Substance Abuse & Cancer Patients
02/05/19: Addiction \ Addiction Recovery \ Drug Addiction
When it comes to chronic pain, it can be unbearable for most people. This is why pain medications are usually prescribed to the people that suffer from this kind of pain. From mild headaches to post-surgery, there are pain medications that can be prescribed for any pain. Since chronic pain can be unbearable at times, it can easily interfere with a person’s day-to-day life. Without medical relief, a person may have a hard time doing their normal daily routine (going to work, working out, household chores, etc.). Painkillers are meant to help a person cope with the immense pain they are suffering from so that it may not interfere with their daily life.
Though these painkillers can help alleviate chronic pain, they can also be abused. Painkillers can be highly addictive and a person can easily become dependent on them to feel any sort of relief. The abuse of painkillers has become a huge issue in our country and we call it the “Opioid Epidemic”. One certain group of individuals that suffers significantly from this drug abuse is cancer patients.
When a person goes through chemotherapy, there is no doubt that they will be experiencing immense pain, fatigue, and other severe symptoms. Most of the time, doctors will prescribe a cancer patient with some painkiller in order to help them cope with the immense pain they are going through. Yes, these drugs can help them, but they are highly addictive and, often times, abused. Studies show that opiates are highly used and misused. Along with their misuses, there is a vast number of side-effects that a person can suffer from:
- A sense of elation
- Physical and psychological dependence
- Depressed respiration and difficulty breathing
- Death (often due to use of more than one substance)
- Chest pain
Cancer is no joke and it can be extremely painful for a person to go through. It is a slow, but constant, process that is filled with chronic pain. Some patients have described the pain as “indescribably severe”; this goes to show why so many of them are prescribed some sort of painkiller. Eventually, the slow growth turns into a rapid one, making the pain even worse in the later stages of it. Muscle, bone, and every kind of pain imaginable can be present for someone who is suffering from cancer.
Not only does a person suffer severe chronic pain, but sometimes vital organs may malfunction or even shut down. Thankfully, doctors prescribe painkillers to deal with these sorts of pain. The painkillers a person is prescribed essentially helps block pain signals that would be sent to the brain. This helps the patient feel less pain and make the process a bit more tolerable. Though their body is in serious turmoil, the medication helps a person find some relief.
Need for Relief
There is no denying the fact that the amount of pain a person with cancer is going through is sure to be immense. Prescribed painkillers can help the person deal with pain and feel just a bit normal. Even in the later stages, cancer may be incurable, but patients are encouraged to take painkillers in order to make their last days more comfortable. The pain is at its highest point when cancer is in the later stages, so the need for painkillers is inevitable. Yes, patients need relief when they are going through this much pain, but there is a concern for the patients that are prescribed higher doses of medication in the early stages of cancer.
Addiction: How Great is the Risk?
Since the painkillers that are prescribed to cancer patients are meant to help alleviate intense pain, they show a higher chance of becoming addicted to them. These patients show signs of developing a dependency on the drugs, creating an addiction. It’s a fine line between addiction and the actual cancer treatment process. Yes, the painkillers can be abused, but most of the time patients are just taking what the doctors prescribe to help them cope with the chronic pain.
These opioid-based drugs cause pain signals to be blocked from the brain, allowing pain-combative receptors in the brain to be activated. The medications that are prescribed not only alleviate chronic pain, but it also creates feelings of euphoria, similar to many other illicit drugs. If these drugs are used frequently enough, a person can develop a tolerance, and with that, a serious dependency. When tolerance is created, the drug prescription may go up because the patient needs more in order to feel its effects.
How Real is This Addiction?
Taking all this information into consideration, it is no surprise that substance abuse can easily happen for cancer patients. Many patients experience intense pain and may take more medication than they need in order to feel relief. This would create tolerance and dependency, causing them to need a higher prescription in order to feel any sort of relief. Not only does pain play a huge factor, but so do high levels of stress and depression. Just like someone with normal substance abuse problems, stress and depression can cause someone to seek a chemical refuge. People that are suffering from cancer may feel immense stress and depression from feelings of hopelessness. When a patient starts to have these feelings, they may start to rely heavily on medication to feel relief and any sense of hope.
One thing health care providers need to consider is the doses they are giving their patients. Smaller doses could make it harder for patients to become addicted to their medications. Most importantly, the psychological needs of patients need to be met in order to eliminate any possibilities of substance abuse.
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