Cancer is currently among the leading causes of death in the United States.
In 2018 alone, over 1.8 million new cases of cancer were reported and out of these, over 600,00 people died from the disease.
According to the National Cancer Institute, at least 39.6% of American adults will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives.
Fighting cancer is not easy. Any cancer survivor will tell you for free that fighting cancer is a long and painful process. In fact, pain is often reported as the greatest fear amongst people who are suffering from cancer, not death.
Table of Contents
- 1. Why opioids are administered to cancer patients
- 2. How cancer patients become addicted to opioids
- 3. It is possible for patients to become addicted even when taking the right dosage?
- 4. Signs of opioid addiction
- 5. How cancer patient can prevent drug addiction
The pain that cancer patient experience depends on many factors including the type of cancer that the patient is suffering from, the stage of cancer, cancer treatment and the individual’s ability to tolerate pain.
Multiple studies have shown that most cancer patients suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. This is mainly attributed to server pain that they are experiencing. That is why pain management is crucial for cancer patients.
Most patients who don’t have a solid pain management strategy usually end up getting worse because they misuse the treatment given.
Coping with pain is a huge challenge for most cancer patients. They have to balance between keeping their pain in check and using the right medication that doesn’t harm their body.
Prescription drugs are usually prescribed to cancer patients to help manage pain. These painkiller drugs are usually strong opioids such as morphine, methadone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, and oxycodone.
Opioids are not only powerful painkillers but they are also very addictive. Many cancer patients taking opioids to manage pain are usually at risk of addiction.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 185,000 cancer patients in the united states die from overdoses related to opioids. This figure is set to increase even further if something is not done soon.
Why opioids are administered to cancer patients
The dilemma that many oncologists face is determining which medication to use to manage pain amongst cancer patients. One symptom that is common to all types of cancer is pain. Health care professionals are well aware that opioids are highly addictive.
However, they have no choice but to recommend it to cancer patients because so far, it is the only treatment that has proven to be effective in the management of pain. Cancer patients are likely to experience severe or acute pain.
Opioids painkillers are therefore necessary to help them in pain management so that they can live a comfortable life. With proper guidance and oversight, patients using opioid painkillers are less life to get addicted.
In most cases, patients who get addicted to this drug are those who use without proper guidance. A research conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that approximately 25% of cancer patients using opioids painkillers to manage chronic pain usually end up misusing them.
Out of this number between 10 and 12% usually end up develop opioids disorders.
How cancer patients become addicted to opioids
In order to understand how cancer patients become addicted to opioids, it is important to first understand how opioids work. Opioids are pain-relieving drugs that work by attaching special protein known as opioids receptors.
These receptions are found in various organs in the body including the spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and the brain.
When special proteins are attached, they lower the perception of pain. However, this reward usually come at a cost and that is why most people usually end up being addicted to this drug.
The human brain is designed to naturally associate itself with activities that are pleasurable and life-sustaining. When opioids get into the brain, they not only reduce the perception of pain but they also trigger euphoric feeling.
To some patient, this feeling can stick because the brain thinks that it is a great feeling that is necessary just like food and water. Excessive use of opioids drugs can lead to overwhelming stimulation which eventually leads to addiction.
With time, the body can become drug tolerance forcing the patient to take more dosage in order to achieve the desired effect. The situation can become worse to a point where the patient cannot function without taking the drug.
Many addicts who attempt to stop taking drugs are usually met with powerful withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, excessive sweating, stomach aches, insomnia among many others.
This is because the nerves are already used to having opioids. So, when the drug is taken away all of a sudden, the body is forced to respond with lots of unpleasant reactions.
It is possible for patients to become addicted even when taking the right dosage?
This is a huge concern for many cancer patients who are using opioids for pain management.
Multiple studies have shown that it is possible to get addicted to opioids even when the patient is taking his dosage as prescribed by the doctor. Most people who get addicted to this drug don’t do it intentionally.
They just find themselves addicted. Every cancer patient takes opioids with the aim of managing pain and beat cancer, not to get addicted.
However, the constant use of this drug usually leads to obsession and eventually addiction. So, following the doctor’s advice to the later while taking opioids does not guarantee the patient that he will not be addicted.
There many other things that the patient has to do to avoid succumbing to addiction.
Signs of opioid addiction
Addiction is when an individual feels that his body cannot function well without using a particular drug.
One of the main signs that show that the patient is addicted is using medication more than what the doctor has prescribed even though the patient knows very well that doing so is harmful to the body.
Another major sign of addiction is when the patient craves to use the drug. For instance, if the drug is usually administered to the patient after every 4 hours, the patient will do anything to get that drug before the recommended time.
Other signs that indicate that a person is suffering from addiction include:
- Taking the medication with the sole purposing of feeling high
- Taking the medication more frequently than what the doctor recommends
- Using the drug alongside other drugs without the doctor’s consent
How cancer patient can prevent drug addiction
Opioids addiction is common among cancer patients. However, just because cancer patients are vulnerable to opioid addiction does not mean that they cannot use pain management drugs. Without pain management drugs, then most cancer patient could be living in excruciating pain.
Pain management drugs like opioids are very important because they help cancer patient live a comfortable and normal life.
The difference between being addicted and not being addicted lies in the approach that the patient uses when using these drugs. In this section, we are going to discuss how cancer patient can prevent drug addiction.
A. Talk to your doctor frequently
The reason why most cancer patients get addicted to drugs is that they don’t communicate frequently with treatment providers. Fighting cancer is not easy. It is not something that you can fight all by yourself.
You actually need support from relevant health care providers for the entire period that you will be using opioids painkillers to ensure that you are using the drug correctly. If you feel anything unusual, don’t hesitate to discuss it with your doctor.
It is very difficult to get addicted to cancer medication if you are under the close watch of your doctor. The doctor will closely monitor your progress and spot any abnormalities before they progress to a point of no return.
Therefore, ensure that you communicate frequently with your doctor when under opioids painkiller drugs.
B. Involves your close friends and family
If you are under opioids medication, ensure that you involve your close family and friends. This way, you will have extra eyes to watch over you.
It is very difficult to notice that you are misusing your medications until when it is too let. However, if you involve your family and friends, then you will have an extra eye to watch over you. Let your family know the dose and frequency of your medication.
This way, they will be able to detect and raise an alarm when you start misusing the drug.
C. Take your medications as prescribed
Although this does not guarantee that you will not get addicted, the fact that you are able to follow instructions as prescribed will go a long way in showing your commitment to fight cancer. Make sure that you clearly understand the medication that you are taking including its possible side effects.
If you have any questions, then don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. Don’t alter your dosage without consulting your doctor.
Also, don’t break the drug before consuming it because it will alter the absorption rate and lead to overdose. Don’t mix the drug with other medications without your doctors’ knowledge.
Also, don’t mix your medication with illegal drugs or alcohol. If you have a good support group and take your medication as prescribed by the doctor, then you will not fall into the trap of addiction.
D. Join cancer support groups
This is a very important factor that many cancer patients usually overlook. If you are taking cancer drugs that are very addictive, then one of the best ways to prevent addiction is by joining a cancer support group.
Cancer support groups are specifically designed to help cancer patient cope with anything related to cancer including drug addiction. You will not only benefit from the fact that you have like-minded people to share your experience with, but you will also get to know what you need to do to prevent drug addiction.
Drug addiction is a huge concern among many cancer patients and it is widely discussed in cancer support groups. You will get to meet people who have suffered from drug addiction and know what they did to overcome the problem.
You will also get to learn little known tricks and tips on what do to prevent addiction. You will also have access to resources that will guide you on how to avoid drug addiction.
One of the main reasons why cancer patients get addicted to cancer medication is because they think that being diagnosed with cancer means a death sentence.
A cancer support group will help improve your quality of life. It will help to reduce emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue that often lead to addiction.
E. Don’t use anyone else medication
If you are fond of following someone else medication, then you need to stop immediately.
You don’t know the specific condition that the person is suffering from and why the doctor prescribed that particular medication to him.
Following other individual medication can easily lead to addiction. Just because the medication is working on your friend or relative does not mean that it will also work for you.
In fact, you may end up getting the worst results. Instead of using other people’s medication, consult your doctor to get your own medication.
F. Try alternative therapies
You don’t have to use opioids to manage cancer pain. There are many other effective therapies that you can also use to manage your pain.
In fact, due to the increased side effect of opioids, more and more doctors recommend the use of alternative therapies such as exercise, physical therapy, massage and use of non-opioids painkillers to manage pain.
This option is highly encouraged for people who have a history of addiction. Again, consult your doctor before combining your treatment plan with other medications.
In conclusion, recovering from cancer is not a walk in the park. It comes with its own challenges and pain. To overcome drug addiction, you need to first believe in yourself.
You also need to follow your doctor’s advice and have a strong support group. Regardless of the treatment plan that you choose, remember that your ultimate goal is to get back to your feet, not to fall prey to addiction.
Don’t let cancer determine your fate. It is not over until it is over. Be strong and fight to the end. Feel free to call us if you need any advice on how to prevent drug addiction as a cancer patient.
Keith stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol more than 10 years ago. He now spends a lot of time writing and editing content for this website. His mission is to assist people who are also looking to embrace addiction recovery. Keith believes a key way to accomplish this goal is through his writing.