Painkiller Addiction Treatment
Addiction to prescription painkillers is a disease that has become increasingly prevalent in the United States and elsewhere. Opiate, or narcotic pain medications such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Norco, and Hydrocodone are commonly prescribed by physicians to treat pain. Often, patients continue taking their medication as prescribed and become physically dependent upon the drug.
Physical dependency means that even if they want to stop taking the medication, it becomes extremely uncomfortable due to symptoms of withdrawal. This happens because of the following physical process:
The brain has responded to the presence of the pain medicine by increasing the number of receptors for the drug, and the nerve cells in the brain cease to function normally.
The body stops producing endorphins (the body's natural painkillers) because it is receiving opiates instead.
The degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain causes a physical dependency on an external supply of opiates, and reducing or stopping intake of the drug causes a painful series of physical changes called the withdrawal syndrome.
At this point the patient may continue taking the pain medication to avoid the withdrawal symptoms, rather than taking it to treat the pain that caused them to take the medicine initially. When this occurs the patient is considered to be dependent on or addicted to the prescription pain medicine.
Becoming addicted to pain medication is a disease. Taking the painkillers causes a change in one's brain chemistry that is not under the individual's control. It is absolutely not anyone's fault. Addiction is a chemical, physical disease, one that requires expert medical treatment in a safe, humane environment.
Prescription Pain Medicine Addiction is Common
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow has stated that up to 7% of patients who are prescribed narcotic or opioid analgesics to treat chronic pain will become addicted. It is estimated today that there are more than 4.7 million Americans dependent on prescription painkillers, which represents up to 2% of the US adult population overall, and this number continues to grow every year.