In many cases, addictions start as a result of using substances that should be avoided completely. But some addictive substances have valid medical reasons for their use, and sometimes people need them to manage their health. This is the case with prescription painkillers.
Many people avoid painkillers because of the addiction risk, but if pain relief is a necessity, it’s worth talking to your doctor about how to take these medications safely. 97% of individuals who use a prescription painkiller at some point do not develop a problem with addiction.
That said, opiates do have a strong addiction potential. These are five ways to minimize your addiction risk so that you can manage your pain in a safe manner.
1. Follow the instructions of your doctor.
When your doctor prescribes the painkillers, they will give you strict instructions for use. You should always comply with these instructions. It’s helpful to write them down at the appointment, but they’ll also be printed on your medication bottle. You can also consult the accompanying medication guide for information about safe use.
Even if you’re having a bad pain day, it’s not a good idea to take more than your prescribed dose of painkillers. Doing so can increase your tolerance for the opiates, which will keep them from being effective.
2. Don’t avoid using painkillers until the pain is intolerable.
Some people become so nervous about addiction that they refuse to take any painkillers until their pain is no longer bearable. In the time it takes for the medication to work, many succumb to the urge to take a higher dose than prescribed. Again, this can increase your medication tolerance and increase your pain in the long run.
Any kind of painkiller, even an opiate painkiller, works best as a preventative measure. This means that if you know your pain is getting worse, the medication will work better if you take it before the pain levels become unbearable. This will help you stick to your prescribed dose while maximizing the effectiveness of the painkiller.
3. Educate yourself about the symptoms of opiate addiction.
There are common signs that you can watch out for. Addiction to opiates follows three stages. In the first stage, your tolerance increases, so you need to take more and more of the drug to function. In the second stage, you begin to experience physical withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug for an extended period of time. In the third stage, you begin to crave and become obsessed with taking more of the drug.
The third stage is the point at which the mental illness of addiction sets in. Once this occurs, it’s very difficult to recover from that addiction. If you notice that your tolerance has increased, or that you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms off the medication, it’s time to talk to your doctor about how to stop safely.
4. Regularly check in with yourself.
You should pay careful attention to how your body and mind respond to the drug. Most importantly, you should always ask yourself, “Do I need to take this medication right now?” Some people find themselves taking the medication not to reduce their pain, but because of the euphoric and relaxed feeling it causes. You should only take the medication to manage physical pain, not to seek emotional relief.
5. Seek alternatives if you’ve had past problems with drug or alcohol abuse.
If you’ve had prior problems with addiction, your risk of developing an opiate addiction is higher. Talk to your doctor about your concerns about addiction. Sometimes, a higher dose of a more moderate painkiller will be adequate to help manage your pain.
Similarly, you should tell your doctor if you have a genetic predisposition to addiction. You’re genetically predisposed toward addiction when anyone in your direct family line has struggled with it in the past. A genetic predisposition doesn’t automatically mean that you will become addicted, but it does mean that you need to monitor your medication usage more carefully.
If you’re worried that you’ve become addicted to opiates, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Talk to your doctor about resources for recovery or call a helpline.