No one is born with the express desire to be addicted to drugs. Our bodies and brains, however, play a factor here which can undermine us. If you suffer from chronic pain, chronic insomnia, or acute insomnia and must take medication to control it, you may truly need to protect yourself from drug dependency and addiction.
Once people need to regularly take many types of prescription drugs, they run the risk of both drug dependency and addiction. The risk can be highest with medications like narcotic pain killers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety drugs.
Yet some experts believe that some people are simply more organically prone to dependency and addiction and can form unhealthy relationships with many substances, even those not traditionally addictive. A smaller percentage of experts appear to feel that if you believe you may be addiction-prone, you must take measures to protect yourself from drug dependency and addiction regardless of what you take.
I know this all too well. This is both because I come from a family background of alcoholism – which spared me, thankfully – and because I need to take low doses of pain reliever just about every day to remain productive.
Like many chronic pain sufferers, I fight the urge to take medication more frequently in the desperate and usually futile hope for “a little more relief”. Unfortunately, with drugs like controlled-access narcotic pain medication, your body builds a tolerance for the compound rather quickly. Before long, unless you fight against, your brain and body demands far more drug to do the same job a very low dose used to handle. Before much more time passes, you can move from rigid measurement of the drugs you take to a state of self-medication.
When you self-medicate, you are more apt to take a drug more frequently and/or in higher doses than prescribed by your physician. You decide you know better about your body than your doctor does. Pain can be a terrible motivator here because the desire to alleviate it can be so enormously powerful.
Also, once you begin to self-medicate, you may start to wind down a darker road. For example, you may be tempted by ads for less-than-scrupulous online pharmacies that offer more of the drug you use or similar ones at a prohibitive cost. You may even be able to justify the cost because it is easier than obtaining a fresh prescription from your doctor.
A friend of mine, whom I’ll call Joan, ran into this several years ago. After a rotten knee injury that left her barely able to care for her twenty-one-month-old daughter, she began to take Vicoden, a combination of hydrocodone, a synthetic opioid, and acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Surgery to repair the knee kept being postponed and Joan, who thought she would need pain medication a short time, ended up taking the drug far longer because her physical therapy treatments left her in agony. When the surgery was finally done, post-operative problems led to a new doctor increasing her pain medication.
Still suffering 90 days later, Joan was still taking a heightened dose when she was transferred back to the care of her primary physician who immediately wanted to wean her off pain medication altogether. Joan tried but felt she just could not give up the narcotic; without it, she complained she hurt too much to be active.
Once her doctor said enough and refused to write more prescriptions for anything heavier than an anti-inflammatory, Joan returned to her specialist for pain control. When he balked after a few months, she turned to online pharmacies, sympathetic dentists, and even friends’ medicine cabinets. By the time a few of her friends suspected something was up and spoke to her, Joan knew she had a problem that extended beyond her knee pain.
Later, Joan estimated that she spent at least five thousand dollars extra in a short time trying to obtain a drug that, when she began her painful odyssey, had cost her less than $40 per month to use. A one-time nurse herself, she acknowledged spotting the warning signs of drug dependence but chose to ignore them so she could continue her self-medication.
Although some people may require long-term counseling and sometimes inpatient detox and treatment, Joan was able to wean off the drugs at home with her doctor’s help. Today, she feels great; her knee has finally healed enough that she plays indoor tennis at least twice weekly near her Mamaroneck home.
If, like Joan, you find yourself desperate to locate a doctor who will prescribe a specific drug for you, stop and consider the situation. At some point, you may need to ask yourself, “Am I taking the drug because I legitimately need it or because I think I can’t live without it?”
Likewise, you may also turn to other substances for relief, chief among them alcohol and illicit drugs. You no doubt understand the dangers there. Yet, even when some of these substances are “merely” over-the-counter or herbal in nature, there is still risk involved. The prescription medication you take now may not be a good mix for other drugs. For example, if two of them each tend to make you drowsy or sluggish, imagine how they might respond if you combine them. If that sounds like an acceptable risk to you, perhaps a warning bell should be going off in your head right now.
This brings up another point that those with drug dependence or addiction often face: lowered self esteem. Drugs that have a side effect of something like euphoria as well as those that depress hurtful feelings or anxiety may become medications you feel you must take even if you are not actively feeling pain or experiencing insomnia. Failure to take the drug regularly makes you feel unusually uncomfortable. To be fair, however, those in legitimate pain also experience similar symptoms.
If you find yourself facing any of the problems outlined here, or you find that you horde pills in fear of the day you won’t be able to get another prescription, it’s probably time to talk with your medical professional. Your doctor can assess your situation and help you determine the best treatment options.
Understand, too, that you may not be addicted but under-treated for legitimate pain. Chronic pain patients denied satisfactory levels of effective pain control – often as much by themselves as others – often turn to the same extreme measures that those with drug dependence or addiction display. Speak with your doctor to be sure.