Could you or someone you know be addicted to pain pills?
Quick relief from severe suffering is a welcome blessing, but prescription pain medications often turn into a curse when abused.
When you think about drug abuse and drug addictions, you may tend to think of three images: rich superstars (think Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley), foolish kids, and "bad" people who often end up in prison. But there are millions of "good" people, young and old, who are addicted to prescription drugs, often without anyone else knowing about it.
The commonly abused prescription drugs
When you hear about addictions to "drugs," you may think first of street drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine ("meth"). But the number of people addicted to prescription drugs is greater than the number of addictions to all three of those street drugs combined.
The prescription drugs most commonly abused are the ones most commonly prescribed, which fall into three categories:
1. Opiods (narcotic analgesics, i.e., pain relievers) such as oxycodone (Oxycontin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and meperidine (Demerol).
2. Sedatives and tranquilizers such as Valium, Xanax and Nembutal.
3. Stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine.
The most commonly abused category? The painkillers. And because addictions to painkillers in the U.S. are epidemic, even among expectant mothers, there is also an epidemic of babies who are born addicted to painkillers. The suffering newborns then have to be gradually weaned off that drug. Very, very sad.
What is addiction? What is "drug abuse"?
Addiction can be either a physical (biological, chemical and pathological) or psychological dependence (an emotional longing for the effects of the drug—which can lead to physical addiction). People often experience both at the same time.
When an addictive substance is regularly ingested, that person's body will eventually build up a tolerance to it so larger amounts are needed over time to achieve the same result. This temptation to increase the dosage often leads to addiction.
Be forewarned that physical addictions are often permanent, which means the addicted person will have a life-long battle trying to resist the temptation to relapse into again using that drug.
Addictions to prescription drugs usually occur only when the prescription is "abused." Abuse includes many easy-to-make mistakes: taking more pills or more frequently than prescribed, taking them after the pain has stopped, mixing them with alcohol or other drugs, taking a medication that was not prescribed for you, or using similar prescriptions from more than one doctor.
Once addicted, a person usually feels desperate because the withdrawal symptoms can be terrible. He might go "doctor shopping" (going to several trusting doctors to obtain similar prescriptions), search for sources on the Internet, go to unscrupulous "pill mills" or stoop to buying on the street illegally.
Why are most prescription painkillers so addictive?
To better understand the power of painkillers, let's compare opiates and opioids. Opiates are extractions from opium poppy plants. They include morphine and codeine. And morphine is frequently processed chemically to produce—guess what—heroin for the illegal drug trade.
The painkillers are opioids that are synthetic or semi-synthetic but chemically similar to opiates. The addictive properties of the painkillers are similar to heroin and morphine!
Opioids give some people a mild emotional uplift. This too can present a temptation to abuse the prescription, especially for someone who is depressed.
If these facts were more widely understood, there would be more healthy fear and respect for the potential risks involved in taking narcotic painkillers.
Youth addiction and adult addiction
Youth painkiller abuse often starts with young people "experimenting" by taking a "leftover" medication that was prescribed for someone else like a family member. Motivations include curiosity, thrill-seeking or an urge to relieve anxieties.
When adults (of any age) become addicted, it generally is because they have abused their own prescriptions. When there is drug abuse, addiction can occur within only a few weeks.
The good news is that when a patient takes an opioid painkiller for only as long as there is severe pain, strictly follows the prescription and is closely monitored by one doctor, it is rare that he will become addicted.
The main point of this message is this: Please don't let yourself become addicted to anything. Prevention is a thousand times easier than any cure! Stay alert for any early-warning signs of addiction!
If you or a loved one is addicted, seek help right away!
Valuable and thorough information on addictions is abundant, including many helpful Internet websites.
If you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted, begin by educating yourself. If you are addicted, please, please seek help. People very seldom overcome an addiction on their own.
If a loved one or friend is addicted, please don't put him on a guilt trip. Address it like any other medical problem. He's already feeling terribly ashamed and fearful. What he needs from you is respect, compassion and encouragement as well as your gentle guidance.
If an addicted person will also rely on God for comfort, guidance, motivation and strength, he has a huge advantage! Trying to conquer an addiction may seem like an impossible task. But Jesus Christ said, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).
The United Church of God has a special website—Breaking Free Journal—devoted to helping people break free from the chains of addictions and other self-destructive behaviors. It does not give medical advice, but you will find it quite helpful and encouraging. Go to breakingfree.ucg.org. To read about addictions, click on Topics and then click on Addictions.