Chronic pain affects more than a third of all Americans and many manage this pain through prescription medications. Some people worry about the presence of narcotic painkillers addiction. While these medications are designed to reduce pain sensitivity, they also create a feeling of euphoria, a feeling that some people may come to crave. If your doctor prescribed medication to treat the pain and take it as directed, you are less likely to have a problem.
But there are people who become addicted and there are usually warning signs, such as:
1. Think hard about your medication.
One of the first signs of addiction is worrying about two things: when the next dose can be taken and whether the supply is sufficient, says Debra Jay, co-author of Love first: a family intervention guide.
Seeing the clock to take the next dose can be a concern, says Joe Schrank, MSW, co-founder of the Rebound Brooklyn Recovery Center in New York.
“If you do recent dental work and you have pain, it makes sense,” he says. But if it continues for a while, you may be dependent on the medication.
Addiction and addiction are not the same. You can be physically dependent on a drug but not be addicted.
Confused? Here’s the difference. When you are physically dependent on a medication, your body has accumulated a tolerance and you need higher doses of medication to get the same effect.
When you’re addicted to a drug, it’s more than physical, it’s also emotional. Addiction can be associated with uncontrolled behaviors. Continue to use the drug, even if it causes you serious problems at work, school, family, or social life.
2. Take different amounts than prescribed by your doctor.
Maybe you take more than you should or take it more often than your doctor prescribed. If you think your doctor doesn’t understand your level of pain or that you mean you should take it whenever you need it, even if it’s not what they asked for, it may be a warning sign.
Do you stretch the time between doses or reduce some doses you take so you can take them later? If you try to control how painkillers are taken instead of following your doctor’s instructions, you may have a problem.
“Whenever we try to control things, it can be a good indication of how out of control we are,” Schrank says.
3. You are a “shopping doctor.”
Do you go to more than one doctor for the same prescription?
Once you’ve stopped working with your doctor and are trying to find someone who can write you another prescription, something may have changed.
Your goal may be to increase your supply of painkillers so that you have everything you need. But if you don’t agree with what your doctor ordered, it’s cause for concern.
Are you looking for doctors known for over-the-counter or “pill factories”? Did he lie and say he lost the prescription or was he dishonest with a doctor about what he had already been prescribed?
“If we’re telling different doctors different things to get medication, that’s a real red flag,” Schrank says.
4. Get painkillers from other sources.
You feel like you don’t have enough medication to relieve the pain, so try to get more. These forms of supply indicate the possibility of addiction:
- Order drugs online.
- Stealing leftover or long-forgotten prescription drugs from your closets.
- Stealing drugs from a sick family member or friend.
- Buy prescription drugs from other people.
- Steal prescription pads from medical offices and illegally write your own prescriptions.
- Get hurt so you can go to a hospital emergency room and receive a new prescription.
- Buy drugs on the street.
5. You have been using painkillers for a long time.
You probably started taking pain medication because something was hurting. If you still use narcotic painkillers long after the pain is gone, Schrank says it’s time to ask for help.
Maybe you take them because you like the way they make you feel, rather than relieving the pain. Or maybe you’ve started having physical desires. Both are signs of a problem.
“Pain medication is meant to bridge a gap or make you go through a difficult piece,” Schrank says. “It doesn’t really mean being a way to maintain or manage chronic pain“.
6. You feel angry if someone talks about it.
Have your friends or family tried to talk to you about how you use your medication? If you feel defensive or irritated when they approach you, you may go too deep, Schrank says.
In fact, studies show that the degree of this anger is not just a sign that you may need treatment, but may actually be a predictor of treatment effectiveness.
7. You are not entirely yourself.
You may not take care of yourself as you normally do. You don’t care about your personal hygiene or your appearance.
Or you feel more humorous than usual. Do you feel more angry? Have they changed their eating habits? Do you feel nervous or nervous?
Have you taken a step back from your responsibilities? You may not have been paying the bills as before, neglecting household chores, or asking the sick to work. If you ignore your children, your responsibilities, or life in general, it’s time to ask for help, Jay says.
What to do
If you recognize yourself or someone you love at one of these signs, even if you’re not sure if it’s addictive, the next step is to ask for help and get more information. Learn more about how to stage an intervention.
It can be easy to misuse painkillers, even when trying not to. “The key is honesty: honesty with doctors, trusted friends, addiction professionals, but most of all with ourselves,” Schrank says.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a treatment center or addiction specialist.
Or, you can call a local drug treatment center, which has addiction experts who are trained to recognize the signs and help you in need. Look for a center certified by the state where you live.
You can also call 800-662-HELP (4357), the U.S. government substance abuse management hotline, and Mental health Service administration. Provides confidential information and free referrals on substance abuse and mental health.