When Useful Prescriptions Become an Addiction
The Beginning of an Opiate Addiction
Many addictions start out as pain relief from a doctor. When someone sustains an injury or experiences mild to moderate pain, doctors commonly prescribe opiates to help manage the pain.
Sports Injuries and Accidents
Sports injuries are one of the most common causes of pain for which opiates are prescribed. Young and old alike, those who have injured themselves during sports or an accident or fall will often find relief from their doctor in the form of prescription painkillers.
Other people deal with chronic pain year after year and struggle with the dread of trying to make it through another day with pain that just won’t quit. Prescription opiates are helpful for chronic pain associated with past injuries or accidents and illnesses such as autoimmune disorders or cancer. These pain patients often admit that prescription opiates have changed their life for the better and they can get back to doing some of the things they weren’t able to do because of pain.
However, the benefits of prescription opiates can quickly become overshadowed if the person develops a dependence on the medication. Then they have even bigger problems to worry about, as they become controlled by addiction and the constant need for more drugs.
Adolescents Are Vulnerable to Opiate Overuse
Young people are particularly vulnerable when it comes to opiate dependence. Part of this has to do with the society in which we live, and other causes are related to a young person’s physiology. In today’s world, we like to find the quickest fix possible for any problem. We don’t like to wait for anything, including relief from pain. Young people today see parents, friends, and other role models self-medicating at the first sign of discomfort. In addition, young patients lack the knowledge of and experience with medications and might not understand how dangerous using them other than directed can be. Finally, a teen or young adult’s body metabolizes medications differently than an adult, sometimes causing doctors to prescribe at a higher dose in order to achieve the desired relief. All these things, and the fact that young athletes are involved in more competitive sports today than ever before put young people at risk for opiate dependence and addiction.
Elderly People Need to Take Caution with Opiates
Elderly individuals are also at greater risk for opiate dependence. These individuals are often prescribed opiates because of accident, illness, or injury, and can also find themselves dependent on these useful medications. Older adults who take prescription opiates might suffer from confusion or might forget if they took their pills already for the day or not. Elderly patients are often on several different medications, making it difficult to keep track of when each one should be taken. Just as with teen patients, many elderly patients don’t understand the dangers of prescription opiates or how to take them. What is more, family members don’t usually consider their elderly loved ones to be at risk for addiction, so they aren’t even watching for the signs. Older bodies process the medications differently, and dependence can occur more quickly. All of these seemingly innocent circumstances can lead to addiction if the person takes their medication other than as directed.
Addicts turn to Illegal Activity to get more Medication
Already at this point, the individual’s life is beginning to spiral out of control. As their legal opportunities dry up, illegal solutions naturally take their place. The person feels shame and guilt as they lose control, but the need to get high is so strong and the detox symptoms unpleasant, they turn to lying, theft, and even drug dealing just to get more pills.
The drug addict might contact loved ones and ask them for money, which they will use to buy drugs illegally. They might steal prescription painkillers from loved ones’ medicine cabinets. They might purchase drugs on the internet or on the street. They might find ways to make money, even if it is illegal, including selling drugs themselves. Still, other opiate addicts turn to heroin or other street drugs that are more easily accessible and provide similar effects.
Although addiction actually started a few steps before this, this is when we truly see the devastating consequences of opiate addiction, and it happens all the time. What was once a well respected, contributing member of society can quickly become a drug addict, committing crimes to get their next high, all because of the misuse of prescription opiates.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
The signs are not always as obvious as we might think, however, depending on the person and the level of addiction. Many opiate addicts do a great job of hiding their addiction. They may still be employed, run a household, or go to church, but the inner struggle will eventually start to show through. It is important for family members to know the signs of opiate addiction so they can talk to their loved one and get them help when needed.
Education Is the Key to Preventing Opiate Addiction
Finally, no one is immune to prescription drug dependence, and it is easier to prevent addiction than to treat it once it occurs. Doctors and pharmacists are doing a better job of educating patients on the dangers of prescription opiates and the serious risks associated with taking them other than directed. We all need to be more diligent about taking medications only as prescribed. It is also imperative that we know the warning signs of addiction, and take action if we suspect a loved one is abusing prescription painkillers. Finally, those who do have prescription painkillers should be mindful of who has access to their pills and keep the medications locked up or hidden away from potential drug seekers.
Prescription painkiller addiction has received much attention in recent years because of the many people who are addicted and have overdosed on these medications. As we create awareness of the problem and remain diligent about the proper use of prescription medications, we can prevent addiction and save lives.