Chronic Illness and Addiction: Is There an Extra Risk?
According to the National Health Council, almost half of Americans live with some sort of chronic pain.
From injury, surgery, and chronic diseases to terminal cancer, many of us experience consistent, debilitating pain that drastically reduces our quality of life.
If you’ve ever been in intense pain and had a medical professional not believe you, you know how frustrating untreated pain can be. This is especially true if your race, socioeconomic status, gender, criminal record, or previous drug use has led someone to stigmatize you.
Pain is awful. Being denied treatment is salt on the wound. Every person has the same right to be treated no matter what their background. This includes access to medications that lessen pain.
Pain Is Difficult for Doctors to Assess
Pain is largely unseen and can be different for different people. It can be difficult to the untrained eye to see who is truly in need of pain relief and who is abusing the system to feed an addiction.
On the other hand, if you’ve struggled with addiction to painkillers, you know that it isn’t something you want to mess with.
There is a reason doctors are so careful when prescribing painkillers. If there is even an iota of a chance that you are becoming dependent on painkillers, seek help immediately.
Why Is Painkiller Addiction So Scary?
Second to marijuana, non-medical use of prescription drugs is the leading form of drug abuse in the United States. Some people use prescription drugs occasionally for a desired feeling, but many American prescription drug users become addicted after being prescribed medication for pain. Because opioids, the most common painkillers, are highly addictive, legal pain relievers can lead to long term, illegal use of opioids.
There is an opioid addiction epidemic happening in our country. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, and opioid death is the main reason.
For more resources, SAMHSA has extensive information for health care providers and patients, including a manual for those with chronic pain who are in recovery.
For more information about how addiction can start specifically from dental medication, take a look at Summit BHC’s blog post.
Living with Chronic Pain
If you are living with chronic pain, the following practices can help you get relief without placing your sobriety at risk.
- Trust your doctor. Take the time to find a doctor you can trust. Ask them lots of questions. Hopefully together you will be able to find a solution that relieves your pain and also doesn’t put you in danger of a crippling, life-altering drug habit.
- Do anything in your power to reduce pain in healthier ways. Of course, some pain is so severe, medicine is necessary. However, many types of pain can be drastically reduced with change of diet, exercise, or use of non-opioid drugs. Ask your doctor if there are any alternative forms of pain relief that don’t put yourself at risk of addiction.
- Don’t share medication. If you have prescription painkillers, never share your prescription with someone else. Even if you don’t need the pills anymore and know someone in legitimate pain, do not share your medication. You might not personally struggle with painkiller addiction, but you never know if the medication will cause another person to struggle. You don’t want to be responsible for someone’s fall into addiction. Instead, direct the person in pain to a health care professional who can treat them.
- Cycle your medication. Talk to your doctor about potentially cycling your medications so that you aren’t taking one specific addictive substance for too long. Some drugs’ effects can wear off with time, causing the patient to take a higher dose. This means taking a break from the medication can help increase its effectiveness as well as reduce your risk of addiction.
- Be honest. It may be scary to open up about a history of addiction to a doctor. You might be worried that he/she will see you differently and trust you less. But, remember a doctor is a professional who has your best interest at heart. Doctors can’t treat you to the best of their ability without knowing the whole story.
- Find a supportive community/mentor. Perhaps there is no better antidote to addiction than having trustworthy people you can turn to if you are struggling with chronic pain, addiction, or both. Pursue people in your life who have been through similar situations who can understand your struggles. Find people who will be there and care for you.
Coping with Addiction and Chronic Pain
Victory Addiction Recovery Center uses a holistic approach that provides licensed staff who can help you learn how to become sober, stay sober, and cope with problems that might threaten your sobriety. Dealing with addiction and chronic pain can be challenging, but Victory can help you cope with your pain in ways that don’t lead down a path of destruction.
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