Drug Addiction After Surgery
For many people reaching for the aspirin bottle at the first sign of a headache or joint tenderness is as natural as reaching for the remote when they don’t like what’s on television. Instant, inexpensive relief for minor aches and pains is as near as the closest grocery or pharmacy, with no prescription necessary.
When over-the-counter pain medications fall short of relieving discomfort, however, prescription pain medicines may be in order. These remedies can be short-term godsends for people following surgery or serious injury. Doctors also prescribe them for disease-related pain. Some of these drugs, however, carry a serious risk of addiction
Many widely prescribed pain medications contain opium-based chemicals. Opiates include heroin as well as medications like methadone, morphine, oxycodone and codeine. These extremely effective analgesics are also extremely addictive. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 9 percent of the U.S. population misuses to an opiate at least once. That abuse sometimes leads to addiction.
Pain Medicine Addiction in Surgical Patients
Doctors prescribe opiates to help their surgical patients recover. The Cleveland Clinic advises that continuing post-surgical pain can interfere with proper healing. Pain-free patients become active more quickly. They can participate in breathing exercises or walking to speed their recoveries.
Yet some post-surgical patients hesitate to ask for help with their pain because they worry about pain medicine addiction. How realistic are their concerns about pain medicine addiction?
The great majority of patients realize that these narcotics are meant to alleviate their physical pain, not their emotional or psychological problems. They’re willing to manage their pain responsibly. Medical technology company Medtronic estimates that the odds of a surgical patient developing a pain medicine addiction are approximately one in 10,000.
Physical Dependency vs. Pain Medicine Addiction
Patients face a slightly greater risk of coming physically dependent on pain medication while under their physicians’ care. This condition isn’t the same thing as opiate addiction. The National Institutes of Health defines a physically dependent surgical patient as one who “needs the substance to function.” This individual experiences powerful cravings for the drug.
An addicted patient, on the other hand, has an uncontrollable compulsion to use the medication. This individual’s psychological need for the drug is at least as strong as the physical one. Both dependent and addicted patients require carefully tailored withdrawal programs to wean them from the pain medications.
How Physical Dependency and Addiction Develop
Physical dependency on pain medicine develops after a period of continuous use. How long a period varies from patient to patient. Opiate addiction expert David Courtwright suggests 10 to 14 days as a representative time span in his book “Dark Paradise: Opiate Addiction in America.”
The ongoing use raises tolerance to the drugs’ pain-reducing properties. Patients need stronger and stronger doses of their medications to achieve relief. They experience physical withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing their drugs.
Opiates are capable of causing both physical dependency and psychological addiction. A patient may become physically dependent without being addicted. Addicts are both physically and psychologically dependent. They’ll resort to any means to get their drugs, regardless of the potential for ruining their health, relationships and lives.
Withdrawing from Pain Medicine
Breaking a physical dependency on pain medication can produce serious symptoms. They include:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Muscular and skeletal pain
The safest and most comfortable way to beat physical dependency is to cut back on the medicine gradually, under a doctor’s supervision. As medication levels in the blood decrease, so do the patient’s physical cravings.
As a chronic condition, pain medicine addiction can leave a patient open to relapse after mastering the physical dependency. Addicts continue to battle powerful desires for the drugs, even after successfully abstaining for long periods. For these people, successful treatment often requires psychological counseling from a therapist trained to treat addiction.
I have personally experienced symptoms of pain medicine withdrawal after tonsillectomy surgery.