What’s the Safe Way to Take Opioids?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on May 6, 2020
Drug overdose is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for adults under 50.
Opioids cause more than half of those deaths. The situation is so severe that it’s a national crisis.
Some examples include:
Heroin, the most addictive drug, is also an opioid.
Opioids are drugs prescribed by doctors for patients with chronic pain after surgery or injury. It’s how a lot of people end up with opioid use disorder or OUD.
These drugs work differently from over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen. Instead of suppressing pain, they change the way your body responds to it.
Using opioids triggers a pleasurable sensation that is highly addictive. This is true even if you take opioids exactly as prescribed. It takes only 5 days of daily opioid use to develop an addiction.
We cannot stress this enough: do not use opioids if not prescribed by a doctor.
There are countless stories of people coming out of accidents and injuries being prescribed opioids. They are likely to continue using it beyond what doctors instructed because of their trauma.
If you have been prescribed an opioid drug, you are right to be hesitant.
Your hesitation may wind up saving your life. How do you make sure you take them safely?
Is it Safe to Take Opioids With Other Medications?
Many medications interact with opioids. There is a high risk of interaction for hundreds of drugs, even with some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.
67% of patients who were prescribed opioids take other medications. Seniors are even more likely to use multiple drugs to control their pain. It’s common to find seniors who are using opioids, muscle relaxants, and nerve pain medications all at once.
But this is dangerous. These medications make the effects of opioids more intense. The result is better pain control, but at the cost of breathing problems and possible death.
With polydrug prescriptions being so common, what’s the safe way to take opioids?
If you get a prescription, review the medications you already take with your doctor. Ask about possible interactions and side effects.
Many drugs increase opioid side effects, causing health effects and other issues. This is the case for diphenhydramine, which treats colds and allergies.
Mixing opioids with other drugs can trigger a slow heart rate and slowed breathing. At worst, it can be fatal.
Do not take other medications with opioids without the approval of a doctor.
Is it Safe to Take Opioids With Illicit Drugs?
With the number of people with OUD in the United States, opioids are an illicit drug themselves.
People with a history of drug use are more likely to abuse opioids. They are also likely to combine drugs because of tolerance.
Misuse is especially troubling with teens.
7 out of 10 teens who abuse opioids combine them with other drugs. This puts them at a high risk of a life-threatening drug overdose.
Studies found that opioids with benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax contributed to 80% of unintentional overdose deaths. It’s the most common polydrug overdose.
Combining opioids with other illicit drugs is never safe. Addiction to multiple drugs is always more challenging to treat.
Is it Safe to Mix Opioids and Alcohol?
Never take opioids with alcohol. That’s one of the first things a doctor will tell you upon prescription.
Alcohol is an addictive substance with adverse effects of its own. Drinking with opioids can easily encourage you to misuse your medication later on.
It also enhances the dangerous side effects of alcohol that make people act in harmful, unpredictable ways.
Every substance sends the brain a specific signal. When you mix these substances, you can quickly get overwhelmed and lose control.
The worsened side effects can include nausea, drowsiness, fainting, and difficulty in breathing. When untreated, it can turn into a deadly overdose.
If you are taking opioids, avoid drinking at any cost.
Wait until your prescription is over and ask for your doctor’s approval.
Is it Safe to Take Opioids to Self-Treat Stress?
Doctors will rarely ever prescribe opioids to treat stress. Despite that, many people self-treat stress with opioids that they get from friends or family.
Stress is known to worsen the conditions that can lead to drug addiction. This is why using addictive substances as a coping mechanism is never a good idea.
Becoming dependent on opioids simply brings more physical and mental problems.
Drug use may seem like a quick fix to any problem you may encounter, but it’s not true.
Instead of using opioids, look for healthier ways to deal with stress. You will need to be more patient with yourself, but it will be rewarding in the long run.
Always try to cultivate positive habits that relieve you of your problems. Remember that you can always reach out to people in your life instead of pills.
Is it Safe to Take Opioids to Self-Treat Pain?
Using opioids is only okay when prescribed by a doctor. Taking it to self-treat pain can only expose you to more risks.
If you experience mild pain, opioids are absolutely not right for you. There are other medications that are more appropriate for your condition.
The same goes even if you experience chronic pain. Opioids are not safe for long-term use.
Using opioids beyond the limits of your prescription counts as misuse. Do not self-medicate by not following your doctor’s dosage instructions.
Is it Safe to Take Prescription Opioids That Aren’t Yours?
Doctors do not take prescribing opioids lightly. They prescribe for a short amount of time and at the lowest effective dose.
Many who misuse opioids get prescriptions from friends or relatives.
If you know someone using opioids, do not use them for yourself. This could affect your loved one’s recovery when they have limited medication.
It also presents significant risks to your health. Without a legitimate reason to use opioids, you put yourself in danger of an OUD.
Is it Safe to Take Opioids Recreationally?
It’s not safe to take opioids recreationally. They’re too addictive and the potential for harm is too high.
A study shows that most people who use opioids recreationally also use other illicit drugs.
People previously prescribed opioids for medical reasons may end up using the drug recreationally. It’s important to recognize early on that taking them long-term is extremely dangerous.
In no cases should you use opioids beyond what was prescribed.
How to Take Opioids Safely
Opioids can cause physical and mental side effects in anybody. The only safe way to use them is to follow your doctor’s instructions.
You can take precautions before you even start taking them:
- Review your medical history with your doctor. Conditions like anxiety and depression can make you more vulnerable to OUD.
- Update your doctor if you have to take other medicines. You should know the possible interactions.
- Learn about what you’re taking. Your prescription should come with an information sheet with signs that tell you when to stop using it. If you encounter any of them, report it to your doctor immediately.
If they were prescribed to you, the schedule and dosage are meant to give you the best results from the drug. Anything beyond it is misuse and can threaten your life.
It’s essential to get rid of the leftover medication when your symptoms have passed. This can stop anybody else from taking it for themselves for any reason.
If the pain resists, you can look into non-opioid options, such as OTC medicine. You may also turn to exercise, therapeutic procedures like massages and acupuncture, and physical therapy.
How to Recognize if You have Opioid Use Disorder
You might have OUD if you have a problematic pattern of opioid use.
These are the symptoms of OUD:
- Strong opioid cravings
- Using larger dosages than intended or over an extended period of time
- Spending too much time looking for opioids
- Using opioids despite social and interpersonal problems
- Having to take larger doses to get an effect
- Experiencing withdrawals when you aren’t using opioids
Have you experienced any 2 of the symptoms over 12 months? You might be suffering from an OUD.
Recognizing these symptoms as soon as possible is key to keeping yourself safe from the risks.
Get Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
Like any other disorder, OUD is possible to treat with professional help. Unfortunately, only 1 of 4 people with OUD gets specialized treatment.
Knowing your treatment options can make an incredible difference in your life. If your opioid use has turned into dependency or addiction, seek professional help immediately.
There are several communities ready to support you in this undoubtedly difficult time. A specialized program for OUD can increase your chances of long-term recovery.
In treatment, you will encounter counseling, support groups, and medically-assisted treatment. All of these are part of a process that will let you live a healthier and happier future.