate overuse with feelings of shame and guilt, and these emotions can drive women into further abuse. Perhaps, if women knew that addiction was common in women and that treatments can and do help, more would agree to get help for their issues, and more women would obtain a real recovery. That’s what we’re hoping for at The Orchid.
If you’ve been looking for a professional, compassionate, and effective treatment for painkiller addiction, The Orchid may be right for you. Much of the therapy we offer blends professional supervision and peer group support, creating an intense feeling of community that can be of great help in what is, often, an intensely lonely journey. The results speak for themselves: The Orchid boasts one of the highest success rates in the nation for painkiller recovery. Contact The Orchid to take advantage of outstanding medical care, holistic healing techniques and a full suite of proven therapies. We look forward to giving you precisely what you need.