Fibromyalgia and Prescription Drug Addiction Myths and Realities
Prescription pain medicine addiction plagues many people behind closed doors. But although widespread, addiction to prescription painkillers is also widely misunderstood. Those misunderstandings can be dangerous and frightening for fibromyalgia patients dealing with pain.
Where is the line between appropriate use and addiction to prescription pain medicines? And how can patients stay on the right side of that line, without suffering needlessly? There are certain identified myths about addiction to prescription pain medication:
Myth: If I need higher doses or have withdrawal symptoms when I quit, I’m addicted.
Reality: That might sound like addiction to you, but it’s not how doctors and addiction specialists define addiction. Everybody can become tolerant and dependent to a medication, and that does not mean that they are addicted. Tolerance and dependence don’t just happen with prescription pain drugs.
They occur in drugs that aren’t addictive at all, and they occur in drugs that are addictive. So it’s independent of addiction. Many people, including physicians, mistakenly use the term “addiction” to refer to physical dependence. A true addiction is a chronic disease that’s typically defined by causing the compulsive use of a drug that produces harm or dysfunction, and the continued use despite that dysfunction. However, physical dependence, which can include tolerance and withdrawal, is different. It’s a part of addiction but it can happen without someone being addicted. If you have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking your painkillers, it means that you need to be under a doctor’s care to stop taking the drugs, but not necessarily that you’re addicted.
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. 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 by the prescribing physician. Some warning signs 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. 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. In fact, it can be very difficult to identify fibromyalgia patients who are becoming addicted. This is because fibromyalgia patients who are, typically, in chronic pain who wind up needing higher and higher doses. Sometimes, it can be challenging for people to identify because they don’t know if this is a sign that they’re developing problems of addiction because they are becoming 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. We know that drugs have risk, and what physicians are trained for is recognizing risk and managing it. The key is that one has to successfully manage the risks.
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. Therefore, use prescription pain medicines as prescribed by your doctor and report your responses (positive and negative) to your doctor. Opioids should always be part of a plan that also includes other treatment, including other types of drugs, as well as physical therapy and psychotherapy, when needed. 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.