How Do You Know if You Are At Risk?

Category: Blog

Published: September 3, 2018 by Eric Klinger

Opioid Pain Medication Addiction: Are You at Risk?

Most people understand heroin is a highly addictive, very dangerous substance. But because they are available by prescription, people often forget that opioid-based pain medications share many of the same chemical characteristics as heroin. And just like their illegal chemical cousin, opioid-based pain medications are highly addictive — even when they are prescribed by a doctor.

Because opioid-based pain medications are so addictive, the risk of abuse, overdose and even death is extremely serious. Before taking them, patients should be aware of these risks. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified a number of factors that may make an individual more susceptible to opioid addiction. SAMHSA compiled results from a wide range of studies to arrive at individual-level, relationship-level and community-level factors that may impact the prevalence of opioid abuse.

Individual-Level Factors for Opioid Abuse and Addiction

At the individual level, studies indicate that people with a past history of behavioral health issues are at a greater risk for opioid abuse. At Unison Health, we often see patients whose substance abuse issues are the result of a person attempting to self-medicate a behavioral health issue; that’s why we seek to identify and treat these issues concurrently when a person enter into our care.

In addition, a past history of substance use or abuse is a strong risk factor for opioid addiction. If you’ve been prone to periods of substance misuse, including problem drinking or marijuana use, it’s a good idea to be completely honest with your doctor as you discuss your pain management strategies.

If your physician believes you are at low risk for dependence and opts to prescribe opioids for acute pain, we recommend that you are prescribed as few pills as possible to get you through your initial discomfort. The SAMHSA report strongly suggests that having prescription drugs on hand can lead to abuse, because “evidence suggests that individuals who have access to prescription drugs and who are prescribed opioids at a large dosage or have multiple prescriptions are at greater risk [of abuse].”

Relationship-Level Factors in Opioid Abuse and Addiction

It makes sense that people who have a solid support system in place are less likely to fall into a pattern of abuse. If you’re a parent, there’s some good news in this study. Family members, especially parents who maintain a strong bond with their children, can have a tremendous influence on young people’s decisions regarding prescription drug use. Teenagers whose parents “express disapproval of substance use… are less likely to use prescription drugs.”

Conversely, young people are likely to mirror what they see. Adolescents whose parents express favorable attitudes toward substance use are more likely to use, and children who see a family member overdose are more likely to develop problems down the road.

Community-Level Factors in Opioid Abuse and Addiction

Interestingly, the entire community can play a role in deterring prescription drug abuse. Young people are less likely to misuse prescription drugs if they believe their community disapproves. The study cited by SAMHSA looked at a community in Appalachia where abuse rates were unusually high; both abuse rates and attitudes were informed by young people’s belief that opioids and other prescription medications were “easy to get from parents’ medicine cabinets.”

Obviously, there are no quick fixes to stemming the community-wide problem of prescription medication abuse, and anyone can fall into the trap of abuse and addiction. But recognizing the factors that can exacerbate or alleviate the risks, especially among young people, can go a long way toward making a difference.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with abuse issues, help is available! Call Unison Health at 419-214-HOPE today to learn more.