The Painkiller Problem
The holidays are supposed to be filled with peace and joy. But for people struggling with chronic pain, this time of year can be especially challenging.
Stress, free-flowing alcohol and pain medication can increase the risk of abuse and send people to the ER during the holidays. Painkiller abuse is a growing problem, and one that takes many people by surprise.
Many people don’t realize they can become dependent on painkillers,” says Bruce Hill, LCSW, a psychotherapist who counsels people with substance problems at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. He often hears, “How can this be? I was just taking this for pain and my doctor prescribed it!”
The Problem With Painkillers
More than 12 million people in the United States use painkillers for everything from a twisted ankle to a trip to the dentist. When used carefully as directed by the doctor, pain pills help many people ease unbearable pain. But people can become tolerant of painkillers, which means they need more and more to get the same effect. Gradually, they become dependent on the medication. After marijuana, prescription painkillers are now the most abused group of drugs in the nation, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Long-term abuse of prescription painkillers can cause a wide range of problems, including depression, job loss and poverty. It is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, metabolic dysfunction, weight gain and tooth decay.
Signs and Symptoms of Pain Medication Abuse
Given the widespread abuse of pain medications, you may have a friend or family member who is suffering from this problem. Here’s how to tell if someone in your life may be abusing painkillers:
  • They start missing work or social engagements. They have a hard time maintaining a normal schedule.
  • They show a change in speech and behavior. They may seem over-stimulated or inattentive, overly talkative or slow and impaired.
  • They start going to multiple physicians (a podiatrist, a dentist, the ER) to get multiple prescriptions.
  • They begin purchasing medications without a prescription on the Internet or the street.
Programs to Help
The Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) offers a drop-in group for people with questions about their own, or a loved one’s, drug or alcohol use. The goal of the group is to increase self-awareness among participants about alcohol and drug use.
The group meets every Tuesday, 5:30 to 7 p.m., at Palo Alto Center, 795 El Camino Real, Level 1, Jamplis Building, Palo Alto. The facilitators are Bruce Hill, LCSW, and Meredith Brown, M.F.T. They’re happy to answer any questions you may have about prescription painkillers, alcohol or drug use.


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