Anyone can become an addict, even if the substance was a once-prescribed painkiller. Let’s take a closer look at over-the-counter drug addiction…

When you imagine a drug addict, the image of a suburban stay-at-home mom or a businesswoman probably doesn’t come to mind. However, anyone who has had to use pain medication could become addicted to it.

This is according to Dr Shaquir Salduker, board member of the Psychiatry Management Group.

He says that opioid addiction is a very common problem among South Africans. “We have had to help individuals from all walks of life, from executives to housewives, through very difficult rehabilitation.”

When can pain medication become addictive?

Dr Salduker explains that the human brain has opiate receptors, which are usually reserved for the body’s natural pain relief hormones.

WIN a R 2,000 Woolworths Voucher

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

“All pain is located in the brain and the body produces hormones called endorphins to help the brain block out certain kinds of pain. Without endorphins, a person would not be able to exercise, perform physical labour, or even be able to sit down for long periods without experiencing severe pain. When the body releases endorphins into the brain, an individual not only experiences pain relief but also a sense of well-being.”

He says that opioids like codeine are extremely effective because they also attach directly to the opiate receptors.

“The result of opioids entering the brain is immediate pain relief as well as a sense of euphoria in the patient. Unfortunately, prolonged use of opioids creates a dependency in the patient. In addition to the body’s craving for the euphoric feeling, it reduces the amount of endorphins that the body produces, making the patient even more sensitive to pain. In response to this, the individual starts using more and more medication, leading to side-effects such as nightmares, insomnia, liver damage, seizures and other potentially life-threatening symptoms.”

“Individuals recovering from injuries or surgery are usually prescribed these types of pain medication. While these types of drug are very effective for treating severe pain in the short term, using them for extended periods can have a number of negative health implications.”

How to avoid painkiller addiction

Dr Salduker says you should follow the advice of your doctor or pharmacist.

“Opioids are extremely important for helping people recover from severe pain, and this drug category has an important role to play in medical treatment. However, consumers should never use any medication for longer, or in higher doses, than recommended, and always remember to ask your doctor how long you can take these drugs.”

Wouter Lombard, Brand Manager of Neuropsychiatry at Cipla, says that it is vital for consumers to have as much information as possible when using pain medication.

“Reading the information included with the medication or following the directions of a pharmacist or doctor on the correct use of any medication is extremely important to help avoid any potentially negative side-effects.”

How to get help

Recovery is a difficult process, but it is not impossible.

“Recovering from overuse of opioids can be likened to recovering from a heroin addiction. It is painful, it takes time and a multi-disciplinary team of professionals,” says Dr Salduker.

The first step is admitting that you have a problem and then seeking help.

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) runs a free 24-hour Substance Abuse Helpline (0800 12 13 14) which you can call for advice. If you are unable to call, SMS 32312 and a counsellor will call you back.

 

Sources:

  • John Bedsona, Ying Chena, Richard A. Hayward, et al. ‘Trends in long-term opioid prescribing in primary care patients with musculoskeletal conditions: an observational database study’. Pain, Volume 157, Number 7, page 1525, 2016.
  • Anna M.W. Taylor, Susanne Becker, Petra Schweinhardt, Catherine Cahill. ‘Mesolimbic dopamine signaling in acute and chronic pain: implications for motivation, analgesia, and addiction’. Pain, Volume 157, Number 6, page 1195, 2016.
  • John Bedsona, Ying Chena, Richard A. Hayward, et al. ‘Trends in long-term opioid prescribing in primary care patients with musculoskeletal conditions: an observational database study’. Pain, Volume 157, Number 7, page 1526, 2016.
  • Anna M.W. Taylor, Susanne Becker, Petra Schweinhardt, Catherine Cahill. ‘Mesolimbic dopamine signaling in acute and chronic pain: implications for motivation, analgesia, and addiction’. Pain, Volume 157, Number 6, page 1195, 2016.
  • TuanTrang, Ream Al-Hasani, Daniela Salvemini, et al. ‘Pain and Poppies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Opioid Analgesics’. The Journal of Neuroscience, Volume 35, Number 41, page 13880, 2015.
  • South African Depression and Anxiety Group

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.