Painkiller addiction is on the rise in North America. Experts are trying to determine what has caused this rise in substance abuse among people of every class and in every age group.

They conclude that several factors contribute to the problem: opiates too readily prescribed by doctors for pain caused by injury, surgery, or illness; internet accessibility of prescription drugs; lack of monitoring once drugs have been prescribed; and the usual issues of access to illegal supply.

What Causes Addiction?

When a person comes to rely on a drug to alleviate symptoms of physical or mental pain he is said to have developed an addiction. This addiction is partly chemical and partly emotional. The brain releases painkilling chemicals naturally in response to injury and inflammation. While a person still suffers pain, the body is mitigating pain and initiating a healing response at the same time.

Drugs like opiates are supposed to augment this response because the body cannot produce sufficient natural painkillers to overcome extreme levels of pain. While chemicals continue to be released and the body naturally responds, reliance on prescription drugs dulls the body’s ability to act with alarming rapidity.

Eventually, the natural response is nullified by total reliance on synthetic drugs. This is why a person should slowly reduce painkiller use rather than coming off of a drug all at once: one side effect is being blasted by pain without anything to take the edge off. Going cold turkey isn’t advisable as one can only handle so much pain. Reactions vary from emotional distress, nausea, and generalized pain to heart attack or stroke.

Monitoring Opioid Painkiller Withdrawal

Anyone trying to stop using painkillers after an extended period of use should be watched carefully. Many people manage with visits to the doctor or a pain clinic two or three times per week with less frequent follow up appointments. More serious cases require in-patient detox treatment with medical supervision 24 hours a day for a few days or up to a week.

Emergency rooms in major cities are equipped with special rooms designed for this purpose. Detox is considered an emergency when someone has been addicted to narcotics for many months or even years. The body’s response could be life-threatening.

A doctor will monitor the case with regular visits but most care is handled by nurses at this time. They administer IV fluids to prevent dehydration and weaker, over-the-counter painkillers to take the edge off of pain and reduce symptoms of withdrawal.

Alternative Treatment

Other options take either extreme: no medical intervention and full medical intervention. Some detox experts advocate detox under constant supervision whereby the client is sedated, dehydrated intravenously, and the body receives no relief of any kind.

While the client is mentally unaware of his suffering, his body sweats and twitches under the stress of going without analgesics to cope with pain. Everything hurts; all noises are too loud: sedation renders the patient unaware of his suffering.

Another alternative is to eschew all medical intervention with the help of acupuncture, therapeutic massage, herbal supplements, nutritious meals, exercise, and whatever else a person’s body and mind might tolerate during this stressful time.

Alternative rehab locations are often referred to as holistic treatment centers and they are run similarly to a health spa. Professionals at these locations believe the body should not ingest any more drugs when they are striving to detoxify completely. Medical intervention is available but discouraged in all but the most extreme cases of physical distress.

Non-medical Rehab

A proactive response to opioid abuse is to seek counseling before the situation gets too far out of hand. Consumers can tell their relationship with narcotics, prescription or otherwise, is abusive when they are hiding their behavior from friends and family, seeking drugs from elicit sources, spending money they don’t have, or finding deceptive ways to obtain drugs (going to multiple doctors or lying about their pain).

If you or someone you love is behaving in these ways, counseling without full-scale detox could be the answer. A patient’s doctor will help her to slowly come off of the drug but a counselor trained and skilled in addiction support provides emotional help on an out-patient basis.

Who Chooses

An addict usually decides to seek treatment as a result of an intervention or personal epiphany at which time he checks himself into detox or rehab under his own recognizance. Sometimes detox begins as a result of an emergency situation: heart attack; suspected overdose; or suicide attempt. Children who become addicted to opioids are admitted by their parents.

Non-Prescription Opioid Addiction

Painkiller abuse is not a strictly medical phenomenon. Narcotics (including pharmaceutical examples, but also heroin) are easy to find on the internet and bought on street corners. Peddlers sell them to kids at schools and to young adults at universities.

The illegal drug trade is thriving among youth. Children are exposed to and try these drugs for assorted reasons including mental health issues, low self-esteem, peer pressure, and legitimate pain resulting from injury or chronic health problems. Curiosity also leads to experimentation.

While parents might believe their children would never do drugs, the reality is that narcotics cross all boundaries of race, class, and religion. Your upper-middle-class, happy family could be hiding a dark secret: a teenage child has been admitted to rehab to recover from substance abuse.

Ongoing Treatment

Many people admitted to rehab are also facing co-existing problems with mood or personality disorders: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or PTSD, for example. These individuals require in-depth, one-on-one counseling and/or psychotherapy plus group therapy.

Some cases are extreme enough to warrant in-patient treatment for several weeks plus follow-up sessions for many more months after that. Abusing drugs once more is a huge risk for someone suffering from post-traumatic stress, chronic illness, or major depression/anxiety.

It is important that recovering addicts never become too comfortable; never believe that one pill won’t hurt them or they can recover on their own. A support system involving spiritual, physical, and emotional care is essential for long-term recovery and resistance to the allure of drugs.