The United States is no stranger to substance abuse. Since 2001, drug overdoses have become the leading cause of accidental death in the country, overtaking motor vehicle crashes. There are numerous reasons for the spike in addiction rates and overdoses, but it’s important to note that the most dangerous drugs on the market are completely legal to use with a prescription. Opioid painkillers, while extremely effective at treating pain, carry a high risk of physical dependency.
Despite the inherent dangers, the effectiveness of opioids has lead to them being prescribed to patients recovering from all sorts of surgeries, including dental work. Many states have felt the need to deploy prescription drug monitoring systems designed to prevent opioid abuse. However, the best way to address health threats like dental painkiller addiction is to make sure everyone understands the risks.
Dental Work And Opioids
The Journal of the American Dental Association conducted a study in 2011 that pointed out that dentists prescribe roughly 12% of all immediate-release painkillers in the United States. Considering that dental work affects some of the most sensitive areas of the body, it’s no surprise that dentists have sought to eliminate their patients’ pain with opioids.
It wasn’t too long ago that dentists wouldn’t think twice about prescribing a 30-day supply of opioid following a routine procedure. After all, in these cases, over-the-counter medications failed to provide the same level of relief that would otherwise be delivered by an opioid. Today’s dentists are in a difficult position of balancing patient comfort with the known dangers of dental painkiller addiction.
The Cycle Of Dental Painkiller Addiction
Most people who receive painkiller prescriptions for dental work do not immediately develop an addiction or dependency. In some situations, dental work can be extensive, and it’s those extensive treatments that lead individuals toward substance abuse. The more procedures a patient’s dental health calls for, the more likely the patient will continue to take and abuse painkillers.
The human body rapidly builds a tolerance for opioids, meaning that dental patients will need larger and larger doses to maintain the same level of pain relief following each procedure. Unfortunately, many patients are unaware that this accelerated consumption of painkillers is a result of their body’s growing tolerance. In other cases, patients confuse the onset of opioid withdrawal with residual pain from a dental procedure. This misunderstanding may lead to dental patients taking more opioids than necessary and increasing their risk for addiction.
Opioids are effective as painkillers because they force the brain to release a surge of dopamine, the body’s natural “reward” chemical. Unfortunately, it is very easy for a dental patient to begin associating painkillers with the pleasant experience of dopamine release. Before long, the human brain becomes unable to produce dopamine without the presence of opioids in the body. This series of events encourages patients to take even more painkillers, continuing the cycle and increasing their risk of a deadly overdose.
Advanced Addiction And Withdrawal
As the body develops a tolerance for opioid medications, the effects of painkillers on the body and brain become more profound and harder to treat. As a result, more than 165,000 people have died in the U.S. in the last 15 years from opioid-related overdoses. That’s why it’s so important for those struggling with painkiller abuse to seek treatment as quickly as possible.
At The Treatment Center, we understand how difficult opioid addiction is to deal with. Many of our patients are unaware that they’ve been abusing opioid painkillers until they seek treatment. Whether your addiction stems from the extensive dental work or major surgeries, we can help guide you toward recovery.
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