Widespread Prescription Pain Pill Addiction

Devastating Impact of Pain Pill Addiction

Currently, there is a deadly, growing epidemic of prescription pain pill abuse.  While many people use painkillers for legitimate medical purposes, the misuse and abuse of these pills has become a growing cause for concern.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports an unprecedented rise in prescription pill abuse, which mirrors a 300% increase in the sales of these painkillers since 1999.  To put this number into perspective, the CDC states that “enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for one month.”   The report goes on to note 12 million people reported non-medical use of pain pills in 2010, with nearly 15,000 people dying every year from overdoses involving prescription painkillers.


While pain pills serve the purpose of alleviating pain from a wide variety of conditions, they also produce a euphoric effect that can be highly addictive.   Prescription painkillers, such as Oxycontin, Vicadin, and Hydrocodone, are opioids that work on the same receptors as heroin.  Patients who are prescribed pain pills for legitimate reasons are not immune to their highly addictive nature, though if they use them as prescribed they are less likely to develop addiction.  These patients are advised to adhere to prescribed uses closely,  as well as to store these strong medications in a way that makes them inaccessible to others who might abuse them.  More than 3 out of 4 people who misuse prescription pain pills are using medications prescribed for someone else.   The most common way for people to gain access to prescription painkillers is from a family member.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports nearly 1 in 12 high school seniors have used Vicodin for non-medical purposes, and 1 in 20 have misused Oxycontin.


Misconceptions about the safety of these pills, because they are prescribed, has contributed to this growing problem.  Increased availability has also been a factor.  In order to prevent prescription pill abuse and help those who are already struggling with prescription pill addiction, greater awareness is needed on the part of prescribing doctors, patients, and the general population.  In January, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin devoted his entire annual State of the State address to this very topic, referring to a “full-blown heroin crisis” in his state.  “In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us,” he said.


Most states, including Texas, have now enacted some form of legislation in response to escalating opioid abuse and overdose statistics.  With heroin use on the rise, and many heroin users reporting use of prescription painkillers prior to first use of heroin, this problem takes on  new layers of risk to public health.  Heroin use, particularly intravenous injection, carries additional risks for communicable diseases.


Signs of Painkiller / Opiate Addiction

When a person uses prescription painkillers as prescribed and only for the purposes of relieving pain, they are much less likely to develop dependence.  Use of pain pills that goes beyond prescribed dosages or for purposes other than relief of pain is opiate abuse.  Such “other” purposes might include wanting to experience the euphoria opiates can induce or wanting to alleviate anxiety.  If a person experiences symptoms of withdrawal upon stopping the drug or requires greater amounts to produce the same results, this is a sign chemical dependency is setting in.  Compulsive behavior aimed at attaining the drug, experiencing cravings, and continuing to use despite negative consequences (such as legal, employment, and/or relationship problems) are red flags for addiction.  If a person is going to more than one doctor in order to obtain prescriptions, this can also indicate an abusive pattern.


Treatment for Pain Pill / Opiate Abuse

Medications, such as Suboxone (buprenorphine + naloxone), can assist chemically dependent opioid users in the process of detoxifying from the drug by gradually stepping-down levels of opioids in the body and curbing cravings.  In some instances, Suboxone can be used for long-term maintenance therapy.  However, addiction is a multi-dimensional condition.  Beyond physical dependence, there are psychological aspects that need to be addressed to sustain lasting rehabilitation.  Opiates are tied to the pleasure center of the brain, which impacts a person’s motivations and the identification of stimuli that produce rewards.  Excessive use of opiates effectively hijacks this natural reward system in the brain, directing disproportionate and unhealthy levels of thought and behavior toward the goal of obtaining the opiate-reward.  Therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, can facilitate awareness around the patterns of addictive thought and behavior that have developed around this dysfunctional reward system, replacing them with healthier thoughts, behaviors, and reward mechanisms.  Chemical dependency education, relapse prevention awareness & techniques, and the development of strong social support are all important facets of lasting recovery from addiction.

If you or your loved one is struggling with opiate addiction, there are many treatment options available to you.  It’s important to talk with a professional who can assess the problem and develop a treatment plan that meets your unique needs.


What is Dual Diagnosis & Why Does it Matter?

The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports findings that are significant to providing effective treatment for substance abuse disorders:

  • 4% of all adults have co-occurring substance abuse and psychiatric disorders
  • 25.7% of adults with serious mental illness also have substance use dependence
  • 19.7% of adults with a psychiatric disorder also have substance use dependence
  • Of the 20.8 million adults who suffer from substance use disorder, 42.8% have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder
  • Among the 8.9 million adults who have co-occurring substance use and psychiatric disorders, only 13.5% received treatment for both disorders, and 37.6% did not receive any treatment at all.

The Journal of  American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that 37% of alcohol abusers and 53% of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.  These statistics establish the prevalence of co-occurring psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.  This information is vital to the addiction treatment community and the patients it serves.  In order to effectively treat a person who is struggling with both a substance use and a psychiatric disorder, both conditions must be addressed.  Without dual-diagnosis services, successful recovery is difficult to sustain.

Integrated Substance Abuse & Psychiatric Disorder Treatment

Integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders means providing services to address the needs of both substance abuse and mental health disorders in one setting with the same team of professionals.  This begins with the assessment (or diagnosis) process.  A comprehensive assessment identifies any substance abuse, psychiatric, and/or medical conditions that may be present.  A treatment plan is then developed by a team of professionals to address each of those concerns.  This team includes counseling staff, a psychiatrist, and medical staff.  In addition, sources of social support, such as family members and community resources, are identified and included in the treatment planning process.

Long-term success in addiction recovery is complicated when a co-occurring psychiatric condition exists.  It is important to continue addressing both conditions even after being discharged from intensive care in a residential setting.  If medications are prescribed for a psychiatric disorder, compliance with medication orders is important.  Continued abstinence is also important to the successful management of a psychiatric condition, as substance use can interfere with psychiatric medication effectiveness and compliance.  Additionally, outpatient therapeutic approaches need to address both the addiction and the psychiatric condition, as each disorder impacts the other.

Types of Psychiatric Disorders Common with Substance Abuse

ANXIETY DISORDERS:  Anxiety disorders cause people to feel excessively frightened or distressed in situations that would not commonly cause other people to experience such feelings.  Examples of anxiety disorders include Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Learn more here.


DEPRESSION:  Depression is a condition that causes mood states that go well beyond temporary feelings of sadness.  It is a serious illness that affects one’s moods, thoughts, behaviors, and physical health.  People who struggle with depression experience periods of wellness interspersed with periods of illness.  Learn more here.


BIPOLAR DISORDER:  Bipolar Disorder is a condition that causes one to experience dramatic shifts in mood states, between mania and depression.  These mood states are more acute and disruptive than the typical ups and downs most people experience.  Mania may present itself as elevated mood, irritability, erratic or impulsive behavior, racing thoughts, rushed speech, and periods of high energy with little sleep.  Depression may present as excessive sleep, loss of energy, sadness, and a feeling of hopelessness.  Learn more here.


BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER:  Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition that causes instability in mood states and relationships.  Intense anger or irritability, impulsive behaviors, periods of intense depressed mood, uncertainty about self-image, fear of abandonment, and suicidal threats and/or self-harming behavior are common with this disorder.  Learn more here.


Ripple Recovery Ranch offers Dual-Diagnosis services to ensure our clients receive the integrated care they may need to sustain lasting recovery.  Call 800-214-4038 to speak with a recovery adviser today.


A Guide to Substance Abuse Treatment

If you are considering addiction rehabilitation treatment for yourself or a loved one, you probably have a lot of questions about the recovery process.  You may have tried stopping on your own before, and that may have worked, for a time.  But in time and for a variety of reasons, you found yourself using again.  Maybe you have even been to 12-Step or other recovery community support meetings.  Those groups may have given you the clarity and strength to stop using for a time, but again, you fell back into active addiction.  As you are considering taking the step toward a more intensive recovery program, you may be wondering, How is this going to be different from all the other times I have tried to quit?

Types of Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance Abuse treatment is a complex process, with many different elements and different levels of intensity and support.  The key to a successful recovery program is finding the right level of care to meet your needs, establishing a treatment plan that addressees your unique challenges and strengths, and gaining a realistic understanding of how addiction, as well as recovery from addiction, works.  An assessment from an addiction specialist can help determine what level of care is right for you.  The levels of care for substance abuse disorders can vary from individual counseling in an outpatient setting (like a counselor’s office), to an intensive outpatient program that combines educational and therapy services several times a week, to a residential program that provides therapeutic & educational services in a restricted environment to ensure abstinence is maintained for the duration of treatment.  Often times, a continuum of care begins in a residential setting, then transitions to intensive outpatient care, and continues with individual counseling to provide the framework needed for lasting sobriety.

Individualized Care

Individualized treatment planning is a vital component to an effective recovery program.  Every addiction is unique.  There are no one-size-fits-all approaches to addiction recovery.  Your life circumstances, your strengths and challenges, your preferences are all unique and intrinsically intertwined with your addiction, and therefore, your recovery process.  Upon entering residential treatment, an addiction specialist should involve you in the process of developing a treatment plan that will identify and address all of these things, using therapeutic approaches that meet you where you are at and build a bridge for you to cross into a life of fulfilling sobriety.

The Nature of Addiction

Effective treatment of addiction includes education about the nature of addiction and ways in which addiction may be managed.  Addiction is a disease, much like diabetes or asthma.  Neurobiological research has shown that addiction is a disease of the brain which impacts the pleasure pathways in the medial forebrain bundle, specifically the nuerotransmitter dopamine.  The dysregulation of neurotransmitters in this part of the brain, which leads to addiction, can arise from genetic predisposition and/or changes caused by substance use.  Addiction is not merely a matter of poor character or lack of will-power.  Just like the medical conditions of diabetes and asthma must be managed with lifestyle choices, so too does addiction recovery require attention to a number of lifestyle factors.  With sustained abstinence, the parts of the brain impacted by addiction can become more regulated.

Lasting Recovery

Achieving lasting recovery is possible.  It is happening every day in the lives of millions of people around the world.  But it is an ongoing process and a road that is sure to have bumps along the way.  It is not realistic to expect a cure from any treatment approach.  Just as there is no cure for diabetes or asthma, there is no cure for addiction.  However, effective addiction treatment can offer the education, skills development, and self-awareness that is needed to maintain sobriety.

Ripple Recovery Ranch is committed to helping people who are struggling with drug & alcohol addiction find their way to lasting recovery using evidence-based treatment approaches and holistic lifestyle practices that empower lasting change.  We can help you or your loved one determine what level of care is best suited to your unique needs.  Call 800-214-4038 to speak with a recovery adviser today.