The opioid epidemic has reached crisis proportions within our nation. The misuse of prescription opioid painkillers is in large part responsible for this devastation. In 2015, ScienceDaily reported that 100 million Americans live with chronic pain.
At the heart of these two trends lies an unfortunate truth—while necessary and effective, these drugs hold massive potential for abuse and addiction. Commonly prescribed (and abused) prescription opioid drugs include fentanyl (Duragesic), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet). Because of this dual dynamic, many medical practitioners are hesitant to prescribe these drugs.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Pseudoaddiction?
If you’ve lived with chronic pain or love someone who has, then you likely understand how it can change almost every aspect of your life. Inadequately treated chronic pain may cause certain emotions or behaviors to surface. Many of these closely resemble the characteristics of addiction. These include:
- Mood instability
- Fear or panic
- Anger or frustration
- Nervousness or irritability
- Low energy or fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
In addition, a person may also:
- Experience relationship troubles
- Withdraw from social activities
- Lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Have thoughts of suicide
As the physical, mental, and emotional side effects of this mismanaged pain increase, a person’s behaviors begin to shift.
A person with pseudoaddiction may:
- Ask for increased dosages of pain medication.
- Request a different or stronger pain medication.
- Worry about when they’re able to refill their prescription.
- Be preoccupied with thoughts of the next dose.
- Become anxious if there’s any uncertainty regarding their medication supply or dosage.
- Expend great time and energy towards finding and/or maintaining access to pain medication.
- Excessively think or talk about the medication or its effects.
- Make sure they always have their medication on hand even if they don’t expect to need it.
To the outside observer, an individual with signs of pseudoaddiction could appear to be addicted. This incorrect diagnosis can make this already unbearable situation even more stressful and painful.
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What Is The Difference Between Pseudoaddiction And Addiction?
It can be very confusing to separate the characteristics of these two concerns. Both medically prescribed use and addiction can create opioid dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal. So what makes these things different?
The main thing that separates pseudoaddiction from addiction is the motive behind the drug-seeking. In the former, an individual seeks out more pain medication for self-care. Contrasting this, an addicted individual is consumed by a harmful and compulsive desire to obtain these drugs to create a feel-good effect.
In theory, you can also tell pseudoaddiction apart from addiction by observing if the drug-seeking behaviors change over time. When someone suffering from pseudoaddiction finally gets adequate pain management, drug-seeking subsides.
Why Is It Important To Recognize Pseudoaddiction?
As the opioid epidemic rises, it is important to identify these differences. Critics of the pseudoaddiction theory caution that a patient’s own feedback may not be the most accurate indication of pain. Additionally, some individuals may pretend to be in pain so that they can obtain more painkillers for illicit purposes.
Recognizing the difference between these two scenarios is key to protecting either type of patient. Understanding these distinctions can help you to advocate for a higher quality of care. Recent reports suggest that effective pain management could even save your life. Lack of access to proper pain medications has been anecdotally linked to suicide.
For those with untreated concerns of pain, treatment should be adjusted so that they can have a better quality of life. If pseudoaddiction is properly treated a person should be less inclined to misuse these drugs. By stopping this illicit use, the risk of painkiller abuse and addiction significantly declines.
On the other hand, it is important to stay alert and recognize recreational drug-seeking behaviors. This provides an opportunity to get these individuals to help. If a person is feigning pseudoaddiction to get more drugs, funneling more painkillers into them will only serve to drive them deeper into addiction.
How Is Pseudoaddiction Treated?
As pseudoaddiction is not addiction, it alone does not require drug addiction treatment. Doctor-supervised treatment can help you to regain functionality within your life through better pain management. However, in certain cases, pseudoaddiction could develop into patterns of drug abuse or addiction.
Are you worried that your drug-seeking and use are becoming compulsive? Are the reasons you want pain medication less about pain management and more about creating a sense of pleasure? If any of this sounds familiar, it’s a good idea to get help right away before your drug use spirals further out of control.
Can Pseudoaddiction Turn Into Addiction?
Yes. Even prescribed medical use of opioid medications can lead to addiction. Addiction may develop because of a person:
- Misuses their own prescription: Pseudoaddiction can be a long and overwhelming road. This can exhaust a person. Some people who no longer need pain management may use their leftover medication to feel good and escape. Just because the drugs were prescribed to you doesn’t mean it is safe to use them in this way.
- Turns to illicit painkillers: If pseudoaddiction is not properly recognized or treated, a person may try to obtain painkillers illicitly. Without professional medical guidance, a person may begin to use too many pills too often. Painkillers purchased off the street have no regulation. These pills may not even be the drug you think they are. They could even contain other dangerous and more addictive drugs such as fentanyl. These fake prescription drugs could even cause overdose and death.
- Self-medicates with other drugs: The risk of addiction isn’t only to opioids. If a person with pseudoaddiction fails to receive proper and compassionate treatment, they may turn to other types of drugs or alcohol to cope or dull the pain. They may also use these substances to mask any emotional or mental struggles.
- Struggles with mental illness: Current Addiction Reports warns of this connection, writing that:
“Mental illness comorbidity is high among chronic pain patients, where psychiatric illness is a risk factor for chronic pain, analgesic abuse, and drug addiction in general…putting those who are depressed, and more likely to seek chronic pain treatment, at especially high risk for analgesic abuse.”
Regardless of how addiction develops, you or your loved one will be exposed to countless risks. Opioid painkillers can be intensely addictive. Because of this, painkiller addictions may be best treated by both a medically supervised detox and an inpatient drug rehab program. If you’re addicted and still facing concerns of pain, certain programs can help you to manage both concerns.
We Can Help You Heal From Addiction
Have prescription painkillers taken over your life? Or are you worried that they might be? Whether you’re suffering from opioid abuse or addiction, the opportunity for a better life exists. We can help you to create sobriety goals, treatment plans, and the desire for a better life. Contact us now.