Guest post by Carl Towns
“Addiction is just a way of trying to get at something else.
The thing you want offers relief, but it’s a trap.”
– Tess Callahan
Prince Rogers Nelson, a.k.a. “the artist formerly known as Prince,” died on April 21st of last year. Six weeks later, on June 2, 2016, his autopsy report was released to the press, citing “Fentanyl Toxicity” as the official cause of death.
In other words, an opioid overdose.
Fentanyl has been described as “a potent, synthetic opioid pain medication with a rapid onset and short duration of action.” If I ever danced to Prince’s mix of funk, pop, and R&B at a party, I don’t remember it. In fact, I don’t remember a helluva lot. Alcohol and party drugs, such as ecstasy and amyl nitrates, were my personal weapon of self-destruction.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Carl. I’m nearly 29 years old now but, in a past life, as young as I am, I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. In fact, I still am. I’m under no illusions.
However, I have just seen the sun come up on 5 whole years sober. Yes, completely clean. Only hope in my system. The reason I feel motivated to write this article is down to a fellow addict, who I met in rehab.
Jake became addicted to his chronic pain relief meds (opioids) over only 2 or 3 years, following a serious motorbike accident. The first time I met him was in group therapy during rehab. You couldn’t miss him because you had to wait for him.
It took him an age to walk to his chair from the therapy room door, and even longer to negotiate the clearly excruciating process of sitting down. Boy, he impressed me then. You could see the strain and anguish clearly etched on his gaunt face, but he did it. Bless him.
So, this article is going to draw on my many conversations with Jake (he’s easily my best friend now) and describe 6 ways of telling if your use of painkilling medication is getting out of control, leading you along the road towards addiction.
Before we get going, let’s make one thing clear. Jake and I are different in our addictions. I took what I did for mental pleasure, for kicks; he took what he did just to physically survive the day. I often look at him and thank my lucky stars such an accident never happened to me during my reckless years.
So, let’s begin:
- Clear Symptoms of Addiction to Painkillers
This is the main one. Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons people see a doctor is to seek relief from pain. Many of us have been there. Many of us will be there in the future, too. And, just as surely, your doctor will try and help you as much as he can.
If you are prescribed painkilling drugs, hopefully, he will talk you through the possible dangers, including the fact that many painkillers are highly addictive for those with personalities to match.
Clear symptoms will become present, which could possibly mean you are starting to become addicted. Let me stress that these symptoms are physical and do not demonstrate a definitive addiction. Addiction occurs in the brain.
As Christopher Gharibo, MD, Director of Pain Medicine, NYU Langone Medical School and NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, says “Everybody can become tolerant and dependent on a medication, and that does not mean that they are addicted.”
So, to the symptoms:
- Opiate Use Disorder: Strong desire to use opioids; Inability to control or reduce use; Development of tolerance; Having withdrawal symptoms, (ex. depression, a bad stomach, insomnia, etc.)
- General Drug Use Disorder: Euphoria (getting high); Analgesia (feeling little or no pain); Sedation; Nausea and vomiting; Respiratory problems; Itching; Confusion
- Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms: Cravings; Irritability and anxiety; Rapid respiration; Aching muscles; Vomiting; Diarrhea; Sweating; Confusion; Tremors
Such symptoms are not, in and of themselves, medically dangerous. However, symptoms suffered as a result of addiction to painkillers can be extremely agonizing and hard to bear. Lastly, the difference between addiction and dependence is vitally important.
- Preoccupation With Your Painkilling Medication
Let me explain addiction and dependency, as Jake explained it to me one day in rehab. Dependency first. Dependency is a physical condition where your body has built up a level of tolerance to your medication. To achieve the same effect of previous pain relief, you simply need more.
Addiction, on the other hand, is more than just physical. It results in you abusing the drug in question, as Jake did, even though everything from your home life to work is being seriously affected. And you don’t care – you only care about your next “hit”.
A clear sign of addiction is your complete and utter preoccupation with that next hit; when you are getting it, and if your existing supply is enough.
- Increasing the Dosage Without the Doctor’s Consent
This couldn’t be clearer. Just like your prescription. Increasing your dosage off your own back (excuse any possible pun) without your doctor’s knowledge and consent is a clear sign of danger ahead. Jake once told me that this was the norm for him – privately upping his usage, asking the doctor for an increase, with the doctor unknowingly playing catch-up.
- Sourcing the Medication From Elsewhere
Increasing your supply from a source different to your doctor is another indication of possible addiction.
Getting the same painkillers from elsewhere, places such as these:
- The Internet
- Buying from other people’s prescriptions
- Stealing from sick relatives or other people’s medicine cabinets
- Deliberately putting yourself in hospital
- Stealing prescription pads
- Buying your painkillers on the street
…. are bad, bad signs.
- Pain Medication Management Is Not an Item for Discussion
Have any of your family members or friends tried to discuss this issue with you? Have you told them where to get off? Being irritated or defensive about any possible discussion regarding your pain medication management when confronted is another sign you may be in over your head.
Blog Owner’s Note: In the case of defensiveness, this may also come from a deep fear that the pain medication you need to survive daily life will be taken away from you, especially with the recent crackdown on opioid use. Plus, pain understandably breeds short tempers.
- Who’s This?
Are you becoming someone else? Jake once told me, on the 1st anniversary of his being sober, that one day it dawned on him he was becoming someone else–someone he just didn’t like. It was the impetus that eventually led him to the sanctuary of our rehab center where he could get the necessary help.
What are the signs? Personal hygiene and the way you care for yourself go down the toilet (Jake’s words). You’re becoming moody and angry for no apparent reason. Eating isn’t important. You are not sleeping well. You’re also drawing away from your responsibilities: household chores, paying bills, and putting your middle finger up to your work (Jake’s words again). Sadly, you may also be ignoring your partner and your kids.
To Be Defeated…
Let’s be clear about this again. Dependency and addiction are completely different things. However, an addicted person will be in denial. Yes, their chronic pain is, like all sufferers, born every day, yet, the way they deal with it has incurred another suffering. That of addiction. Jake has, happily, sought out other ways to manage his pain. He knows, like the addiction, this pain will be with him for life, but sees it as something he can defeat, to manage. I pray he does.
So, there you have them – the 6 ways of telling if you are becoming addicted to your chronic pain medication: addiction symptoms, preoccupation, increasing meds without your doctor knowing, sourcing your own supply, the undebatable topic, and the new person in your house.
I know there are more (perhaps you’d like to share them in the comments below), but Jake told me to go with these 6; they are the most important. Maybe you disagree. What else should be in this article? Feel free to share.
On a personal level, thank you, Jake, for sharing with me.
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