Q. We are going to visit my parents for a week over Thanksgiving. The only problem is that my wife is addicted to pain medication. Her behavior is so strange that I’m certain my parents will notice and be horrified. I’ve tried to talk to her about addiction, but she says I’m over-reacting. Could you please explain the dangers of pain medication? She won’t listen to me.
A. Your major problem is not that your parents may notice your wife’s unusual behavior, but that she has a potential fatal addiction. Keeping it secret from parents or others who may be able to help both of you will only worsen the problem. It’s time to face it head on and to use all avenues available to get help for your wife.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the opioids that most addicts use are oxycodone (Oxycontin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin). When not taken as directed, these medications are extremely dangerous since they can kill by stopping one from breathing.
In the early stages of abuse, people continue to take pain medication because they stimulate the “feel good” system of the brain. Over time, pleasure is decreased and people must use the medications to feel normal. Often pill users will increase the dosage in an attempt to recreate the initial feelings of euphoria. The more medication one takes, the more addicted one becomes.
Because of recreational use and addiction to pain medication, the United States has seen a dramatic increase in accidental overdoses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 Americans die from an overdose of prescription medication every day. That’s 16,790 people a year who die needlessly.
Several states now have a tracking system in place where a physician must refill only a months’ worth of pain medication. However, without a sophisticated cross-referencing computer system connecting physicians and pharmacists, someone who is an addict will continue to see several doctors and use different pharmacies.
To help your wife, you should contact her prescribing physicians immediately. She will need everyone’s help in monitoring and lowering her dose of medication. As her husband, do not be held back by your own embarrassment, her anger or her unwillingness to accept reality. You need to do everything possible to halt her addiction. Even if you block her legal channels, she can still buy the drugs from a dealer or order them from the Internet. Thus, she must also be a willing participant in her recovery.
If she agrees to seek help, she will need a strong support system. This should include you, other family members and friends whom she trusts. Drug addiction is a disease, and should be treated as one, not as a character weakness.
I suggest that she schedule an appointment with a mental health professional who specializes in the treatment of addiction. If possible, she should also attend meetings of Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Addictions of any type are difficult to overcome, but with the support of those who love her, she has an excellent chance of recovery if she is willing to acknowledge her problem.
— Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College and maintains a private practice. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org