The number of prescription opioids sold to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and hospitals nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2010, and in 2010, 1 in 20 Americans ages 12 and older reported using prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons, according to the CDC.
The United States is grappling with an opioid crisis that was declared a national public health emergency, and many people are understandably worried about the risk of addiction these prescription painkillers pose.
Prescription opioids are effective in relieving pain, but they’re also highly addictive. However, there are a few steps you can take to avoid the risk of developing an opioid addiction.
1. Make a plan and have someone help.
Doctors usually ask patients about their pain and medical history before prescribing opioids. If a patient has had a substance use disorder in the past or if addiction runs in their family, they’re at a significantly higher risk of developing an addiction than the rest of the population.
If you are in a situation where you are being prescribed opioids, it’s crucial that you discuss your background openly and honestly with your doctor. That way, the doctor can develop a treatment plan with appropriate dosage instructions. It also helps to involve a trusted family member or friend who can help monitor your medication use.
2. Take medication as prescribed.
Patients who are prescribed opioids for long-term use often worry about developing an addiction and decide to reduce their dose on their own, which can be dangerous. Additionally, patients who feel like they aren’t getting enough relief may decide to exceed their dosage, which is also dangerous.
One of the easiest ways to avoid developing an opioid addiction is by listening to your doctor. Do not take a higher or lower dosage than what your doctor recommended.
3. Don’t use painkillers as a last resort.
Many people who are worried about developing an opioid addiction wait to take them until their pain becomes almost unbearable, which could cause someone to take more medication than they should. That’s why the safest thing to do is follow your doctor’s orders.
4. Seek out opioid alternatives.
People who have experienced a substance use disorder in the past or have a family history of addiction may want to avoid prescription opioids entirely. Talk to your doctor about opioid alternatives that can ease pain and discomfort. Medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen are effective in relieving pain, and they aren’t addictive. Depending on the type of pain you’re experiencing, holistic methods like acupuncture, yoga and massage may be useful.
5. Safely wean yourself off of opioids.
Opioids are highly effective in relieving pain, but after taking any substance for extended periods of time, the body builds a tolerance and needs more of a substance to feel its effects. When the substance is absent, the body responds with withdrawal symptoms.
Deciding to stop taking prescription opioids isn’t a matter of quitting cold turkey. Suddenly stopping prescription opioid use can lead to withdrawal symptoms that are so uncomfortable you keep taking the medication just to feel “normal.” Consult with your doctor if you want to stop taking opioids. They can help you safely taper off usage or gradually reduce your dosage without compromising your health.
6. Discard of opioids properly.
Dispose of prescription opioids and other medications promptly and properly when you no longer need them. This reduces the chance of other people accidentally or intentionally taking the medication and also prevents drugs from entering the environment. The DEA hosts an annual National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. You can also locate a DEA-registered collector in your area. Local law enforcement agencies often sponsor medicine take-back events.
Opioids are excellent pain relievers, but their addictive quality means they aren’t for everyone. If you or someone you love is dealing with an opioid addiction, you aren’t alone. BRC Recovery can help. Our recovery programs have helped thousands of people overcome addiction and go on to lead meaningful, productive lives in recovery. Contact a BRC Recovery Specialist at 1-866-905-4550.