We frequently hear or read about people who have become addicted to painkillers after being prescribed them by their doctor for chronic pain. The problem is that once the pain is gone or manageable, the person can find themselves trapped by the drug and has to keep taking it. Next thing you know, they’re “doctor shopping”, stealing drugs from medicine cabinets, buying them off the Internet, or from drug dealers. Really, their only hope at that point is a drug detox program that will help them get off the drug.
These stories are always sad and somewhat frightening. For me, they also raise a number of questions: How many people actually suffer from the severe chronic pain that requires these prescriptions? And how do they become addicted? Some of the answers I found were shocking.
A study conducted by Stanford University Medical Center found that one in five adult Americans suffer from chronic pain – pain lasting for several months or longer. And, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, common and chronic pain costs American workers more than $61 billion a year in lost productivity. These facts alone provide significant incentive to ask for, and write prescriptions for painkillers. People don’t want to be in pain, and they do want to go to work. So, they are likely to be on these drugs for an extended period of time.
But will they become drug addicts? That depends on a number of factors. First, the type of drug they’re taking; If they’re taking opium-based painkillers like OxyContin, Dilaudid, Vicodin, Percocet, oxycodone, or morphine, it is almost certain the person will become physically dependent and, if taken for a long period of time, they’ll probably require drug detox to safely get off the drug with a minimum of debilitating withdrawal symptoms.
However, even though the risk of drug addiction with opioid painkillers is higher than with other drugs, addiction goes beyond mere physical dependency. It is more a mindset – it’s a solution that enables a person to cope with the stresses of living life. And it takes more than drug detox to handle it. Drug detox helps the person handle their physical dependency, but they’ll need drug rehab to conquer the addiction.
Whether or not someone is addicted to a drug is a complex question. But the bottom line is this: given the right set of conditions, there is a great risk of addiction.
The best way to find out if someone is addicted is to get them treatment in a medically-supervised drug detox program that helps them withdraw safely from the drug and then provides counseling to determine if further treatment is needed.