Painkiller addiction can be seriously scary, especially with opioid addiction leading to heroin use. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain killers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.” So it’s normal to be concerned if your M.D. gives you a script to help with acute or chronic pain. Here’s how to lower your risk—and keep loved ones safe.
If you are offered an opioid, ask your doctor if it’s really necessary. In many cases, over-the-counter pain medications, nonopioid prescription pain meds, or long-acting local anesthetics (like steroid injections) can be used instead.
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Should you and your M.D. agree that opioids are needed, take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. Research shows clear associations between longer use and higher risk for addiction.
While becoming physically dependent can occur within a few weeks of daily opioid use (meaning you’ll feel physically ill with flu-like symptoms if the drugs are stopped abruptly), addiction takes much longer to develop and can occur only if you start taking more than you need, or swallow the drugs primarily for emotional escape rather than pain.
Inform your M.D. if you drank or used drugs heavily in your teens or twenties, or if you have a history of childhood trauma, an addicted parent or sibling, or a mental illness. Your doc may want to consider other, nonaddictive meds or alternative therapies (such as yoga or exercise) to treat an injury or chronic pain, or monitor your opioid use more closely.
Especially worried that you could get hooked? Ask someone to dole out your pills when you need them so you can’t take more than prescribed. This person should also have your permission to speak up if she sees you behaving in ways that seem risky, such as frequently talking about the meds.
Many cases of opioid misuse start with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them—they often get it from a friend or family member. Put your prescriptions in a safe place (like a lock box or small safe), especially if teens and young adults, who are more susceptible to abuse, are around.