A typical painkiller is about the size of a pencil eraser. Almost every medicine cabinet in the United States has at least one bottle of these tiny pills, and some people even carry extra doses in their purses or bags, just in case the pain grows too strong. For people attempting to recover from an addiction to painkillers, it can seem like temptation is always present, just waiting to strike. It can be incredibly depressing and extremely isolating.
Painkiller rehabilitation programs can help. Here, the addict can receive help for cravings and chemical changes caused by addiction. The addict can meet other people who also struggle with painkiller abuse. And perhaps most importantly, the addict can learn to make important behavioral changes that can bring about real change. Recovery is possible, and rehabilitation programs can make it happen.
During the detoxification stage of recovery, the addict was likely provided with a host of medications to reduce pain and promote comfort. While it’s certainly possible for some people to enter a rehabilitation program under the influence of no medications at all, often people who abuse painkillers need the help of medications for an extended period of time. The drugs cause chemical changes and extreme cravings that can persist for months or even years, and medications can ease those symptoms and make a relapse less likely.
Some addicts benefit from a medication known as naloxone. According to an article published in the journal Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, this drug can be used in detoxification programs, as it can render any drugs inactive that might be circulating in the addict’s body, but it also has a role to play in maintaining sobriety.
If an addict is taking naloxone and then chooses to take a prescription painkiller, the painkiller will no longer cause any form of pleasure. In short, it’s a chemical deterrent to use, and this can be quite helpful for some people. If an addict is accustomed to feeling a boost from a painkiller, and then takes a painkiller and feels no boost, that habit is well on its way to being broken and the next relapse might be slightly less likely.
Other people benefit from the medication buprenorphine. This drug can also block the effectiveness of painkillers, especially if the user takes a low dose of painkillers, but it also tends to cause a reduction in cravings for drugs. According to an article published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, this drug has a low abuse potential, and it tends not to cause many side effects when people stop taking it. It’s considered a safe and effective medication for long-term use to treat painkiller addiction.
There are some people who have learned to abuse buprenorphine, however. They crush the pills and snort the drugs, or they dissolve the pills in water. In this way, they free the drug from its time-release properties and they feel the entire impact of the drug at the same time. People who may abuse buprenorphine in this way might benefit from combinations that include naloxone. If the user attempts to abuse the buprenorphine, the naloxone will kick in before the pleasurable sensations begin.
Choosing the right medication, at the right dosage, can be slightly difficult. Often, doctors rely on patients to tell them how they are feeling, and they adjust the dosages accordingly. The goal is not to keep the patient sedated, or to allow the patient to feel pain. The goal is to allow the patient to feel simply normal and balanced, so he or she can focus on the work of healing.
Just as medications are adjusted to meet the needs of that patient at that time, therapy options are widespread.
- Teach the addict to identify cravings
- Help the addict to understand addiction
- Provide tools the addict can use to combat addiction
- Resolve past injuries and trauma that might contribute to addiction
There are many ways in which these goals can be achieved, but often, addicts are expected to spend a significant amount of time with an addiction counselor in order to do this important work.
Part of helping an addict deal with addiction-related behavior is to help the addict understand the link between thoughts and actions. Some people truly believe that they are unable to control the things that they do, and they may walk about in a daze from impulse to impulse. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques are designed to break that link and allow the addict to see the power of thoughts.
This form of therapy can be tweaked to meet the needs of individual addicts. For example, a study published in the American Journal on Addictions found that a form of therapy called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy was remarkably effective in helping people who had both addiction and a mental health issue. In this form of therapy, according to the online journal Psych Central, the addict is encouraged to think of his/her reactions as slightly out of proportion to the stimulus provided. The addict may begin to learn to recognize that the initial response to a situation isn’t always accurate, and that perhaps he or she should take a moment to process and think before reacting. In a therapy session, an addict undergoing any form of CBT is encouraged to think about statements that he/she believes are true.
- I’m dumb.
- I’m unable to make friends.
- Making mistakes is my way of life.
- Everything I touch disintegrates.
These depressing and cyclical thoughts can drive an addict deeper into addiction, and cause social isolation and dysfunction. Also, it’s unlikely that they’re true 100 percent of the time. An addict learns to break these statements apart, trying to determine if they’re true all of the time, some of the time, or none of the time. Slowly, confidence grows and negative talk decreases. It’s a powerful change.
Some therapists also use incentive programs to encourage addicts to stay in therapy and resist relapse. Others include family members and friends, helping the addict to build up a supportive network. These sorts of programs can be helpful, according to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, but not all people benefited. It seems that customization truly is key, as not all people react to these programs in the same way.
Finding Support in Groups
Painkiller addiction can be isolating, forcing the addict to break connections with friends and family members. In addition, as the recovery process begins, the addict may want to talk about the temptation to use drugs and the cravings that appear from time to time. People who haven’t abused prescription drugs may have no idea how to relate to these conversations, and they may be unable to provide meaningful support. Sometimes, interacting with other people who are also in recovery from painkiller addiction can be incredibly powerful.
According to the Mayo Clinic, support groups can also help the addict to:
- Reduce stress
- Learn more about the disease process
- Know what to expect from the addiction recovery process
- Share stories
- Compare notes on treatment options
- Make friends
There are a variety of support groups available for painkiller addiction. Narcotics Anonymous is likely the option most familiar to addicts, but it’s far from the only option available. Some communities have faith-based addiction programs held in the local church. Other communities host SMART Recovery programs, which are provided for secular audiences. And finally, some communities have few options available, and addicts choose online groups instead. Any format that allows the addict to feel comfortable, and that’s easy for the addict to access, can be beneficial.
Where to Get Care
Medications, counseling and group therapy form the cornerstones of care for painkiller addiction, but there are a wide variety of options people can use to access this care. Some people begin on a continuum, starting with a high level of care and supervision and moving to a low level of care as they begin to maintain their disease alone. Other people alternate between formats, choosing the most appropriate treatment for their current situation.
The highest level of care and supervision is provided in an inpatient facility for addiction. Here, the addict lives in the facility and receives care 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Medications are provided, as needed, therapy sessions are held on site and the addict can just walk down the hall for support group meetings. This is the sort of care we provide at Michael’s House, and we believe in it wholeheartedly. Taking a step away from life and from temptation can allow some people to get a jump on their addictions in a safe and supportive place. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people who participate in these inpatient programs tend to stay for about three to six weeks, and they then transition to care on an outpatient basis.
For some addicts, a six-week stay is simply not long enough. They may have mental health issues that must be addressed, terrible home lives that don’t support recovery, or medical issues that put their entire health and well-being in jeopardy. These people may benefit from long-term care in a residential facility. There are multiple formats for this care as well. In some cases, the addict lives in a hospital-like setting that is similar to the care provided in a short-term inpatient facility. Medical staff is always present, and all the tools needed for recovery are provided under one roof. In other facilities, the addict lives in a house or apartment complex with other addicts who are also struggling with addiction. These sober living communities may have no medical staff on-site during specific times of the night, and some have no medical staff at all. The addicts themselves are expected to help one another and enforce the rules. For people learning to deal with addiction while living a life of relative normalcy, these so-called “sober living communities” can be very helpful.
And finally, some people prefer to receive care on a completely outpatient basis. They may not have the ability to live in a facility for a specific period of time, or they may not have the funds to pay for such care. According to an article published on Medscape, medications for painkiller addictions can be provided on a completely outpatient basis, which allows the addict to fill a prescription and then take the medication home. The addict may be expected to meet with a counselor regularly, and provide proof that he or she is attending group meetings, but otherwise, the addict is free to live at home, head to work, and maintain ties with friends. Addicts who have supportive families, willing to step in and ensure that the addict keeps his/her commitments, may benefit from this approach. And, it might be entirely suitable, as mentioned, for people to move out of supervised addiction programs and stay in outpatient programs for years, as they learn to manage their addictions on their own without outside assistance. Addiction to painkillers is considered a chronic condition, meaning that it’s quite possible that a relapse can and will happen at some point. Studies make this risk all too clear. For example, a study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that 45 percent of people who were currently taking medication for opioid abuse on an outpatient basis tested positive for drugs. It’s a powerful addiction that can be difficult to manage. Addicts who do relapse can take comfort in the idea that relapse doesn’t mean failure. All the hard work done in recovery is not lost. Instead, the addict has just had a setback and needs to touch up on his/her skills and learn from the mistake hidden in the relapse. By attending a few more group meetings, and perhaps scheduling an extra meeting with the addiction counselor, the addict can get back on track.
If you’d like more information on painkiller rehab or the types of programs we offer here at Michael’s House, contact us today at 760-548-4032. We are here 24/7 to answer any questions you may have.