In the case of pain pills, addiction often begins with dependence. Doctors prescribe prescription pain medication for extreme pain such as after a surgery or serious injury. Most prescription pain medication, with the exception of those meant for people with long-term pain disorders, are not intended for long-term use. Instead, the individual is meant to stop taking the medication after a certain period of time. The goal is to eventually become comfortable without the pain pills. Instead, what often happens is that the individual starts to rely on the medication for the relief that it brings. People can develop a tolerance for pain pills, meaning that they require larger doses or more doses to achieve the same impact that the pills produced in the beginning.
This dependence became an especially large problem for millions of Americans during the opioid crisis that began in the late 1990s. Unaware of the addictive potential of opioid pain medication, doctors across the United States prescribed strong painkillers to their patients. Unfortunately, most of America didn’t realize until many years later that pain pills are, in fact, very addictive. But by that point, many Americans had already unwittingly developed an addiction.
Over 2 million people became addicted to pain pills as a result of the opioid crisis.
Pain pills release a chemical in the brain called “dopamine.” Dopamine is the chemical responsible for the euphoric “high” that pain medication can produce. The brain responds to the rush of dopamine provided by opioids by dulling its dopamine receptors. This is why people continually return to pain pills and other drugs. They feel compelled by the brain’s cravings for more dopamine.
When a person decides to seek help for a pain pill addiction, whether because of self-motivation or family intervention, he or she has multiple options that include:
- Staying in a residential facility
- Getting help through an outpatient program
- Seeking a holistic treatment approach
- Undergoing medical detox
Often, people undergo a mixture of the above treatments. If you need help finding the right treatment program for yourself or for a loved one, contact a counselor at Rehabinfo.com today at
Withdrawal and Detox
Though individuals who are addicted to pain pills have multiple options for treatment, detox is absolutely crucial. One should note that when giving up pain pills, detox will occur whether or not one seeks medical attention. However, when the individual undergoes medical detox, he or she will have more safety, more comfort, and a better chance of avoiding relapse. During detox, a person with a substance use disorder will stop taking the pain pills. The substances will then start to leave this person’s system. The amount of time that detox takes will depend on the amount of the substance left inside his or her body, the type of substance consumed, and the individual’s genetic makeup. As the substances leave the person’s body, the individual’s dopamine-dependent brain will start to notice that he or she is not replacing the substance that is leaving. The brain will start to seek its usual dopamine fix, and that is when the individual will experience withdrawal symptoms.
Some withdrawal symptoms will make the individual feel physically ill, almost as if he or she has a case of the stomach flu. This person might experience:
- Stomach Problems such as pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Eye-Related Problems like teary eyes and dilated or constricted pupils
- Appetite Loss
- Chills or Sweating
- Runny or Stuffy Nose
Other withdrawal symptoms can impact one’s mental health. The sudden lack of dopamine can cause depression, anxiety, or anger.
Why is Detox So Important?
Recovering from a substance use disorder requires physical and emotional healing. The detox phase is crucial to the physical part of healing. The brain and body react so strongly because they’re undergoing a recalibration of sorts. The patient’s opioid and dopamine receptors are healing during this phase as his or her brain gets used to functioning under a normal amount of dopamine again.
The Medication Option and ‘Tapering Off’
In some treatment programs, a doctor will either prescribe a replacement medication or gradually wean the patient off his or her current medication. In either case, this process of “tapering off” assists with physical healing. On the one hand, this method does prolong the detox process. On the other hand, it lessens the impact of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms because it allows the patient to gradually decrease his or her dependence on the medication until the pills are no longer needed. This method also reduces the risk of relapse. Note that in order to take medication for tapering, the patient must be enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program.