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Pain Medication Addiction and Abuse in the Elderly

Chronic diseases and some of the age-related changes in the body can mean dealing with pain on a daily basis. Since these diseases are largely irreversible, the focus is on preventing pain and managing it appropriately. Various drugs can be used for the long term management of painful diseases, but at the end of the day pain medication may still be necessary, if not daily then at least occasionally. However, there is the chance of pain medication addiction and abuse when these drugs are used on a regular basis. The warning signs may not always be obvious but family and friends should always be on the lookout for potential addiction in a senior who is known to use pain medication frequently.

Types of Pain Medication

Pain medication is commonly referred to as painkillers, or the more appropriate pharmaceutical term is analgesics. There are broadly two types of pain medication :

  1. Opioid painkillers
  2. Non-opioid painkillers

Non-opioid painkillers are the most commonly used type of pain medication because it is more widely available and sometimes does not require a prescription. This type of pain medication involves non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. By reducing inflammation, pain subsides.

Opioid-painkillers are not as easily available as its use is carefully monitored. It requires a prescription by a doctor to be purchased and is usually prescribed only for short term use. It works by blocking the pain signals in the nerves or even the pain perception in the brain.

Pain Medication Abuse

Pain medication is the most widely abused prescription drug. This includes both opioid and non-opioid painkillers. However, it is the opioid painkillers that are by far more addictive. These drugs induce a sense of euphoria and have addictive properties. In fact, the chemical structure of some of these drugs and its effects are similar to some street drugs. Apart from the euphoria, opioid pain medication also contributes to dependence in a person in chronic pain since it is so effective as a painkiller.

Non-opioid painkillers are less likely to be addictive but just as open to abuse. Since it is so easily available, it may be more widely misused, although this is difficult to monitor. There are various other drugs that are more effective in reducing inflammation than NSAIDs. Therefore the addiction and abuse with non-opioid painkillers may have a significant psychological component, rather than physiological addiction as is the case with opioid painkillers.

Warning Signs of Pain Medication Addiction

Pain medication addiction is not significantly different from addiction to other substances. It has devastating effects on both the body and life of a person in the long run. Some of the warning signs of an addiction to pain medication includes :

  • Preoccupation with sourcing and using the drug. Addicts tend to become edgy when they do not have a sufficient supply of the pain medication in their own stock. They also focus a lot on when they will need to use the medication again.
  • Social withdrawal and disinterest in other activities. This is among the first warning signs as the addict focuses more on the drug than people and interpersonal relationships. Even previous past times are no longer of interest.
  • Denial about possibly addiction and misuse of the drug. Addicts tend to avoid situations where they be faced with questions about their drug usage. The tend to purchase from different pharmacies and visit different doctors for a prescription. They vehemently deny having a problem when questioned and may become upset about such discussions.
  • Withdrawal symptoms may be evident upon discontinuing use of the drug, even for a few hours. Symptoms may include tremors, nervousness and anxiety, irritability, restlessness and difficulty concentrating.

There are various other warning signs and it is important that family and friends raise concerns when suspecting addiction to prescription medication. Sometimes other problems like depression can appear like an addiction, and addiction is more likely to occur in the backdrop of depression. It is therefore important that family and friends inform a person’s doctor about the possibility of addiction to prescription medication so that it can be investigated.


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