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Opioids: Signs of Dependency

If you or a loved one suffers from acute or chronic pain, a doctor may have prescribed an opioid to provide some relief. Opioids can be natural, partially synthetic, or synthetic drugs derived from the poppy plant or chemically created. They work by connecting with natural opioid receptors in the brain, mimicking sensations of pain relief, pleasure, and reward. When used as prescribed, they can be extremely effective. Some of the most popular and widely prescribed are morphine, codeine, and oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet).

Other names of more well-known opioid drugs prescribed for pain include Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), Opium, Oxymorphone, Meperidine (Demerol), Methadone, Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Actiq) and Tramadol. Heroin is also an opioid.

Painkillers are meant to be a short-term relief. Over use and extended use can be physically, emotionally, and psychologically damaging to an individual. Even for someone who wants to stop dependency, genetic, environmental and psychological factors may put some opioid users to at a higher risk of dependency than others.

Bodily dependence on this form of pain relief can happen in as little as 4-6 weeks. Psychologically, patients can become addicted within two days. Not everyone who takes opioids becomes dependent, but if you are unsure, here are some signs to look for.

Numerous Prescription Requests

Doctors are becoming more aware of the risks of overprescribing, and many are refusing to prescribe opioids in the first place, opting for over-the-counter or prescription-strength medications to reduce inflammation, rather than pain which is most often caused by inflammation. Dentists and orthopedists must be particularly savvy, as it is hard to measure pain levels, which is different in every one, after a procedure or injury. While doctors don’t want to doubt their patients’ pain, conscientious doctors will prescribe very conservatively.

Seeking Back Doors

If you or your loved one keeps requesting refills for pain, there may be a dependency.  One woman describes how she would receive phone calls from her best friends asking if she had “any pain medication left around the house” or if the doctor she worked for had any prescription paper she could use. Visiting numerous clinics or doctors who aren’t your regular physicians should raise red flags and may trigger your insurance company or pharmacy to do an inquiry. This is not always the case, however, as many physicians who do prescribe do not take insurance and may not even be licensed.

Emotional and Social Changes

Consistent failure or disinterest in responsibilities or obligations can be a sign of abuse; this may have to do with disrupted sleep patterns or the sedation that opioids produce. Many people don’t realize or may deny they’re addicted, however, the people around them may notice personality and mood changes such as irritability. They may also withdraw from social, occupational or recreational activities. There may be a loss of libido, bad dreams or out-of-character outbursts of odd behaviors. Many times the patient has no recollection of dangerous behaviors or outbursts.

Psychological Changes

Opioids are only supposed to be used for the prescribed amount of time. Overuse can aggravate mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. Continued use in someone with persistent physical or psychological issues increases the risk of addiction. To avoid their physical and psychological pain, an addict may need to increase their quantity intake of a substance to achieve intoxication. Over time, opioid use reduces the body’s natural endorphin production, leading an individual to require higher or more frequent dosages to maintain their current state.  This may lead to someone seeking out more extreme highs that put their lives even greater risk. Remember, heroin also is an opioid and the rampant addiction levels across all strata of society are a huge and frightening contributor to the opioid crisis.

Physical Symptoms

Signs to look for include diarrhea and/or abdominal cramping, sweating, and dry mouth, rapid heartbeat, nausea, weight gain or loss, and menstrual problems in women. If you notice any signs of overdose, which include decreased vital signs, cold or clammy skin or bluish lips, call 911 immediately.

If you’re in pain, at risk for addiction or need medical attention, it’s imperative to have a reputable and experienced medical team by your side. If you are seeking treatment for a painful condition, speak to your doctor about alternative, not-prescriptive treatments to include regenerative medicine, chiropractic, and massage therapy.

Lynx Healthcare offers a variety of medical care services, including interventional pain medicine, regenerative medicine, chiropractic and massage therapy, and as well as opioid therapy management and addiction medicine. To make an appointment at one of the Lynx Healthcare clinics in Oregon, Yakima, Tri-Cities, or Goldendale, call us at (509) 591-0070, or contact our Spokane clinic at (509) 321-4575. We look forward to helping you enjoy an active, pain-free lifestyle!

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