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Pain Management Health Center

Prescription Painkiller Addiction: 7 Myths

Experts Debunk Myths About Prescription Pain Medication Addiction
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3. Myth: Because most people don't get addicted to painkillers, I can use them as I please.

Reality: You need to use prescription painkillers (and any other drug) properly. It's not something patients should tinker with themselves.

"They definitely have an addiction potential," says Gharibo. His advice: Use prescription pain medicines as prescribed by your doctor and report your responses -- positive and negative -- to your doctor.

Gharibo also says that he doesn't encourage using opioids alone, but as part of a plan that also includes other treatment -- including other types of drugs, as well as physical therapy and psychotherapy, when needed.

Gharibo says he tells patients about drugs' risks and benefits, and if he thinks an opioid is appropriate for the patient, he prescribes it on a trial basis to see how the patient responds.

And although you may find that you need a higher dose, you shouldn't take matters into your own hands. Overdosing is a risk, so setting your dose isn't a do-it-yourself task.

"I think the escalation of the dosage is key," says Seppala. "If people find that they just keep adding to the dose, whether it's legitimate for pain or not, it's worth taking a look at what's going on, especially if they're not talking with the caregiver as they do that."

4. Myth: It's better to bear the pain than to risk addiction.

Reality: Undertreating pain can cause needless suffering. If you have pain, talk to your doctor about it, and if you're afraid about addiction, talk with them about that, too.

"People have a right to have their pain addressed," says Fishman. "When someone's in pain, there's no risk-free option, including doing nothing."

Fishman remembers a man who came to his emergency room with pain from prostate cancer that had spread throughout his body. "He was on no pain medicine at all," Fishman recalls.

Fishman wrote the man a prescription for morphine, and the next day, the man was out golfing. "But a week later, he was back in the emergency room with pain out of control," says Fishman. "He stopped taking his morphine because he thought anyone who took morphine for more than a week was an addict. And he was afraid that he was going to start robbing liquor stores and stealing lottery tickets. So these are very pervasive beliefs."

Weiss, who has seen her mother-in-law resist taking opioids to treat chronic pain, notes that some people suffer pain because they fear addiction, while others are too casual about using painkillers.

"We don't want to make people afraid of taking a medication that they need," says Weiss. "At the same time, we want people to take these drugs seriously."

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