Can Opioids Make Pain Worse?
Most people know that opioids are powerful and addictive painkillers that doctors use to treat severe pain after an injury or surgery. Those suffering from severe pain can find relief, and the pain can completely disappear in some cases.
If you have never heard of the issue, you may be surprised to learn that opioids can cause pain, actually worsening the problem it was meant to solve. Understanding this phenomenon and what causes it requires you to take a close look at opioids and how they impact the brain. Doing so will give you a clear picture of the issue and how people facing addiction can find a way out.
When painkillers make people feel more pain than before, doctors refer to it as opioid-induced hyperalgesia. Researchers first discovered it more than 100 years ago, but doctors and scientists have only recently begun to study it.
Emergency room workers and other medical professionals began to notice that patients with a history of opioid abuse were more sensitive to pain than others. Many addicts would scream in pain when doctors tried to administer an IV, which is routine for most hospital visits. Long-term opioid use changes the way the brain produces and processes certain neurotransmitters.
After someone has been using opioids for an extended period, the brain will not provide as much of its own neurotransmitters that regulate pain and pleasure because it becomes dependent on the drug. Also, most people will develop a tolerance to opioids after a few weeks, which makes the problem even worse. Tolerance to the painkillers combines with the brain’s inability to properly manage pain signals on its own and causes people to become much more sensitive to pain.
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The Problem With Pain
If you want to know why opioid-induced hyperalgesia is a threat we should never ignore, it’s time to explore the problems it can cause. A patient who develops this condition may call the doctor and report that the medication is no longer doing its job. Unless the doctor is aware of the issue and knows how to solve it, he or she might believe the patient needs a higher dose of the medication.
Although increasing the dose can help over the short term, it will magnify the pain as soon as the patient’s tolerance goes up. This process can quickly spiral out of control and lead to opioid dependence and a range of other problems if nobody spots the threat in time.
When a doctor prescribes opioid painkillers for a patient following an injury or medical procedure, the patient’s original injury can heal. But if the patient has opioid-induced hyperalgesia, they will think they still need to take the prescribed pain medication.
Withdrawal Symptoms Intensify the Pain
Whether a person developed opioid-induced hyperalgesia after using prescription medication or using heroin, trying to drop the habit will be much harder than before. In addition to the normal withdrawal symptoms, the recovering addict will also need to face the enhanced pain that comes with long-term opioid use. Of course, with enhanced pain, comes the desire for more pain medication.
Trying to put addiction into the past is challenging enough on its own, but adding pain sensitivity to the mix makes quitting nearly impossible. People will see the problems associated with prolonged drug use and want to turn their lives around, but the pain and discomfort overpower their resolve in most cases. After several failed attempts to get and stay clean, some people may end up throwing their arms in the air and giving up on their goal, feeling as though they have no hope.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Can Help
Although opioids may cause pain and make quitting difficult, opioid addiction treatment can help. Professionals who understand that opioids make pain worse can work with you or your loved one so that the problem will turn into a thing of the past. A high-quality treatment center will also look for other issues that could be stopping someone from breaking away from harmful and destructive habits.
If you or someone you know is desperate to achieve sobriety, you will want to get started as soon as possible. Addiction does not need to hold you back from reaching your dreams and living life on your terms. Contact SpringBoard Recovery today for help.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids
- Verywell mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/ten-most-addictive-pain-killers-22506
- Choosing Wisely: https://www.choosingwisely.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Avoid-Opioids-For-Long-Term-Pain_8.5×11-Eng.pdf
- Arkansas Take Back: https://www.artakeback.org/wellness/opioids-harm-the-body-brain/#:~:text=Opioids%20target%20the%20brain’s%20reward,place%20in%20just%203%20days.
- American Society of Anesthesiologists: https://www.asahq.org/madeforthismoment/pain-management/opioid-treatment/opioid-abuse/
- National Library of Medicine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21412369/
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/signs-of-opioid-abuse.html
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin