Maybe you’re hearing about prescription drug addiction every time you watch the news or pick up the newspaper. Maybe it seems to you like everybody is talking about the risks of pain pills and how quickly this problem is growing in the United States. Maybe you’re noticing this topic because you wonder, if no matter how impossible it seems, you might have developed a prescription drug addiction.
Many doctors are writing enough pain pill prescriptions to make the opportunity for addiction easier than it should be. Years ago, physicians only prescribed narcotic pain pills like hydrocodone or oxycodone in the cases of terminal illness such as cancer. However, today’s prescribers include not only physicians but physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and the pharmaceutical companies have spent a lot of time and money convincing them that pain pills are a harmless remedy for chronic pain. The number of pain pill prescriptions filled each year by pharmacies has grown exponentially from just ten years ago.
Are You Experiencing Prescription Drug Addiction?
If you’re secretly wondering whether you have fallen victim to this scourge, there are five simple questions you can ask yourself, right here and now. Nobody will know your answers except you, so be honest with yourself.
- Has your pain gotten worse over time, even though you’ve taken your medication as prescribed?
- Have you become fixated on your medication? Meaning do you spend a lot of the day looking at the clock wondering when you can take your next dose, or reading the label on the bottle to be certain how you should take it, or worrying about how you’ll get your next refill?
- If you don’t take your medication on time, do you begin to feel sick? Do you experience achiness, headaches, and anxiety?
- Have you begun boosting the effects of your medication by washing it down with alcohol or taking it in conjunction with another medication?
- Do you take your medication the way it was prescribed? Are you ever take another family member’s medication? Do you chew it or even snort it instead of rinsing it down with water?
- What Can You Do?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are right to feel concerned about a possible prescription drug addiction, and you should take steps to bring it under control right now. There are alternatives to dependency and addiction, and looking into them could save you from going down a rocky, ruinous road that will has the potential to devastate your life.
Not every “yes” answer signifies addiction, however. Be aware that your doctor is just as concerned with restoring normal function as with treating the source of pain, so just because pain goes away doesn’t mean a medication is “working.” Also, you don’t want to jump the gun and confuse tolerance with addiction, so you really do need to discuss your medication use with your doctor.
Consider these alternatives:
- You can ask your doctor to change your medication. Instead of a narcotic pain pill, perhaps you can take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
- Discuss with your medical provider whether physical therapy can help with the type of pain you’re experiencing.
- Look into holistic therapies such as movement classes, acupuncture, or hypnosis. These classes or even physical therapy may seem expensive, but the cost is small compared to the risks of long—term addiction.
How do you initiate this conversation with your doctor? The average doctor visit ranges from 10 to 20 minutes, and you know you’re lucky if you get the full 20 minutes. Because doctors have also become sensitive to the problems associated prescription drug addiction, they are more receptive of your input than the doctors of years ago. You can say something like, “I find myself taking two of these Vicodin pills every three hours instead of one every six hours, is there something else I could take instead?”
If you really can’t bring yourself to speak up about the problem, then write it down. Hand the piece of paper to your provider when he or she greets you in the office. That will get the conversation going. You can also call a clinic that offers a program for medication-assisted treatment, where you will receive a thorough evaluation of your status. No matter which route you choose, don’t let too much time pass by before you take action. Addiction, unfortunately, happens quickly.