One of the more common treatments for chronic pain is opioids. However, there are fears associated with addiction when one is prescribed opioids. If opioids are taken in the manner they are prescribed, chances of addiction are very low. Addiction only occurs when there are some predisposing factors involved. One of these predisposing factors is a family history or history of addiction. Not only substance abuse, but a history or family history of psychiatric illnesses also influence addiction. The American Pain Society defines addiction, tolerance and physical dependence as follows:
- Addiction: Addiction is not just psychological. It is also genetic. Addiction is an unexplainable craving for something, which is called the abused substance, and a nonstop, compulsive use of it even when the person using it is harmed because of it. Along with genetic influence, the development and manifestation of any addictive behaviour are also caused by environmental influences. It’s a classic case of both nature and nurture playing a role in behaviour
- Tolerance: Tolerance is what happens when one has had prolonged exposure to a drug. Because of prolonged exposure, the effect of the drug becomes less and less potent in the person taking it, until it ceases to have any effect at all.
- Physical Dependence: This is manifested in the form of withdrawal symptoms when one stops using a drug abruptly, or when the dosage of the drug is rapidly reduced. An opioid antagonist when given to someone who is taking opioid manifests withdrawal symptoms which are a process of adaptation. It takes about a minimum of 6 hours to a maximum of 72 hours for withdrawal symptoms to go away. These symptoms include pain in the abdomen, nausea, throwing up or diarrhoea. These also occur if one stops taking opioid after a two-week usage. However, this is not a sign of addiction. It is the body adapting to the change.
If prescribed opioids, ensure they are taken in an exact manner predicted. Should the pain continue even after taking opioids, do not increases the dosage without consulting your doctor first. If necessary, take long acting opioids as opposed to the short acting ones because these don’t give a euphoric sensation.