The subject of pain medication is becoming increasingly taboo in the United States. Many people on narcotic pain medication feel that they have to keep their prescriptions a secret because of the stigma attached to it. If you are on medication for pain, you are a drug addict right? Absolutely not. The problem is that people don't understand the difference between drug addiction and drug dependence. Here are the characteristics and differences between addiction and dependence. Knowing the difference is important for those on pain medication and their loved ones.
Characteristics of opiate dependence
Opiates are controlled substances. This means that the use of them is highly controlled by doctors and the government because of their highly addictive properties. The amount of time someone can be prescribed a controlled substance is limited except for chronic conditions. Many people with chronic pain conditions deal with being looked at like drug addicts because many of them spend years on controlled substances to keep their pain at bay.
Opiate dependence is controlled by the thalamus and brainstem. When someone is dependent on pain medication, their body is addicted, but their brain doesn't register taking medications as a reward. Opiates are physically addicting. After taking them regularly, the body may become dependent on them after a couple of months. When the medication is stopped, the body will go through withdrawal symptoms. Once withdrawals are over, the patient will not be craving the medication like someone with an addiction does. Someone with merely a dependence also uses medications as prescribed.
Characteristics of opiate addiction
Opiate addiction is controlled by the reward pathway of the brain. The reward pathway of the brain is highly responsive to the rewards of taking the medications (e.g. the feeling of getting high), and stimulates the need for the medication. When someone is addicted to opiates, their 'need' for the medication goes above and beyond the physical change their body undergoes when the medication is out of their system.
Someone who is addicted will experience cravings that they cannot control. The cravings lead to the inability to control their drug use. The drug use will continue even if it is doing harm to their body or the people around them. The cravings are the one thing in common with all addictions. Once the brain is craving a medication, the brain's biology is altered. It takes therapy and/or rehabilitation to reverse the altered brain chemistry.
Treatment for dependence
When a patient becomes dependent on medication, treatment isn't necessary unless the medication is going to be stopped. If stopped, it is important to wean off of the medication slowly. Once the medication is leaving the body, unstable neurotransmissions begin and can take weeks to normalize. Opiate withdrawal symptoms can become dangerous. Symptoms include:
Gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, cramping, diarrhea)
Goose bumps and sweats
Higher doses of opiates that have been used for longer periods of time tend to have the most severe withdrawal symptoms.
Treatment for addiction
If someone is addicted to their pain medication it is important to seek treatment at a place like Olalla Recovery Centers. Treatment for addiction includes stopping the addictive medication, along with therapy to learn how to replace the addictive behavior. The way a medication is stopped varies from case to case. Some people may want to detox in a detox center, while others do well taking medications used for detoxing. These tend to be a combination of a mild opiate along with a medication that reverses the effects of opiates. It keeps the patient from going through withdrawal symptoms, but using any opiates will cause them to become violently ill.
Being dependent on your pain medication is completely different than having an addiction to it. If you or your loved one have withdrawal symptoms when medication is stopped, that is completely normal. The issue begins when the medication is craved and/or abused. However, whether you are dependent or addicted, the medication should only be stopped under professional supervision.Share
23 March 2015
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