1.Women are more likely to become addicted to painkillers
Women and painkillers are a perfect storm, thanks to several factors unique to our bodies and situations: First, women feel pain more intensely, as we have more nerve receptors than men do, according to a study done by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Next, women are more likely to talk about that pain with health care providers and to be more proactive about wanting to manage stress, anxiety, and pain, says Erin Goodhart, an addiction specialist. Another problem is that doctors often forget that women aren’t biologically the same as men. Despite the fact that women are generally smaller and more sensitive to the effects of pain medications, doctors prescribe women painkillers in higher doses and for longer periods of time than they do for men, according to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control. To add to the issue, women become biologically and psychologically dependent on painkillers in shorter periods of time and on smaller doses than men do, the ASAM report added. “You should be very wary of a doctor who uses opioid drugs as the first solution to pain,” Goodhart cautions.
2. Painkillers can be a gateway drug to heroin addiction
3. You can’t just quit painkillers
Even if you’re taking prescription painkillers exactly as directed you can still develop a dependence on them, meaning that when you go off them—whether because your prescription ran out or because you just want to stop them—you may experience withdrawal effects. “At the low end it feels like you have the flu with exhaustion, nausea, body aches, and even a fever,” says Goodhart. But the longer you’re on the medication, the more severe your body’s reaction will be when you go off, including vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, and extreme pain, she adds. Instead of stopping cold turkey, make a plan with your doctor to taper off the meds.
4. Look for a doctor who specialises in long-term pain management
If you have a health issue that results in chronic pain, it’s worth your time to find a doctor who specializes in pain management rather than just relying on a general practitioner, Goodhart says. If you can’t find one in your area, make sure you’re asking lots of questions about your treatment plan and that you feel satisfied with your doctor’s answers before you accept the prescription, she adds.
5. You have other options for pain management
Things like meditation, massage, talk therapy, yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy, and exercise can all help lessen your perception of pain while also helping you deal with the source of the pain. You can use these methods alone or in conjunction with medication and there are a number of non-addictive medications that can be used to manage pain, Goodhart says. And, she adds, never underestimate the ability of the mind to project mental pain into physical pain. “Unresolved or unrecognized trauma, grief, and loss or other emotional pain can come out through physical pain,” she says. “That’s why it is important for those with chronic pain to have a psychiatric evaluation, therapy, and engage in alternative treatment options.”
6. Know your personal risk factors
There’s no way to predict who will abuse or become addicted to painkillers, Goodhart says. However, there are some traits that can increase your risk. “Having painkillers introduced to the body at a young age when the brain is still developing places them at a higher risk for potential substance use disorders. Or if there is a family history of substance use, there may be a genetic predisposition to develop a substance use disorder,” she says.
7. Some pain is good
“Not all pain is bad—sometimes pain is telling us something important about ourselves,” she says. We’ve been conditioned to think that pain is automatically a problem when really we should see it as information. “Often people start using opiates in an effort to manage pain associated with injury or stress on the body. Then people realize the opiates can be used to cope with the pain of stress and pressure of everyday living. They begin to enjoy the pleasurable feelings produced by painkillers, as these medications simultaneously address physical pain and emotional pain,” she explains. But masking the pain with drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or another addiction doesn’t get at the root of what’s causing the pain and will likely compound the pain by adding new problems.