Last updated: November 27, 2023
Dealing with pain on a daily basis is horrific. A person who is dealing with chronic pain understands how this pain not only affects them physically, but it also negatively affects them both mentally and emotionally.
Living with chronic pain diminishes a person’s ability to interact with others and to form meaningful relationships. For this reason, it is understandable that the primary reason why people go to the doctor is to find pain relief. In addition to identifying the root cause of pain, doctors will often prescribe painkillers that will minimize or completely remove the pain that their patient is experiencing. In most cases, these pain relievers are meant to be a temporary stopgap to allow the patient to live a productive life until the source of their pain can be repaired.
What Are Opiates?
A good portion of painkillers are opiates. Opiates are narcotics. Opiates would include all pain relievers that have the poppy plant as their source. For example, morphine and codeine are two well known examples of opiates. In addition to natural opiates that are directly derived from the poppy plant, there are also synthetic opiates. These range from the illicit drug heroine all the way down to the commonly prescribed Vicodin.
Prescription Drugs and the Risk of Addiction
When opiates are used following a prescription provided by a doctor and when there use is limited to the duration prescribed by a medical professional, addiction is highly unlikely. The problem comes when individuals begin to abuse opiates.
Abuse would include using opiates beyond the duration specified by medical professionals or at a dose higher than what is prescribed. Individuals who are addicted to prescription opiates will use the drug as a way to relieve their anxiety instead of as a way to treat pain. These individuals will develop a tolerance to the drug and will require higher concentrations of it in order to have the same effect. Psychological effects including compulsive behaviors, the craving for the drug, and continual use of the drug even though its use results in negative consequences are all signs of prescription opiate addiction.
Symptoms of Abuse and Withdrawal
Some of the symptoms of narcotic abuse include euphoria or the feeling of being high, contracted pupils, vomiting, a loss of all feeling or feeling no pain, disorientation and diminished judgment along with slurred speech.
Once an individual has become addicted to an opiate drug, they will develop a psychological and a physical dependence to it. When an individual decides to or is forced to stop using the drug, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms will include but are not limited to a craving for the drug, nausea, extreme anxiety, muscle aches and tenseness, constipation or diarrhea, weight loss as a result of loss of appetite and tremors.
For the most part, the symptoms that come from opiate withdrawal are not life-threatening. However, they are extremely painful and can leave an individual in agony. In an attempt to escape the effects of withdrawal, an addicted individual may go to extreme lengths in order to acquire more of the drug. There is a direct correlation between the severity of withdrawal symptoms and the length of time an individual uses the drugs.
There are certain medical treatments that are available to minimize withdrawal symptoms. These include methadone and buprenorphine. While these drugs are effective at eliminating the physical withdrawal, even after an individual is no longer physically addicted to the drugs, psychological dependence may continue. It is very common for individuals fighting this form of drug addiction to relapse as a result of extreme stress or other trigger situations. However, with the appropriate medical treatment, recovery is possible.