Painkiller Addiction: 6 Myths and the Real Facts

Many people living with chronic pain struggle with the pros and cons of taking opiate-based pain medication. The pros include better quality of life, greater ability to function in daily activities and, of course, less pain. The cons include potential for addiction and abuse. Many patients who need long-term pain medication avoid taking it because they're afraid of becoming an addict. That's why you need to understand six myths and facts about use and abuse.

1. Myth: Frequently taking pain medications leads to abuse.

Fact: When pain medications are taken as prescribed for legitimate pain relief, that's appropriate use, not abuse. It's even appropriate if they're needed daily or several times per day. As long as the patient uses her medications only for pain relief and consults her physician before making any changes in how she takes them, she's not abusing her drugs.

It may be signs of abuse when pain medications are taken at higher doses or more frequently than prescribed or dispensed by more than one physician and pharmacy or purchased or borrowed from friends or other sources.

2. Myth: Drug dependence and drug addiction is the same thing.

Fact: The National Institutes of Health says: Drug dependence means a person needs a drug to function normally. Drug addiction is the compulsive use of a substance, despite its negative or dangerous effects. A person may have a physical dependence on a substance without having an addiction.

A chronic pain patient might need pain medication in order to get through her day, but that doesn't mean she's an addict any more than a diabetic who needs daily insulin. A patient taking her pain medication to get high or who feels a strong compulsion to take it even when she's not in pain, however, might be addicted.

3. Myth: If a patient needs more pain medication during treatment, she's addicted.

Fact: A patient might build up a tolerance to a certain pain medication dose over time and eventually require a higher dose to relieve pain. She might also experience increased pain if his condition worsens and need more medication to relieve it. That doesn't mean he's addicted. Actually, she may built up a tolerance.

If a patient needs more pain medication because she's taking it inappropriately, for recreational or non-medicinal uses, or at higher doses without consulting her physician, that might indicate addiction.

4. Myth: If you experience withdrawal symptoms, that means you're addicted.

Fact: Addiction is a physical, psychological, and genetic disease. Withdrawal is a physical reaction based on drug dependence. When your body becomes accustomed to a regular dose of opiod pain medication, it might react with withdrawal symptoms when that dose is lowered or stopped altogether. The symptoms can be very unpleasant (though they're not usually dangerous), but don't indicate addiction. 

5. Myth: Pain medication is all you need to manage chronic pain.

Fact: Pain medication is only one part of a complete pain management program. Other factors like exercise, diet, sleep, and stress reduction, physical, occupational, and psychological therapy are just as important.

6. Myth: If you need pain medication for a legitimate condition, you don't have to worry about becoming addicted.

Fact: Anyone can become addicted. Addiction is a disease with a strong genetic predisposition. If you have a family or personal history of alcohol or drug abuse (or even if you don't), you could be at risk for addiction. Talk to your doctor about your history, drug use, and risks. Follow your prescription instructions exactly and stay in close contact with your physician about your condition and medication use.


Opiods 911 Safety

National Institutes of Health

Medline Plus - Drug Dependence