What Does Painkiller Addiction Look Like?
There is no clear image or description of what addiction is like. Still, for many people they at least had an idea that it was “hard” and illegal drugs like heroin or meth. It wasn’t something that would be a part of the lives of people with jobs, social circles, or supportive families. It’s also difficult to ever admit that you might be the one with a problem. Prescription drugs, which are widely and successfully marketed in the U.S., are meant to help. Under medical supervision, that should be the case. Because of the above reasons, and more, it is difficult for people to recognize they could have a problem. By the time people, or those around them, realize there is a problem they could be dealing with full-blown addiction.
All prescription drugs have the potential to be abused. Prescription painkillers carry a significant risk, even when taken under supervision. The most common type of prescription painkiller that people are familiar with is opioids. Some common opioids are Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Morphine and Methadone. In part due to the reasons listed above, the opioid crisis seemingly took over the United States overnight. It happened over time, but unfortunately public awareness has been slow to catch up. Many people still lack understanding of just how dangerous prescription painkillers can be. Often people also think they are not susceptible and can control their use. For many, addiction is not obvious until access to the drugs is cut off or restricted.
Painkiller Addiction in the Male Population
Painkiller addiction is a very real problem for both men and women. A study conducted in 2018 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that men’s deaths caused by painkillers has gone up by 265% since 1998.* The gap between men and women is closing, but it is still very much a problem for men. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, cites a study revealing, “Men are more likely than women to use almost all types of illicit drugs, and illicit drug use is more likely to result in emergency department visits or overdose deaths for men…”*
Exactly why men have higher rates is not entirely clear. However, in a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the authors believe it is possible men have more exposure and opportunity.* In our culture, and many others, men are supposed to be strong and able to take care of themselves. It’s possible that this leads to men hiding addiction, refusing to acknowledge problems, and subsequently failing to receive treatment.
Clearly, with painkillers it is common for someone to begin using them following a serious injury or surgery. In a controlled study, where patients had no pre-existing pain, scientists found that male patients needed higher doses of morphine after medical procedures. While these patients were not addicted, it’s an interesting study regarding different aspects that are important to consider with gender. Morphine overdoses, just like any opioid overdoses, are still a constant reality at a time when public awareness has been slow and ill-equipped to deal with them.
The Risks of Using Painkillers
Men are more likely to use various substances, also known as polysubstance abuse, which is particularly dangerous. This can strengthen the side effects of each substance and significantly increase risk of permanent damage or overdose.
As with addiction to other substances, painkiller addiction can cause a lot of chaos in the life of the person using the substances as well as the lives of those around them. Someone suffering from addiction will put their relationships, familial and otherwise, at risk. Maintaining employment is difficult the more severe addiction becomes. When a person is addicted to painkillers and is unable to maintain access, they turn to what’s more easily available. Counterfeit pills are available on the street but, as we have seen, they are laced with other substances. They frequently contain fentanyl, which is 80-100x stronger than morphine and even incredibly small amounts result in overdose. Oftentimes people will turn to heroin, which is easier to get, and dangerous on its own. Heroin now frequently contains some amount of fentanyl.
Someone struggling with addiction is unfortunately likely to turn to substances that are cheaper and easier to get, without regard to what they might be laced with. Prescribed, legal opioids can cause health issues even when used under medical supervision. They can cause drowsiness and respiratory depression, which is slow and ineffective breathing. This plays a major part of overdosing on painkillers. As men often combines substances, this can be enhanced and is particularly dangerous with alcohol. Proper education on the the topic is lacking; people don’t realize just how dangerous alcohol and painkillers are when mixed. Alcohol depresses the Central Nervous System. Combined with opioids it can appear that someone is sleeping, without realizing they are not breathing, and it may be too late before anyone realizes.
Overcoming Painkiller Addiction
The good news is that awareness about painkiller addiction is increasing, with more information widely available. The unfortunate reality though, is that many people do not think they will face abuse or addiction with painkillers. It is also difficult for people to acknowledge addiction, because of the shame and stigma surrounding it. This can leave those suffering from painkiller addictions, and even their loved ones, with a sense of hopelessness. Men, in particular, are loathe to admit they have a problem and to admit to something perceived as a weakness.
As a men’s only rehab, we are able to focus on the unique challenges and needs that men have. Recognizing that there is a problem is an important first step. Admitting to addiction is not easy, but the risks to one’s well-being and the lives of those around them are significant. At Reflections Recovery Center, we work to remove the shame and stigma. Initially, we evaluate clients and their need for detox. Throughout treatment, we will work with clients to understand their life and the different factors that contributed to addiction.
Our goal is to help clients overcome their addiction through initial sobriety, as well as helping them learn behaviors and skills to maintain sobriety. Recovery is not linear and it is life-long. Relapse is, of course, a part of many people’s recovery. With that in mind, we will work with clients to create a relapse prevention plan to ensure they have the best possible chance at recovery. If you or a loved one needs help with painkillers, please contact us today.
Prescription Painkiller Overdoses – CDC
Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use – NIH
Sex Differences in Drug Abuse – U.S. National Library of Medicine
Influences on Gender Postoperative Morphine Consumption – NIH