Prescription Painkillers: Use Versus Abuse

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When we go through surgical procedures or other massive, painful trauma to our bodies, one of the only ways to be able to withstand the pain associated with it is through taking prescription painkillers. Painkillers can be a valuable tool to help get through the first few days – or weeks – of painful trauma and are often necessary depending on the injury or surgical procedure performed.

There are a few different types of painkillers, including:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl

Other words for prescription painkillers can be narcotics or opioids. When prescribed by a doctor and instructions are properly followed, they can provide much needed relief when experiencing moderate to severe pain symptoms. However, they have severe side effects and can be easily misused. Misusing prescription painkillers often leads to dependency, addiction and more serious side effects including death.

How Prescription Painkillers Work

When our bodies are experiencing pain, nerve endings send pain messages to the brain. This makes our brain aware of pain, and alerts our body to do something to ease it. Often times, antihistamines like Advil or Tylenol are not strong enough for the type of severe pain one might be experiencing. Prescription painkillers work by interfering with these messages that our nerves send to the brain, essentially turning them off. This stops our brain from thinking we are in pain, which calms the nerve endings and allows us to recover more comfortably. This gives us a pain-free feeling and allows the person to sleep more easily, among other things.

Since health professionals, prescribe painkillers, it is widely believed that they are then “safe.” This is not always the case. Responsible use of painkillers includes looking at pain pills as a tool in your toolbox to help in the short-term, and not for long-term, under the supervision of a medial professional. Taking them exactly as instructed is vital, and should not be taken more than what the doctor has prescribed. This can build drug tolerance, and starts on the path of dependency. This is because there are many deadly health risks associated with the use of prescription painkillers, even when they are not being misused.

Risks of taking prescription painkillers include:

  • Dependency
  • Addiction
  • Interfering with your job
  • Interfering with your health
  • Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
  • Overdose
  • Death

Side Effects and Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

The most common side effects experienced while taking prescription painkillers are:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness

It is important to know that these symptoms can include anyone taking prescription painkillers, even if they are not being misused. They are very common side effects, especially to someone who has never taken this strong of a substance before. Often times, people need to work closely with their doctor and even go through a few different types of painkillers or dosage levels until they are able to find one that works well for them.

However, if prescription painkillers are being misused, long-term side effects can include:

  • Liver damage
  • Brain damage
  • Sleep apnea
  • Respiratory depression
  • Dependence
  • Altered brain chemistry
  • Coma
  • Death

Prescription painkillers can be especially dangerous when taken alongside, also known as “mixed with”, antidepressants, alcohol, sleep medication and antihistamines. Therefore, it is very important to let your doctor know any and all prescriptions or other substances that you may be taking, or may end up taking. It is also important to keep your doctor very much involved, and to let him or her know if you feel as if you are starting to become dependent or are beginning to build a tolerance. Painkillers alter the brain’s chemistry, so it is very easy for even the most committed person to become dependent on prescription painkillers and fall into an addictive cycle.

Misuse of Prescription Painkillers

There are a few signs to look for if you are starting to feel as if you, or someone you love, may be misusing prescription painkillers.

They include:

  • If you, or someone you love, are still taking painkillers even long after they were first prescribed
  • Finding alternative ways to obtain them, such as taking pills prescribed to someone else
  • Taking them before work
  • Being high at work or family functions
  • Severe weight loss or gain
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms which causes you to take more and more

If you find one or more of these signs to be true, it is important to immediately begin to consider ways of getting detox and long-term help as soon as possible. If prescription painkillers have negatively effected your health, job and relationships: it is time for help.

Other symptoms may include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, dilated pupils, sweating muscle aches, and the need to take more and more medication in order to “feel normal”. This is due to the body becoming tolerant of the substance.

Also, if the person is ingesting them in any other way other than prescribed – such as snorting, injecting or crushing – it is time to immediately look into an opioid treatment program and detox. Prescription painkillers can very negatively affect our lives and health, but with the help of detoxing and treatment, a drug-free healthy life is very possible!

Detoxing from Prescription Painkillers

Detoxing is an essential way to ensure the end of painkiller dependency, but it should be done with the help of a medical professional. Doctors may want to wean you off prescription drugs slowly, giving your body time to adjust and get used to the lack of chemicals now streaming through it. This is possible for anyone taking prescription painkillers, even if they are not being misused, and is often part of the process to go back to living a substance-free life.

If you chose to go through detox in an inpatient facility, all of your vital signs and other medical needs are monitored. The patient first goes through a physical and round of testing to set benchmarks. This provides the medical professionals information and data in order to offer you the best treatment possible to get you back to living a substance-free life. Tests can include urine tests, blood tests, EKG’s, chest x-rays and much more. These tests also help determine the severity of the addiction and dependency and the possible damage that it has created on the body. Without these tests and help from medical professionals, it would be very hard to find out what someone might require during the treatment process and may, in turn, fall back into the addiction cycle which damages sobriety efforts.

This process of slowly weaning off of painkillers can be difficult to someone who is experiencing dependency and addiction, and he or she may not be able to handle this process alone. Due to the extreme discomfort one would feel during the detoxing process, it would be very easy to go back to the dose they deem as normal, especially if the prescription pills are readily available or obtainable. Detoxing alone greatly increases the risk of relapse and could interfere with the chances of long-term sobriety.

If you or someone you love stops taking prescription painkillers “cold turkey,” this can pose some serious health risks as well. Due to the fact that the brain is now “wired” and chemically altered to require the drugs, there are such severe side effects of withdrawal that may even include coma or death. Detox professionals may include the use of other medications in order to curb cravings and provide relief during periods of extreme discomfort. It is possible, however, to detox at home or without the use of additional medications, as long as the patient is being monitored and is getting support during the experience.

There are many types of medication that could be used during medical detox. Benzodiazepine can be used with outpatient treatment of patients with mild to moderate substance withdrawal symptoms. This can be used to help wean, or taper, the patient from substances which helps make the detox process more comfortable. Other medications to help in the treatment of complications of withdrawal include:

  • Haloperidol
  • Beta blockers
  • Clonidine
  • Phenytoin

Detox After Care

It is also important to continue therapy after detox to ensure long-term sobriety. This can include 30, 60 or 90-day recovery programs, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, group therapy, family therapy, one-on-one therapy and behavioral therapies. Many employers allow time off, or leave, for their employees to receive treatment.

While considering a treatment center, it is important to explore whether or not you want to stay local, depending on the amount of support you have from family and friends. Sometimes it is beneficial to not stay local, as to ensure sobriety and minimal chance of relapse. It is also beneficial to go somewhere with beautiful surroundings, such as Cliffside Malibu, to ease worry and ensure relaxation during a stressful, life-changing process. Consider what sort of activities the treatment center offers, how highly trained their staff are, and what methods they use.

Treatment can often need to be repeated many times before sobriety sticks. No matter what – keep trying and keep asking for the help that you need.

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