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Pain Management Health Center

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Prescription Painkiller Addiction: 7 Myths

Experts Debunk Myths About Prescription Pain Medication Addiction

2. Myth: Everyone gets addicted to pain drugs if they take them long enough.

Reality: "The vast majority of people, when prescribed these medications, use them correctly without developing addiction," says Marvin Seppala, MD, chief medical officer at the Hazelden Foundation, an addiction treatment center in Center City, Minn.

Fishman agrees. "In a program where these prescription drugs are used with responsible management, the signs of addiction or abuse would become evident over time and therefore would be acted on," says Fishman.

Some warning signs, according to Seppala, could include raising your dose without consulting your doctor, or going to several doctors to get prescriptions without telling them about the prescriptions you already have. And as Weiss points out, being addicted means that your drug use is causing problems in your life but you keep doing it anyway.

But trying to diagnose early signs of addiction in yourself or a loved one can be tricky.

"Unless you really find out what's going on, you'd be surprised by the individual facts behind any patient's behavior. And again, at the end of the day, we're here to treat suffering," says Fishman.

Likewise, Weiss says it can be "very, very hard" to identify patients who are becoming addicted.

"When it comes to people who don't have chronic pain and they're addicted, it's more straightforward because they're using some of these drugs as party drugs, things like that and the criteria for addiction are pretty clear," says Weiss.

"I think where it gets really complicated is when you've got somebody that's in chronic pain and they wind up needing higher and higher doses, and you don't know if this is a sign that they're developing problems of addiction because something is really happening in their brain that's ... getting them more compulsively involved in taking the drug, or if their pain is getting worse because their disease is getting worse, or because they're developing tolerance to the painkiller," Weiss says.

"We know that drugs have risk, and what we're good at in medicine is recognizing risk and managing it, as long as we're willing to rise to that occasion," says Fishman. "The key is that one has to manage the risks."

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