Consider this: you are in long-term recovery for addiction and you have been progressing quite well. Suddenly, you are involved in an accident—a car wreck, a fall at work, or a sports injury—and you are in dire need of pain management. Your doctor prescribes you opiates to ease your suffering, but you and your family members have some concerns. Should you be taking opiate painkillers?
To thoroughly answer that question, we must first distinguish opiates from any other type of prescribed medication.
What Are Opiates?
Procured from the dried “milk” of the opium poppy plant, natural opiates are a group of narcotics that alleviate pain symptoms. On the contrary, synthetic opiates are developed in laboratories but with a similar chemical makeup. The collective group of both natural and synthetic opiates are called opiods.
Functioning as an analgesic (i.e. painkiller), opiods bind to receptors throughout the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. Once attached, the narcotic blocks pain signals being transmitted to the brain and thereby depresses the central nervous system.
Common opiates include:
After the drug begins working, the user typically feels euphoric. Opiates also may induce drowsiness, warmth, decreased heart rate, and a general feeling of calm. Their additional tendency to ease stress is one of the reasons opiates are frequently abused.
Do Opiates Cause Addiction?
The euphoria that accompanies opiate ingestion may bring with it dependency. While these narcotics are legitimately prescribed to treat pain, in some cases, users can become tolerant causing them to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect. Plus, taking more than the prescribed dose of this medication can result in respiratory arrest or, even worse, death.
All opiates come with this risk of dependency. Therefore, in a scenario like that mentioned above, the concern of an addict being prescriped painkillers is very much warranted. A person who is susceptible to addiction, such as one in 12-Step, long-term recovery, is taking a great risk when using opiates. Similar to whatever substance the person was previously addicted to, long-term opiate use can train the mind to believe that this “high” or euphoria is as necessary to survival as food and water. Then, if the person were to stop taking opiates, he or she would experience withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
Long-term overuse of opiates includes the following signs:
- slow breathing rate
- collapsed veins or clogged blood vessels
- compromised immune system
- increased risk of infectious diseases
The best way to prevent mental and physical dependency of opiate painkillers is to avoid their use completely. However, if you must take these drugs, do so under the close observation of a doctor and, then, only take them as prescribed. These narcotics change the chemical structure of the brain over long-term use, so be mindful that they should only be used for short-term relief of pain.
Pain Management Alternatives
If you are in doubt about taking prescription opiates for fear of dependency, there are other options for you. The following are alternative ways to treat pain that are ideal for individuals in a 12-Step, long-term recovery program.
Biofeedback: These chairs enable you to learn how to stabilize your own stress and anxiety by educating yourself on your body’s response to pain. You can visit a medical provider who can train you on its use or you can purchase a machine for your home.
Acupuncture: Effective at treating various types of pain such as headaches or chronic back pain, acupuncture is an ages-old technique in which a licensed practitioner inserts needles into precise acupoints around the body.
Diet; Migraine headaches and joint pain are often exacerbated by certain culprits in the diet. Speaking with a nutritionist may help you catch problematic foods and remove them from your diet to alleviate pain.
Herbs and Supplements: There are numerous natural remedies that reduce one’s perception of pain. For example, valerian alleviates pain and increases relaxation. Yerba mate tea has been shown to help with pain associated with chemotherapy.
As to the central question of whether an addict should use painkillers, the answer lies within you. Remmber, to always equip yourself with all viable information before making a decision. Talk to your doctor and be sure to share your history. As you can see, opiate painkillers pose a risk of dependency for all users. So, if you are intent on staying free from dependency, you may want to choose an alternative method of relieving your pain. As they say: better safe than sorry.
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