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Eight Common Worries About Chronic Pain Medications

Frequently Discussed Worries about Pain Medication, and What to Do About Them

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Updated April 22, 2014

Pain medications are not perfect, but they are often necessary. Many people who take chronic pain medication have concerns about their painkillers, though they don't always talk about them. Here are the most common pain medication concerns, and what you can do about them.

1. You’ll Become Addicted

Some painkillers carry a risk of drug dependence and tolerance, in which your body becomes accustomed to the medication. However, addiction is more than just physical dependence: there is often a psychological component as well. The risk of developing painkiller addiction is greater if:

  • You (or someone in your family) have a history of addictive behaviors
  • You have a mood disorder (such as clinical depression)
  • You suffer from severe anxiety
  • You have an initial euphoric response from your painkiller

In most cases, provided your doctor carefully monitors your medication intake and response, you are safe from painkiller addiction.

2. You’ll Overdose

Yes, we hear constant reports of celebrities who overdose on pain medication, sometimes fatally. Most recently, Demerol and acetaminophen overdoses have been in the news. Will it happen to you? Likely not.

Even if you take a strong narcotic painkiller, you can avoid an overdose by taking your medication only as directed, and not combining it with other depressants such as alcohol or sleep aids. As long as you are diligent with your pain medication instructions (read the information your doctor or pharmacist gives to you!), you can avoid a potential drug overdose.

3. You’ll Have Unpleasant Side Effects

Some of the painkiller side effects you may be concerned about probably include:

  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Liver damage
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Decreased sex drive

When your doctor prescribes pain medication, he is aware that you may experience potential side effects. Determining what pain medication is right for you often depends on whether the side effects are worth the pain control. In most cases, they are. In some cases, however, they may not be. If you are having pain medication side effects that you cannot live with any longer, ask your doctor for advice. He may change your medication, or even prescribe something else to counteract your other symptoms.

4. People Will Think Differently Of You

Worried people will think you’re an addict? Afraid your doctor will say you demonstrate drug-seeking behavior if your meds are not strong enough? Well, you are not alone. Strong narcotics tend to have a stigma associated with them, even though their place in chronic pain management is becoming more accepted. Unfortunately, a few bad seeds can spoil it for the rest of us.

Regardless of your worries, you should never stop taking a narcotic out of fear of what other people may think. Remember: your priority is pain management. Forget about what other people think – after all, they are not the ones living with your pain. Take whatever pain medication improves your quality of life.

5. They Won’t Be Strong Enough

While some people may get adequate relief on their first try, it may take you and your doctor a little time to find the right mix of painkillers for you. You may have breakthrough pain, you may develop tolerance, or you may simply not get enough relief to get through your daily routine.

Remember: You are your own best advocate. Your doctor does not know if your pain is better, only you can tell him so. If you are reluctant to make any changes to your medications, ask your doctor about complimentary treatments that might help control your pain.

6. They’ll Be Too Strong

It is possible for pain medication to be too effective. Certain pain medications may offer you relief, but may also cause drowsiness and confusion. Like pain medications that are not strong enough, medications that are too strong can also impact your life. Pain medications that are too strong can make it impossible to work, dangerous to drive and difficult to interact with your family. If your pain medications are too strong, it’s time to see your doctor again for an adjustment. Getting the balance can take time, but it will increase your quality of life.

7. You’ll Have to Take Them For the Rest of Your Life

So, you’ve found the perfect balance of pain medications. Now how long will you have to take them? Forever? Maybe. Maybe not. Depending on your chronic pain condition, your pain could be under control with occasional over-the-counter products. Many chronic conditions caused by disease, however, may require a lifelong commitment to some type of pain medication.

While many people don’t like to take pain medication long-term, sometimes it is the only way you can get your pain under control enough to maintain your quality of life. Taking pain medication long-term is not necessarily a bad thing, if it keeps you active. If you are concerned about the long-term impact of pain medication on your body, talk to your doctor about alternatives.

8. They Will Interfere with Your Sex Life

Men and women alike may experience sexual side effects from their pain medications. Men may experience erectile dysfunction, and women may have irregular menstrual cycles. Both sexes may suffer from a decreased libido, or a lack of desire for sexual activity. Obviously, this can impact your quality of life as well as your relationship with your partner.

Like other side effects associated with pain medication, you have to decide if the benefits of the medication outweigh the negatives. For some, sexual dysfunction is where they draw the line. However, there are options besides changing your pain medication. You can talk to your doctor about libido-enhancing drugs, or take a little extra time to “get yourself in the mood.”

9. .

Sources:

Benyamin Ramsin, et al. Opioid Complications and Side Effects. Pain Physician, 2008.11:S105-S120

McCracken Lance M, Hoskins Julian and Eccleston Christopher. Concerns About Medication and Medication Use in Chronic Pain. Journal of Pain. Volume 7, Issue 10, Pages 726-734

National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications. Accessed 7/4/09. http://www.nida.nih.gov/infofacts/PainMed.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Treating Prescription Drug Addiction. Accessed 6/30/09. http://www.nida.nih.gov/ResearchReports/Prescription/prescription7.html

Wilson, Jennifer Fisher. Strategies to Stop Abuse of Prescribed Opioid Drugs. Annals of Internal Medicine. 19 June 2007, (146) 12, p 897-900.

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