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Cancer patients not only have to deal with many overwhelming emotions but are also faced with pain.

This means that along with mental disorders, anger, fear, worry, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and depression, pain follows alongside these emotions.

Whether you are prescribed opioids to manage pain or self-medicate, you are at risk for developing an addiction.

Regardless of your situation, pain management along with managing addiction is possible.

The first step is to understand whether or not you have a substance use problem, and going from there.

Americans and Cancer

Over 39 percent of Americans face a cancer diagnosis once in their lifetime.

Because of this, many people have also prescribed opioid medications.

These medications then create the potential for misuse and addiction.

If you are already in recovery from addiction, you may face even more concerns pertaining to pain management.

Certain types of previous drug abuse can actually decrease the effectiveness of certain cancer treatments.

They can also interact with medications, and deplete your general state of health.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are naturally found in the opium poppy plant, and produce pain relief in the brain. Often referred to as painkillers when prescribed by a doctor, or known as street drugs, such as heroin.

Most prescription opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body. These are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition, opioids can help people feel relaxed, or even high. Other side effects include slowed respiration, constipation, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness.

Risk of Opioid Addiction and Cancer Patients

Exposure to opioids is one of the largest risks that occur with cancer treatment. This is specifically in relation to the pain that comes with cancer treatment. This pain can be intense and seemingly impossible to manage. For this reason, opioid painkillers are typically the first line of defense against this pain. Opioids are known as some of the most addictive drugs on the market. Especially because pain-numbing is often the number one concern when it comes to cancer, opioid addiction often occurs.

The most commonly prescribed opioids during cancer treatment include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Levorphanol
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone

Risk of Opioid Addiction and Cancer Patients

The risk of a substance use disorder is high, but may not be as high of a risk for those who use their medication according to what the doctor orders. Despite this, if you have a personal or familial history of addiction or serious co-occurring mental disorders, the risk increases. Even if you do not have these risk factors, you are still at risk for developing a use disorder, therefore you need to monitor your symptoms closely.

Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

There are 11 criteria of an opioid use disorder and addiction, these include:

  1. Taking larger amounts of opioids than intended.
  2. Unsuccessful efforts to quit.
  3. Spending a large amount of time using, recovering, or obtaining the drug.
  4. Craving for the drug.
  5. Forgetting about responsibilities at home, work, or in school.
  6. Continued use despite having social problems due to the drug.
  7. Giving up activities because of opioid use.
  8. Using opioids in dangerous situations.
  9. Continued use despite suffering health problems.
  10. Increased opioid tolerance.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal.

Tolerance and Dependence

Tolerance and dependence can occur even when you are using opioids as prescribed. There is a difference though, as they are not the only defining factors of addiction.

  • Tolerance: Tolerance occurs when you need to take more of a substance in order to feel the same effects.
  • Dependence: Dependence occurs when your body and brain rely on opioids.
  • Addiction: Addiction is marked by tolerance and dependence, and is often accompanied by compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors.

As a Cancer Patient in Recovery

If you have a history of addiction, then your pain management concerns may be daunting during cancer treatment. This situation creates unique concerns specifically for those who have been previously opioid-addicted. The situation in terms of cancer patients is that even if you have dealt with addiction, you might still be prescribed opioids.

If you have struggled with a substance use disorder, then you need to be honest with your doctor. This can truly help prevent a relapse. Because good cancer treatment necessitates collaboration and communication between multiple medical specialists, this may also involve an addiction counselor.

Why Communication is Essential

This will better support your continued sobriety and pain management. It will also help to keep your loved ones and support system close, as well as help to communicate your doubts, worries, and any thoughts of relapse.

One smart reason to enlist the help of an addiction specialist is that they can help to oversee your medications. They can also help you to keep a pain journal, providing you a space to record the intensity and duration of pain.

This may also help you to attend self-help groups, go to counseling sessions, and seeking treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Preventing Opioid Abuse

Whether you have had a substance use disorder in the past, or never had one before, you will need to protect yourself against drug abuse and addiction. Doctors often have a working knowledge of addiction, but many oncologists may not be completely familiar with addiction. This is why you need to work with a team of medical professionals who know how to manage pain and avoid addiction.

Other ways to prevent opioid abuse with the help of your doctor include:

  • Screening for opioid misuse/abuse potential.
  • Screening for chemical coping and/or any emotional or mental health issues.
  • Using a risk-benefit calculation for all medications and treatment approaches.
  • Working with a pain psychologist within your care team. This can help you to mitigate risks.

Drug Abuse and Cancer Treatment

Along with direct risks and harm associated with addiction, drug abuse can make cancer treatment less effective. Some drugs can cause adverse symptoms when abused, such as nausea and vomiting. Although these are often side effects of cancer treatments, drug abuse can worsen them even more.
Some drugs may also interact with treatments and therapies. Similar to how benzodiazepines can combine in a way that could become life-threatening, other drugs can do the same. This is due to the way these drugs interact with opioid painkillers to depress your central nervous system.

Other Risks of Opioid Abuse

Drug abuse can destroy your physical and emotional health. Leading to states of dehydration, malnourishment, and a weakened immune system, opioids can be detrimental to anyone who is combating an aggressive disease like cancer. Overall, substance use disorders may increase the risk for cancer, which might worsen an existing form.

Are You Addicted to Opioids and Managing Pain?

If you or a loved one is going through cancer treatment and unable to manage pain, opioids are not always the answer.

If your doctor has already prescribed you or someone you love opioids, and you see signs of addiction, then you should promptly speak to your doctor.

After speaking to your doctor, contact us at Resurgence Behavioral Health.

We offer a free insurance verification for treatment and can work with you as well as your physician to get you healthy as well as controlling your pain effectively.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

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