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Preventing Opioid Addiction: 5 Tips From Experts

By WebMD Connect to Care Staff
Pain management can quickly turn into opioid dependency if you're not careful.

If you or your loved one are concerned about opioid addiction after using opioid medications for pain management, there are definitely steps you can take to prevent developing dependency. Knowing your options before taking pain medication is a great first step.

“Opioids aren’t the answer to all pain issues. But we are getting to the point where people who would most benefit from opioids for pain management are most hesitant to use them,” says Halena Gazelka, MD, an anesthesiologist and chair of the Mayo Clinic Opioid Stewardship Program in Rochester, MN. 

If you have decided opioids are needed to treat your pain from injury, surgery, or illness — but you fear developing a dependency — then following these approaches will help keep you on a safe and effective path.

1. Start by working openly with your doctor. You want to create a pain-management plan that considers all options (including treatment with opioid alternatives) and a review of their side effects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That plan should also include an honest discussion with your doctor about all of your concerns.

“An open dialog with the physician is very important. You want to ask questions, importantly including ‘Why do you want me to take opioids?,’” Gazelka says. It’s also important that you make sure your doctor is aware of applicable professional guidelines for treating pain with opioids, Bankole Johnson, MD, a Miami-based addiction treatment expert tells WebMD Connect to Care.

2. Considering all other options to opioids can’t be overemphasized. For example, research has shown that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, can be effective alternatives for treating acute pain, Johnson says. He believes opioids are not a good choice for treating chronic pain but instead, you should consider a combination of NSAIDs or possibly antidepressants and mental health treatments.

3. If you do choose opioids, follow the rules. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when taking opioids you should:

  • Follow instructions on the label, especially when it comes to dosage and frequency
  • Avoid taking opioids with alcohol or other medications, especially those that cause drowsiness like Xanax or Ambien
  • Store opioids securely and don’t share or sell them
  • Immediately notify your doctor about side effects, and don’t stop or change your dosage without consulting with your doctor first

4. Take a gradual approach with opioids. “It’s important that you ask your doctor to start you with the lowest dose of opiate that will help, in case you do need to escalate,” Johnson says. Moreover, if you do need an opioid, it should not be prescribed to you for longer than one to two weeks, since after two weeks, the chances of dependence become very high, Johnson explains. If you’re on pain medication for more than a week, you should go back to your doctor and ask if you still need it.

5. Don’t neglect your mental and emotional health. According to Gazelka, physical pain can lead to anxiety and depression or worsen those issues if they were already present. So the continuation of any prescribed medications is needed. You may also want to consider counseling sessions while you are taking opioids.

While there is not a lot of hard data yet, research indicates relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy that may produce similar pain relief results to opioids, according to Johnson.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.  

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