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Pain Medication: Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

tolerance, dependence, and addiction

Overuse and abuse of pain medications continue to be major issues in the US. People who are prescribed pain medication for injuries or illnesses can develop a tolerance, dependence, and addiction to those drugs. While medications can help you deal with pain, they are not a cure and are designed only to guide you through a specific recovery period. Tolerance, dependence, and addiction happen when the pain medication is misused or overused.

Overdoses

Taking too much of a prescription medication or an illegally obtained pain medication can lead to an overdose. In 2018, more than 67,300 people in the US died from drug-involved overdoses. Death rates from opioid-involved overdoses rose from 21,088 in 2010 to 46,802 in 2018. Death rates from prescription opioid overdoses rose from 3,442 in 1999 to 14,975 in 2018.

Understanding Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

There is a difference between tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tolerance means that you continuously need higher doses of the pain medication to achieve the same effect as when you first began taking it. Your body develops a tolerance to the effects of the pain medication and doesn’t respond as well unless you continue to take more. This can also lead to an overdose.

When you are dependent on a drug, it means that if you don’t have it your body will go through withdrawal. You can experience physical and mental symptoms in withdrawal. Some of these symptoms may be mild – for example, if you decide to give up caffeine, you may experience some level of discomfort. However, others can have life threatening consequences, such as would be the case if you stop using a prescription pain reliever without professional supervision.

Many people who take a prescription medicine every day over a long period of time can become dependent; when they go off the drug, they need to do it gradually, to avoid withdrawal discomfort. Dependence typically happens when you use a drug long-term (six months or longer) to manage pain associated with a medical condition. Your body builds up a tolerance to the pain medication and then you become dependent on it to maintain the same level of effectiveness.

Addiction is a chronic, treatable disease. When you continue to use a pain medication and do not feel as though you can stop despite any negative consequences you may be facing, you have an addiction. You can be dependent or have a tolerance for a drug and not necessarily be addicted.

Addiction can have devastating, life-long consequences if not properly treated. Also known as a substance use disorder, addiction results in compulsive behaviors as well as an inability to control the use of the pain medication. Although addiction and dependence are different, when you are addicted to opioids, you are also typically dependent on them.

Addictive Pain Medications

According to Dr. Karsten Kueppenbender, an addiction psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, “ninety-seven percent of patients don’t have a problem with opioids.” However, there are pain medications that can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Opioids decrease the perception of pain and create a feeling of euphoria for some people, especially those who take the pain medication even though they are not actually in pain. Opioids are typically used for the short term, to treat severe pain following surgery. They may also be used for some long-term pain, such as pain related to cancer and terminal illness.

Opioids are a family of drugs that include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (including brand name Duragesic)
  • Oxycodone (including brand name OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Tylox, and Roxicet)
  • Morphine (including brand name MS Contin)
  • Meperidine (including brand name Demerol)
  • Hydrocodone (including brand name Vicodin and Lortab)
  • Hydromorphone (including brand name Dilaudid)

At Risk for Addiction

Even though some people can safely take pain medications that are properly prescribed by their physician without developing a tolerance, dependence, or addiction, there are factors that can predict your vulnerability to becoming addicted to pain medication, including:

  • Family history of problem substance use
  • Misuse of other substances
  • Other risky behaviors (such as problem gambling)
  • Past history of problem substance use

Additionally, undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues, such as depression, can predict an eventual reliance on substances for self-medicating tendencies that, in turn, only make the issue worse.

Contact PACE for Comprehensive Addiction Treatment

At PACE Recovery, we’ve helped hundreds of men enter into a life of recovery from opiate addiction through a combination of traditional and alternative therapeutic methods. If you are in the downward spiral of a pain medication addiction, contact PACE today to begin your life-changing journey. You can reach our highly trained staff at any time by calling 800-526-1851 to learn more about our programs, admission, insurances accepted, and availability.

Recovery Requires Compassion, Tolerance, and Giving Back

recovery

Tolerance, compassion, and giving back to the recovery community will help you on your path toward progress. At this point in your addiction recovery, you probably know that you cannot make the journey alone; this is especially true if you have completed an addiction treatment program.

If you are attending meetings, then you have seen men and women working together to keep their diseases at bay. You have probably also seen countless acts of compassion like people with more time extending their hand to the newcomer. Making those with short lengths of sobriety feel welcome and safe increases the likelihood that they will stick around.

When you first got to the rooms, you were welcomed with open arms. You saw there was a seat with your name on it and a fellowship that was happy to see you, even though you were a stranger. If you stuck around, got a sponsor, and worked the steps, then you had ample opportunity to develop relationships with your peers. The members of your homegroup are hopefully good friends and acquaintances by now.

Men and women working a program learn the value of compassion and tolerance towards others. They also understand that they must show the same to themselves; people who beat up on themselves for making mistakes or the wreckage of their past have trouble staying the course.

There is a saying in the rooms, look for similarities, not differences between you and your peers. It is exponentially more comfortable to be compassionate and tolerant of others if you adhere to the above principle.

Compassion and Tolerance Allows You to Give Back

Judgment has no place in the rooms of recovery. Each person has their own story, but everyone shares the common goal of lasting progress. When you avoid being judgmental of yourself and others, it is much simpler to maintain a positive attitude. As we say at PACE Recovery Center, a positive attitude changes everything.

If you attend a lot of meetings, then you will come across individuals who are not your cup of tea, and that is alright. You do not have to foster relationships with everyone in the rooms, but you must afford each person compassion and tolerance if you hope to get the same. 12 Steps programs are not religious, but remembering the “Golden Rule” is beneficial. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Remembering the Golden Rule will help you approach each person from a place of kindness and acceptance. It will allow being a pillar of strength with those who have less time than you. Giving back to the community and helping newcomers is why 12 Step recovery has help people stay clean and sober for nearly a century.

Having worked all the Steps and with an established footing in recovery, it’s time to start giving back. You cannot keep what you have if you do not give it away. What does giving back look like? Giving back means sponsoring others, volunteering your time at meetings (i.e., service commitments), and always being there for a fellow member of the community.

Everyone is equal in the rooms of recovery, but the newcomer is of particular importance. Helping them achieve milestones will strengthen your recovery. The 12th Step is not a finish line; it’s the beginning of a new chapter, one that involves paying it forward and carrying the message.

Helping Others in Recovery

Long-term recovery is possible because men and women work together to make personal progress. Protecting your progress will hinge on your willingness to give back and walk others through the steps. Your continued success in the program depends on being a model for all who enter the rooms in the grips of despair.

Walking up to a newcomer and saying hello lets them know that they are not alone, that they’ve come to the right place. Inviting a newcomer to grab a coffee so that you can learn more about them, lets a newcomer know that someone cares. Your compassion could be a catalyst for a newcomer to keep coming back.

Sitting down with someone who has less time than you could lead to sponsorship. If you have worked all the Steps, then you know what to do; you can turn to your sponsor if ever you are unsure about something. So goes the process of recovery; it’s a chain reaction that enables millions of people to achieve long-term recovery.

Southern California Addiction Treatment for Men

At PACE Recovery Center, we specialize in the treatment of men who are struggling with addiction and mental health disorders. Please contact us today to learn more about our evidence-based programs and begin a life-changing journey of recovery. 800-526-1851

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