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Pain Management Health Center

Pain Medication: Are You Addicted?

What to know about becoming addicted to pain medications.
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Potential for Addiction

Opioid pain medications are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. However, the risk that well-screened people will become addicted to opioid drugs when they're taking them for chronic pain is actually low, Reisfield says.

A 2008 study that compiled previous research found that about 3% of people with chronic non-cancer pain using opioid drugs abused them or became addicted. The risk was less than 1% in people who had never abused drugs or been addicted.

Other common drugs with the potential for addiction are benzodiazepines, especially when they're prescribed along with opioids, Reisfield tells WebMD. Some benzodiazepines include Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and Xanax. 

Risk of Uncontrolled Pain

Some people don't want to use pain medicines because they fear becoming addicted. That can lead to a different set of problems that stem from poorly controlled pain.

"If pain is inadequately treated, we see poor functional level, a diminished quality of life, we often see mood disorders such as depression, and we see an increased risk of suicide," Reisfield says.

These six steps can help ensure that you use pain-relieving drugs properly:

1. Weigh Your Risk Factors

Before he prescribes opioid drugs for chronic pain, Reisfield talks to patients about issues that could make them more likely to become addicted. These include:

  • A history of addiction to prescription medicine or illicit drugs.
  • Addiction to alcohol or tobacco.
  • Family history of addiction.
  • A history of mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder), anxiety disorders (including PTSD), thought disorders (such as schizophrenia), and personality disorders (such as borderline personality disorder).

2. Look at Other Options

People with a higher risk of addiction may want to try other pain control strategies first, Reisfield says. These can include:

  • Physical therapy.
  • Working with a psychologist to learn how to change your pain-related thoughts and behaviors.
  • Alternative approaches such as acupuncture and tai chi.

Those methods aren't just for people who are at high risk for addiction. They're part of an overall pain management strategy that may include, but is not limited to, medications.

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