The following, Women Beware: Think Twice Before Popping Prescription Painkillers, is a guest post by Trevor, a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic who’s been clean and sober for over 5 years.
It could never happen to you. You’ve never been interested in “getting high.” You just want to get through a day of soccer practices and piano recitals without doubling over in pain. Or maybe you’re the mom who wants relief from her crippling migraines so that she can feel normal again. But the reality is, if you take prescription painkillers, addiction can happen to you.
This nation has an opioid epidemic because prescription painkillers are highly addictive. And it’s becoming more of a problem for women than men. To be clear, opioids are an equal opportunity drug; both men and women can become addicted. But women are finding themselves addicted at alarming rates.
Prescription Painkillers Are a Growing Problem for Women
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), women’s death by opioid painkillers increased by 400 percent between 1990 and 2010 while men’s opioids deaths only increased by 265 percent.
A 2010 American Journal of Public Health study found that women were also more likely to be prescribed opioids and given higher doses for longer periods of time.
The CDC estimates that about 18 women die from prescription painkiller overdoses every day. It usually starts innocently enough. We take painkillers to dull the pain, but then it becomes a problem.
How Opioid Addiction Happens
Addiction is a disease that affects the reward center of the brain. Painkillers bind to opiate receptors in the brain to block the brain’s perception of pain. In doing so, they also provide the user with feelings of euphoria. Over time, they become less effective, so you’ll need more of the drug to produce the same effect.
Opiate receptors are typically bound by hormones called neurotransmitters. When the receptors are bound, the brain gets the message that it has produced enough of a hormone and it will stop. Natural neurotransmitters can’t bind to anything, so the body stops producing them. This is how we become reliant on the painkillers. Our bodies need these hormones to react to pain and pleasure. And when you’re addicted, the drug provides the fastest and strongest source.
Prescription Painkiller Alternatives
Even if your doctor liberally prescribes opioid painkillers, it’s up to you to be responsible.
If you decide to fill the prescription, take the painkillers only when you absolutely need them. This should be an occasional thing. If you’re taking painkillers daily, you may want to consider another option. Prescription painkillers should never be a long-term solution for chronic pain.
If you want to avoid addiction, painkiller alternatives are your best bet. Here are a few to consider:
- Treat the root of your pain – Talk to your doctor about the root cause of your pain and whether it can be addressed by surgery or physical therapy. It’s not the quick or easy fix, but it should be a lasting one.
- Marijuana for pain – If you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal for pain, this may be a great option. Mounting research shows that marijuana may be as effective for pain as opioid painkillers. In fact, a Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research survey concluded that 93 percent of patients prefer cannabis over opioids for pain management.
- Corticosteroids – If injured nerves are at the root of your pain, corticosteroid injections may help by inhibiting these nerves.
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID) – NSAIDs include anti-inflammatory drugs like Aleve, but there are more potent forms available by prescription. These aren’t addictive like opioids, but they do come with some risks, like organ toxicity, kidney or liver failure or ulcers.
Good people are finding themselves addicted to painkillers every day. The best lesson we can learn from their experiences is this: It most definitely can happen to you.
If you can avoid prescription painkillers, you should do so. If you feel you need them, use them sparingly. It’s much easier than you think to lose control.
Sources & Further Reading
CDC: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses A Growing Epidemic, Especially Among Women https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/prescriptionpainkilleroverdoses/index.html
2010 American Journal of Public Health study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20724688
Measuring the Addiction Epidemic in Real Time https://www.detoxlocal.com/resources/addiction-statistics/
Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research survey http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/can.2017.0012
Share This Article