What Do I Do If I’m Addicted to a Medication I Need?

Statistics reported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) show that prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed by 430 percent within the past ten years. Although some people become addicted because of recreational use in order to get high, others get trapped accidentally. The key to staying safe is getting the right information—not living without needed medication. To learn more about how to safeguard yourself from addiction while caring for your other health needs, read on.

High-Risk Populations

Two groups of people are at elevated risk for developing addiction to medication. The first is people who suffer from chronic pain. Typically, this happens after doctors give them a legitimate prescription, perhaps for pain following surgery, injury or simply to help them manage symptoms of their disabilities. Use leads to tolerance and the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects. The individual then takes more of the drug—with or without doctor approval—in order to keep pain at bay. Dependence can take root within one week to several months, depending on individual tolerance.

Individuals with physical disabilities are also vulnerable to accidental addiction. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a number of risks factors increase their chances of becoming substance abuser. Several include the following:

  • Ongoing health problems
  • Ongoing need for medication
  • Societal enabling
  • Poor identification of potential problems

Several alarming facts underscore the dangers prescription medications pose for this demographic. Approximately 4.7 million Americans have both a substance abuse problem and a co-existing disability—a rate that is double estimates for the general population. Additionally, among people who have suffered from traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, substance abuse prevalence rates approach or exceed 50 percent, as opposed to 10 percent of the general population. Individuals with spinal cord injuries, orthopedic disabilities, vision impairment, and amputations can be classified as heavy drinkers in approximately 40-50 percent of cases. They also experience substance abuse rates at two-to-four times that of the general population.

Government experts at the HHS point to three primary causes behind this problem. They include the following:

  • Many disabled people struggle with relapse, frustrating efforts at rehabilitation, employment, and successful integration into society
  • Substance abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services may not be physically, attitudinally, cognitively, or financially accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Economic costs associated with addressing health needs and substance abuse problems are prohibitive

The harsh truth is that for disabled individuals and those who suffer from chronic pain, the process of recovery can be doubly difficult.

Stealthy Addiction: How It Sneaks Up

Most people with chronic pain and/or disabilities never see addiction coming. It sneaks up on them after doctors dispense a legitimate prescription, usually to treat pain following surgery, injury or simply to help them manage symptoms of disabilities or other conditions. Long-term use of many prescription drugs eventually leads to tolerance—a condition indicated by an increasing need for higher doses to achieve the same effect. Depending on individual tolerance, dependence can develop within weeks or months.

Physical symptoms vary according to the medication being taken. Symptoms of psychological dependence, however, are predictable and consistent. Several include the following:

  • Ignoring negative consequences that result from drug use
  • Poor performance at work or school due to drug use
  • Growing mental obsession with the drug
  • Drug use in risky situations such as while driving or caring for children
  • Legal problems related to drug use
  • Social problems such as marital difficulties or losing old friends due to drug use

Because going off of prescription drugs “cold turkey” can be dangerous—especially for people who already have health problems—the safest way to detox and get sober is under medical supervision from a professional facility. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, co-occurring conditions, such as chronic pain and addiction, are most effectively treated in a community-based, coordinated system of comprehensive services.

How to Nip an Addiction in the Bud

Communicating honestly with your prescribing healthcare provider can help you avoid walking down the treacherous road of addiction and relapse. Not all medical practitioners are aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse, so each person must advocate for his or her own health. During doctor’s visits, be sure to communicate information such as how you are taking your medication, how it seems to be affecting you, and what your family history of substance abuse is.

Next, arm yourself with strategies before filling a prescription. Make sure medicine is what you need, and that you aren’t trying to medicate problems like loneliness or grief. Provide full disclosure of the contents of your medicine chest, making sure every doctor who treats you knows your complete regimen of pills and supplements. Start low and go slow. Begin taking a new medication at a low dose, and increase the dosage only as needed. Finally, seek out accountability. Before leaving your doctor’s office or the pharmacy, tell at least one other trusted person both the instructions for taking your new drug and its potential risks for you.

Getting Help for Addiction

If you or someone you love suffers from addiction to alcohol or drugs, help is available. Admissions coordinators at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can guide you to a drug-free life. Don’t go it alone. Please call today.