Is Everyone Who Takes Opioids At Risk For Addiction?

Two cars are in a serious accident. The drivers of both cars are rushed to the hospital with severe injuries. As immediately as possible after routine procedure, both patients are administered either an oral or intravenous dose of morphine to relieve the pain. Analgesic and relaxing, their pain subsides and they likely fall asleep. Both patients need surgery to heal internal wounds or close up exposed ones. For the pain which will result afterwards, the doctor informs them, they will be prescribed a prescription painkiller. Likely they will receive something like Hydrocodone, Oxycotin, Dilaudid, or Percocet. Each of these medications are morphine based, designating them as opioids. While they are in the hospital, their intravenous pain medications and oral pain medications will be monitored. Upon discharge, they will each receive specific instructions on taking pain medication and rehabilitating their body at home. One patient goes on to heal fine and doesn’t take another opioid medication until there is another serious issue with pain. The other patient will heal from their original injury but may not heal from their pain. In the process, they’ll develop an addiction to opioid painkillers. In the wake of the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, thousands of family members want to know the answer to one simple question: why?

New research published in the journal JAMA Surgery sought to answer this question. Though the number seems small, the amount of overdose deaths which could result has drastic implications- six percent of people who receive opioid painkillers for post-surgery rehabilitation continue using their prescription medication for at least three months post-procedure. Researchers found that the type of surgery or severity of the pain had little to do with the likelihood of using the prescription painkillers outside of their recommended expiration. The issue, researchers discovered, is a lack of screening for high risk factors which would contribute to the likelihood of substance abuse. Researchers called this “addressable patient-level” risk factors. Live Science reported on the findings. Increased risk for opioid abuse post-surgery had the highest percentages among patients who:

  • Smoked cigarettes
  • Drank alcohol
  • Had pre-existing substance abuse problems
  • Had anxiety
  • Were previously chronic pain patients

Opioid addiction can happen without a patient’s knowing that they are predisposed to developing a chemical dependency problem. Thousands of American have faced this problem in recent years, which has greatly contributed to the ongoing crisis with opioid painkillers, synthetic opioid painkillers including fentanyl, and a turn to heroin.


The Story of an Opioid Addiction

Our story starts with pain. Everybody experiences pain. Truthfully, everybody runs from pain. Basic Buddhist principle teaches us that much of life is pain, mostly due to our deep clinging attachment to things we desire. Primarily, in fact, primitively, we desire to not be in pain. Yet the more we run from it, the more we cause it. Such is the cycle of opioid addiction.

The Story of an Opioid Addiction

Typically, the source of pain resembles an injury, accident, or surgery. To treat the pain, doctors prescribe opioid painkillers. Obligingly, the patient follows doctor's orders. The secret snare of opioid addiction lives somewhere between the start and end of a prescription. Perhaps since the pain has been reduced, a patient decides to skip a dose. Not having once taken more than prescribed the patient is horrified to discover the instant appearance of withdrawal symptoms. Back in severe pain, they continue taking the drug as prescribed. The patient notices that the drugs aren’t treating the pain as well as they used to. Also noticeable is how difficult it is to get through the day without the painkillers. Opioid addiction doesn’t have to start with abuse. Stemming from the necessity of relieving pain, however, it often does.

In 2012, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 10 million adults abused prescription painkillers. Drugs like Oxycontin, Hydrocodone and Vicodin are opiate drugs. Each contains a synthetic version of morphine which is derived from the opium plant. Opiate drugs stimulate naturally occurring opioid receptors in the brain. Our brain’s opioid system works to inhibit pain. When we experience pain, our brain blocks the opioid receptors. As a result, our heart rates decrease which then signals the nervous system to help muscles relax. Prescription painkillers magnify this effect in regular doses. Consuming prescription painkillers in high doses enhances this process to a greater degree, causing euphoric sensations.

Unfortunately, the more we take opiate drugs, the more our brain becomes dependent on them. Eventually, our brain is unable to fight pain on it’s own. Consequently, we feel more pain, we are in more pain, and we face painful symptoms of withdrawal. Simultaneously, opiate drugs cause us and relieve us from pain. With every dose, we perpetuate the cycle.

Enlightened Solutions understands the challenge in breaking free from the cycle of opioid addiction. You do not have to suffer any longer. We have a solution. It starts with hope. Start your journey to recovery with us. For more information on our treatment programs for men and women call 833-801-5483.