Wherever I’ve worked there were always one or two people that could be relied on to have a stash of painkillers, antacids or even peppermints in their bag or drawer. These days more people than ever keep painkillers to hand and the chances are they are a few notches up from basic aspirin. The fact that over-the-counter painkillers are so readily available masks a very real problem of painkiller dependency. In this post I’m taking a look at some of the reasons, the effects, and the signs of painkiller dependency.
It can begin so easily. You mention you’re feeling a bit rough, or you had a bad night, or you’re hung over and someone says, “try these, they help me.” And before you know it, you feel normal again. These days people don’t like to hang around. The packet of pills says ‘Plus’ or ‘Extra’ or some other term that suggests something more than average. And they aren’t mistaken. Unfortunately that little extra boost often comes in the form of opiates such as codeine. So when you think those pills hit the spot, and you start buying them yourself, that’s when dependency can begin.
The reason why codeine is so potent is that it boosts the analgesic effect of the painkiller with it. So, for example, paracetamol with codeine will not only soothe your headache, or backache, it will also provide a gentle high that can easily be interpreted as the result of pain relief. In time, the body starts to become tolerant, and so an extra dose is required to achieve the same sense of wellbeing, and so it continues.
It’s a circular problem. Headaches and backaches can be symptoms of work-related stress. The pills help. Then the pills themselves become a problem and the stress that may have been the initial reason you took them hasn’t gone away, so it adds further to the problem. And one of the biggest problems of painkiller dependency are the physical side effects, which can include stomach ulcers, liver damage, pancreatitis, constipation leading to bowel paralysis, and more besides.
Some of the signs you are becoming painkiller dependent are pretty obvious and some less so. The most obvious red flag is the fact you are buying or using more. You may find it harder to think straight and you become more forgetful. You may notice changes in your eating and bowel habits and your pattern of sleep. You may have days when you feel so rough you have to call in sick. You may cough a lot, look glazed, and spend less time and attention to your appearance. As dependency levels increase so your level of energy depletes. You become less interested in socializing, feel more moody and defensive. You feel embarrassed by the situation you find yourself in, so you now hide the pills and you go to different shops or pharmacists so you don’t stand out too much.
We perhaps have a stereotyped image of what a drug addict is like? Chances are they don’t hold down a responsible job, aren’t a respected member of their community or well-educated and law-abiding citizens. And yet they can be all of these things. Dependency can occur as a result of prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or mixtures of the two.
If any of these issues resonate with you it’s time to take action. If you can stop, then do so, but if you really feel you can’t then pay your doctor a visit and explain the situation.
Published On: March 05, 2013