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PAINKILLERS

Since the beginning of recorded history people have tried to find ways to lessen or eliminate the sensations of pain. The only way that we are able to feel pain is if the pain receptors in the body send a signal to the brain which is interpreted as pain.

Although the word "painkiller" is widely used when people speak about narcotic drugs that are taken for pain, these drugs really are more properly called "pain blockers" because they block the pain signals from reaching the brain. Unlike antibiotics which actually will eliminate some infections, these narcotic drugs do not cure anything but simply block the pain signals.

MOST-USED PAINKILLERS

ENDORPHINS

The human body produces endorphins, a natural hormone that the body uses to block pain signals from the nervous system, and this relieves pain. The word "endorphin" was created by combining endogenous (something originating in an organism) and morphine. Endorphins are protein molecules that bind with receptors located in your brain, spinal cord, and other nerve endings.

Endorphins are the body's natural lubricants. Just like motor oil is used to reduce friction in an engine, endorphins act like a lubricant in the body. Without endorphins every time we moved we would feel pain--the bones grinding as we moved or breathed.

Everyone wants to experience pleasure and not pain. This is normal. The endorphins increase the feeling of pleasure or at least a feeling of relief from pain. (For some who take opiates not because of pain from a physical problem but because they want to escape the "pain of life," the opiates increase the feeling of pleasure, even giving to some a sense of euphoria where everything is now ok and the normal stresses of everyday life are more easily handled.)

Endorphins are naturally produced in the brain. Endorphin production can be increased by a variety of activities such as running, swimming, cycling, skiing, deep breathing, and even laughter. Because of our different DNA and metabolisms, the amount of endorphins produced by us and what activity is required for their production varies. For some people they may start to feel "high" after exercising for ten minutes but others may not get a similar feeling until they have exercised for 20 minutes or even longer.

Interesting for those of us who love chocolate, there is now evidence that endorphin production is elevated by chocolate. It is also elevated by eating hot chili peppers – the hotter the peppers the more endorphin production. Music has also been found to stimulate the production of endorphins.

HOW PAIN BLOCKER DRUGS WORK

Our body will produce more endorphins in response to pain signals.  For example, if we bump into something and it produces pain signals, endorphins will be produced naturally and often this is enough to eliminate most of the discomfort from our accident. 

However, some things, like oral surgery, can result in an inability of our natural endorphin production to block the pain signals from reaching our brain.  By taking a narcotic pain blocker, our endorphin production is increased and we no longer feel the pain because their signals have been blocked.

DEPENDENCY AND ADDICTION

PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE

Physical dependence occurs when the body is physiologically changed by a drug, and a person will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not taken or the dosage is dramatically reduced.

If you are a long-time coffee drinker or consumer of sodas which have caffeine and you suddenly stop drinking the coffee or sodas, you will almost certainly have become physically dependent on the caffeine and will experience withdrawal symptoms. The caffeine withdrawal symptoms can include headaches, insomnia, nervousness and erratic behavior, and having a difficult time “getting awake” in the morning. 

All of us know that taking sleeping pills for too long can make us physically dependent on them to go to sleep.  Others have found that taking laxatives for too long has resulted in a physical dependence on them and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them—constipation and often headaches. 

ADDICTION

A person who is physically dependent on a drug is not necessarily addicted.

Addiction is the continued use of a drug because of the way that one feels after taking the drug—often described as a type of euphoria feeling or a “mellow” feeling or sometimes, in the case of many drugs, to not feel something such as pain or sorrow.

The more one is addicted, the more one’s use of the drug becomes compulsive despite negative consequences which can be severe.  Addicted people will often lie, doctor shop, sell and buy drugs on the street, deny drug use if asked and, in short, do things that they would never do otherwise.

If the addicted person stops or reduces their use of a drug, in almost every case the addicted person will experience withdrawal symptoms associated with the drug.

CONTINUED USE OF NARCOTIC PAIN BLOCKERS

We all have different DNA and metabolize (break down into parts) drugs differently.  Taking narcotic pain blockers to stimulate endorphin will lead to the reduction of our natural endorphin production.  Some can experience withdrawal symptoms if they only take the pain blockers for a few days.  Others can take the pain blockers for even longer and experience few symptoms.

SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL

EARLY SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Anxiety

  • Increased respiratory rate

  • Sweating
  • Lacrimation (tearing or crying)

  • Yawning
  • Restlessness

  • Dilated pupils (larger than normal pupils)

ADVANCED SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps

  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure)

  • Muscle and bone pain

MEDICALLY ASSISTED WITHDRAWAL

Medical detox facilities use drugs, like buprenorphine, proper nutrition and proper hydration to help the withdrawal from pain blockers much more comfortable and safe.

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