Chronic Pain and Drug Addiction

Everyone has taken an aspirin at some time or another in his or her life. It is one of the most basic of medicines and works well in relieving the pain from a headache. While taking an occasional aspirin for pain relief is okay, people need to be wary of the tendency to become dependent on the pain-killing drugs to the point where the medication is a greater health risk than the symptom it is being taken for.

Pain relievers help people with chronic pain problems to lead productive lives. And as long as they are taken as prescribed, they may not be harmful. But when they are abused – that is, taken without medical approval or supervision, taken in excess of the prescribed dosage, or taken for extended periods of time  – they can result in serious health risks and lead to major addiction issues. The most common form of prescription medication used to treat pain are opioids.

Opioids contain substances like vicodin, codeine, morphine etc. which relieve the symptoms of pains. Opioids are normally taken orally in the form of pills or capsules, although injectable formulations are also common. The problem lies in that after a period of continued usage, the body may develop a resistance to the medications and the pain relieving effect may reduce. In these cases, doctors will normally prescribe a different medication for some time to allow the body’s resistance to the original one to subside or advice some form of physiotherapy or massage, acupuncture or accupressure etc. to counter the reduce efficacy of the medication.

Many patients, having used the medication for a long time with no problems, think that a small increase in the dosage will cause no problems and do this without consulting their doctor. While this may produce the desired reduction in pain to the earlier levels, the body’s resistance to the increased dosage also strengthens requiring even larger dosages to be administered.

While this is a serious enough problem, what the users of this form of medication do not realize is that there is an insidious side effect they are not aware of. Opioids function by attaching to specific proteins which are known receptors. These are found in the spinal cord, gastric tracts and the brain. The optioids change the way the brain perceives pain. However, in the process of doing this they also affect those parts of the brain that control what we perceive as pleasure or happiness. While controlled dosages do not allow the opioids to have any major effect in this regard, uncontrolled overdoses will cause the patient to experience pleasurable highs. These become addictive and the pain relief and the high are intermingled and the body becomes dependant on the medication for both pain relief and pleasure.

This form of addiction can be as serious as any other form of drug dependency and can also have the same kind of serious side effects and end results including loss of life. They are dangerous because, when controlled they are beneficial to the body. Because of this, it is easy to slip into a regime of increasing unsupervised dosage that will result in addiction that is extremely difficult to cure as the body loses both a source of abnormal pleasure but also the relief from pain.

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The Pain of Addiction

Vicodin addiction often starts innocently enough. Most people start taking Vicodin or other pain medications after surgery or an injury. But then they can’t stop. They need more to get the same pain relief. They start doctor shopping to get more pills. And the cycle continues until it takes over their lives.