It will probably come as a surprise to most people that about 80% of the prescription painkillers produced worldwide end up in the mouths of Americans. We have less than 5% of the world’s population, yet we seem to be a black hole for drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, and Kadian. These painkillers are known as opioids – substances that behave the same way in the human body as opium or morphine would, including the addictive qualities of the natural substances.
Use of opioid painkillers has mushroomed dramatically over the past few decades, with over half a million doctors prescribing these medicines in an often irresponsible way. Part of the problem lies in the belief that these prescription painkillers are not likely to cause addiction, but the truth is precisely the opposite – they can and do cause millions of people to misuse these drugs every year and to become addicted to them. Deaths from an overdose of these painkillers are greater than that occurring from heroin or cocaine, killing over 15,000 people annually.
More and More of a Bad Thing
Some people become addicted to painkillers when they have a legitimate medical problem involving pain. Arthritis, injury, and illnesses can all result in a high level of discomfort. No one enjoys pain, and the predominant feeling when someone is in pain is how to get it to stop quickly. A trip to the doctor will often result in a prescription being written for one of the usual opioids.
Part of the problem has arisen because opioids were classified as not being highly addictive, so doctors showed (and still show) little inclination to restrict their use. Patients who were experiencing pain did get relief, but over the course of weeks, the amount of pain reliever needed to be effective grew as tolerance to the drug was built up over time. Not surprisingly, the longer the misuse has gone on and the amount of painkiller involved will have some bearing on the level of discomfort felt during the detoxifying process.
Approaches to Detox Treatment
Unlike the medical care often required by people withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs, there is actually no real physical danger involved in stopping painkiller use; it can be done at home effectively. The biggest hurdle to overcome, of course, is the decision to become drug free. Withdrawal from painkiller use is not pleasant and includes:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heartbeat
Stopping the use of any drug is never pleasant, but the recovering addict should understand that the first few days will be the worst, but within a week he or she will have detoxed and will probably feel better than they have since they began abusing painkillers. Fortunately, there are several home remedies that can help to get the person ‘over the hump’:
- Staying hydrated is a good way to keep withdrawal symptoms damped down. Drinking plenty of fruit juice and broth, especially, will keep your electrolyte balance more stable; this is especially important when vomiting and diarrhea are present. It’s also better to avoid soda, coffee, and tea because of the caffeine content. Drinking frequently will also help to remove painkiller residue from the body.
- The nervousness that most withdrawing painkiller addicts feel can be helped by the simple expedient of taking a long, hot bath. Playing some soothing music while in the tub will also help to sooth and calm.
- St. John’s wort has been used for centuries to treat depression and agitation and it has proven useful during withdrawal from opioids. Valerian is also a useful herb to use when experiencing withdrawal problems.
- Massage can easily be done at home by a family member or friend. During a massage, not only are tight muscles relaxed, but the body’s natural pain medication – endorphins, are released. Because endorphins simply make a person feel better generally, they can help to minimize discomfort.
- While painkiller withdrawal may make one not want to do much except curl up in bed, getting up and out and exercising can help to shorten the withdrawal period. Sweating during exercise will help to clear the toxins out of the body, and exercise also releases endorphins.
- Distraction also helps during this trying period. Listening to music, watching a favorite film, or teaching the dog a new trick can divert attention away from discomfort.
After 7 to 10 days, the recovering addict will usually feel significantly better, and most people who have gone this route have considered the transitory discomfort well worth the price for an addiction-free life.
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