Can I get addicted to pain medication?

Can I get addicted to pain medication?

Yes, anyone who takes opioids, a type of pain medication, is at risk for developing addiction. Individual addiction risk is affected by length of time using opioids and personal history. It is difficult to determine who will develop dependence or abuse of these drugs. Opioids are extremely addictive, partially due to their activation of the reward centers in the brain.  Opioids trigger the release of endorphins, which will cause the feeling of euphoria from the brain. These endorphins will decrease the feeling of pain and boost feelings of pleasure. And although these effects are temporary, the desire to have these feelings again are very strong, and cause many people to get the feeling back as soon as possible. This desire for decreased pain and boosting pleasure will often lead to addiction. 

As you repeatedly take opioids your body will progressively slow its production of endorphins. The same dosage that you may have been using before will not produce the same effects, so users will often increase their doses. This tolerance is another reason why opioid addiction is so common. If you are an opioid-user who has developed a tolerance, please ask your doctor for help. They may be able to change your medication to something that will make you feel well and not be as addictive. Although addiction can be a severe problem, quitting abruptly off opioids is not always advised. Stopping opioids abruptly may cause intense side effects and worsen pain. Usually your doctor can help you to taper off your opioids. 

There are alternatives to opioids to help manage pain. Non-addictive pain meds may include Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen). Other pain medications that can be prescribed include anticonculsants like Neurontin (gabapentin), corticosteroids, ot antidepressants . Other alternatives to medications may include physical therapy, behavioral therapy, TENS unit, and other modalities. Each person should have their treatment plan individualized with their provider based on their history.

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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