One of the most common ways people are first exposed to opioids is following surgery or other medical procedures. During the 1990s and 2000s, many doctors were far too liberal with prescribing opioid painkillers. About a third of men who are addicted to opioids got their first exposure with a doctor’s prescription. This is especially problematic for teens, who routinely have their wisdom teeth out and are given opioids for the pain following surgery. Early exposure to drugs significantly increases the risk of developing a substance use disorder later on. Anyone with a family history of addiction, especially a parent or sibling, should be especially concerned about taking opioid painkillers, as should anyone with an addiction history, even if they were addicted to another substance. However, no one decides to have surgery or a painful medical procedure just for fun. The following are some tips for minimizing your risk of addiction when prescribed opioids.
Ask for alternative pain medications.
Opioids are common for short-term pain and they’ve been in use forever. However, they aren’t the only way to treat pain. For example, the combination of the non-addictive over-the-counter medicines ibuprofen and acetaminophen has been shown to offer significant pain relief, more than either medication alone and comparable to opioids but without the risk of addiction. Make sure your doctor knows about your addiction concerns. You may find you have to advocate for yourself and possibly even do some research ahead of time if you want your doctor to take your concerns seriously.
Have someone else control the painkillers.
If you do end up taking an opioid or other addictive medication, such as a benzodiazepine, consider asking someone you trust to keep the medication for you and only give it to you as you need it. This prevents you from accelerating your use and possibly getting addicted. If you’re taking a painkiller two or three times a day, it doesn’t take long to develop a dependence and you certainly don’t want to accelerate that process.
Learn to distinguish between pain and discomfort.
Finally, it’s important to distinguish between pain and discomfort. Some discomfort is inevitable following surgery and some medical procedures. Painkillers are really only meant to help you manage intense pain that would otherwise be intolerable. It’s not uncommon for people to start taking painkillers in anticipation of pain. This often makes sense in the first couple of days following surgery but after that, it’s better to ask yourself, “Do I really need a painkiller right now or can I wait a little bit?” This helps reduce your exposure to opioids and also helps prevent increasing your sensitivity to pain.
In a perfect world, anyone with an addiction risk could just avoid opioids and other potentially addictive substances. However, people get sick, injured, and need medical attention. With some sensible precautions, you can keep an opioid prescription from becoming a problem. At Tree House Recovery of Portland, Oregon, we know that everyone is different and faces different challenges in recovery. We help men find a recovery plan that works for them. Call us today at (503) 850-2474 to learn more.