Substance Abuse Among Cancer Patients

cancer patients

There are pain medications for pretty much any kind of pain, ranging from minor to severe. However, chronic pain isn’t an easy thing to deal with. Often times, it can be unbearable so doctors prescribe stronger medications to help a person deal with the pain. These types of medications provide a sense of relief from the severe pain a person may be suffering from. Pain meds are typically prescribed for people that are coming out of surgery or are dealing with a serious disease. One of the most painful health problems to deal with is cancer. Cancer patients go through a massive amount of pain from chemotherapy and cancer itself. If a person that is going through this treatment wants to live a normal life, they’ll need some medication to provide a sense of relief. Going to work, doing daily chores, going out, and pretty much any other day-to-day task can be difficult to do when you’re suffering from chronic pain. Painkillers help provide a sense of relief from pain and can help a person function more normally.

Painkillers can be a massive benefit for those trying to live a normal life with chronic pain, but for others, it can be extremely dangerous. Yes, it can help alleviate pain, but that pain relief can become addicting to some. Painkillers and opioids have become widely abused, creating the “Opioid Epidemic.” Unfortunately, the people that suffer from chronic pain are more likely to abuse these medications, including cancer patients. This has become a huge problem in this country and there are little to no signs of this epidemic slowing down.

Pain Medications

Pain killers are meant to act as temporary relief for those who are suffering from chronic pain. Unfortunately, people have started to abuse them. Because these drugs are so potent, they can be highly addictive. The feeling of relief and numbness can be addictive to many people, thus why opioids and painkillers alike are so widely abused. This has led to over 37,814 people dying every year from opioid overdoses. For someone going through chemotherapy, they will normally experience symptoms such as fatigue, immense pain, etc. Because of these symptoms, doctors will prescribe painkillers to help them function normally and relieve their pain. Though these drugs can help people like cancer patients deal with severe health issues, they can cause some other issues if abused:

  1. Anxiety/Depression
  2. Addiction/Dependence
  3. Loneliness
  4. Lack of Interest in Everyday Life
  5. Fatigue
  6. Unusual Diet/Appetite
  7. Mood Swings
  8. Loss of Sleep

Cancer Patients

For those going through cancer treatment, they are more than likely experiencing some of the most intense pain they have ever experienced. Because the pain can be unbearable for these patients, they need a sense of relief so that they aren’t on the ground writhing in pain. Cancer starts off as slow growth, then turns into a rapid one. Bones, muscles, and vital organs can all become affected by cancer and chemotherapy. Pain killers offer a temporary solution to the chronic pain they experience

Need for Relief

Cancer patients need some sense of relief, so doctors prescribe painkillers. The pain is immense and indescribable for some patients. In order to continue living a normal life outside of a hospital bed, they’ll need painkillers to assist. Painkillers can give patients a sense of hope and normalcy. Even if the cancer is incurable, patients are usually prescribed something so they can better cope with the chronic pain they’re experiencing. Pain medications can help provide some comfort in their uncomfortable situation. However, concerns arise when patients start asking for more medication than they were originally prescribed. The last thing a cancer patient needs on top of their debilitating disease is an addiction.

Risks of Addiction

Stronger medications mean stronger effects, this means greater possibilities of addiction. Painkillers have a massive addiction rate, over 100 people die every day from opioid overdoses. The pain relief these patients get from the prescription drugs can become highly addictive, causing them to develop an addiction. With these drugs, pain receptors in the brain are blocked, allowing the body to fight better against chronic pain. This creates a numbing sensation and allows patients to function normally without too much pain. The feeling of numbness that comes along with a drug can be desirable for those who are looking for a sense of relief. This sense of relief/euphoria is very similar to illicit substances like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. When a person abuses a substance for a certain amount of time, they will develop a tolerance and then a dependency. When tolerance and dependency are developed, the person may start to ask for higher doses in painkillers than they were originally prescribed in order to get the effects they want. Though these medications can be highly addictive, patients are able to beat the odds and avoid the development of addiction.

How Real is This Addiction?

With all this information, you may be asking if this addiction is as serious as it seems? Though there may be a smaller amount of patients that actually suffer from addiction, the statistics on opioid addiction don’t lie. The number of people that die every year from opioid overdoses continues to go up, with no signs of it slowing down. There is no denying the fact that opioids can be highly addicting, thus making cancer patients extremely vulnerable. For someone that is dealing with such intense pain, they will want to have some sort of relief. With a prescription drug, they can achieve this relief, but have a greater chance of developing an addiction. If a patient starts to rely too heavily on the drug, they’ll develop a tolerance and then dependence. When the dependence forms, they will try to get a higher dose of medication from their doctor. This is how substance abuse among cancer patients happens. The higher a dose and the greater the tolerance is for one of these patients, the greater the risk is of an overdose. Health care providers need to be cautious of how much medicine they prescribe to cancer patients in order to avoid any possibility of an addiction being formed.