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Preventing Addiction in Cancer Patients

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    Preventing Addiction in Cancer Patients

    One of the most common symptoms in cancer patients is the pain they experience. This pain can be caused by the treatments they have to endure, as well as the cancer itself.

    The pain can be different for each patient and depends on varying factors such as what type of cancer it is, where the cancer is in the body, how advanced it is, and a persons’ own pain threshold.

    As tumours grow and spread, they can cause incapacitating pain, particularly when they press on the nerves, organs, and sometimes bones.

    In addition to this, treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery can also leave patients in immense pain. Patients that have more advanced cancers suffer much greater levels of pain.

    Sometimes the pain and discomfort can render cancer patients unable to do things for themselves and leave them needing help to do them.

    These things can be as simple as preparing meals and taking care of personal hygiene. Being unable to do these things anymore can sometimes make cancer patients feel very low, anxious, and depressed.

    Prescribed Pain Medication

    Patients with cancer are sometimes prescribed medication to help cope with the chronic pain they suffer while going through treatment.

    These are usually very strong types of medication called opiates which are highly addictive and include things such as:

    • Morphine
    • Diamorphine
    • Tramadol
    • Hydromorphone
    • Buprenorphine
    • Oxycodone
    • Fentanyl

    These medications can cause patients to become physically dependent upon them.

    When taken correctly as directed by a doctor, they are typically safe, but in the instant that patients take them incorrectly or in the wrong doses, doing so can also cause addiction.

    If these types of medicine are taken over a prolonged period, it can make the body build up a tolerance to them, causing them to feel less effective.

    This could lead to patients taking a larger dose to cope with the pain and get the relief they need, again increasing the chance of addiction and dependence.

    Studies have shown that the longer a cancer patient takes this type of medication, the higher the risk of it being misused.

    Opiate Addiction Signs

    Patients who can feel like they can not function properly without these types of medication have become addicted.

    Cravings and the overuse of medication outside of its prescription are also signed a patient has become dependant on it. Other signs of addiction include;

    • Taking a larger dose than a doctor has prescribed
    • Using the medication more frequently than they should
    • Taking medication just for the ‘high’ feeling
    • Running out of a prescription earlier than they should
    • Changes to sleeping patterns / nodding off frequently
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Mood swings and isolating from family and friends
    • Asking the Doctor for more prescriptions
    • Mixing prescribed medication with alcohol and recreational drugs
    • Being unable to cut down on usage

    Preventing Addiction and Opiate Misuse in Cancer Patients

    A crucial part of preventing medication misuse and addiction is being able to talk with your doctor and other health care providers.

    The medical team in charge of a patients’ care can help with worries and fears, as well as pain management and medication issues.

    There are a few other important steps and precautions that can be taken to help patients to reduce the risk of dependency and addiction which include;

    • Making a pain management plan – A pain management plan is agreed with a doctor, pain management team and the patient, and has realistic goals set in place.
    • Keeping track of the treatment and success – Monitoring the success of the treatment plan will help to identify areas that work and what can be changed
    • Having a pain chart – Keeping track of pain scales throughout the day can identify when pain is high or low so drugs could be matched to help better when needed
    • Being aware of mixing medication – Understanding interactions when mixing the prescription drugs things such as alcohol, and other medications
    • Sticking to the prescription – Making sure to stick to the medication dosages as prescribed and following the directions of taking them
    • Only take your own medication – It is never a good idea to take medication that has been prescribed for someone else, as it may cause adverse effects

    Aside from prescribed medication, there are many other ways to help cancer patients cope with their pain during treatment. These are more holistic approaches and can help alleviate some tensions and pain.

    Some of these therapies include things like massages, reflexology, acupuncture and even hypnosis which have been proven to help patients with their pain management.

    There are other types of interventions that a doctor or care team can arrange, such as nerve blocks, which are also good alternatives to using addictive opiate drugs.

    Diagnosis and Concerns

    When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it can cause unbelievable strain on their mental health and wellbeing too. Going through new treatments or receiving a new diagnosis can also cause emotional and mental stress.

    Cancer patients frequently suffer mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and these two forms of illness are closely linked to alcohol and substance abuse.

    Some treatments can be painful and stressful at times, which can also lead to self-medication.

    This added pressure on a cancer patients’ emotional and mental health needs to be treated properly.

    Mental illness that goes untreated could cause triggers, and cause a relapse, or lead to drug abuse in a patient who has never used substances before.

    Risks and Dangers of Drugs and Alcohol in Cancer Patients

    Drug and alcohol abuse comes with several risks, but for cancer patients those risks are far greater.

    For a patient going through treatment and using substances, it may reduce the effectiveness of their medication. Some have additionally unpleasant side effects like nausea and vomiting.

    An even greater risk is what happens when substances are mixed with prescribed opiate medication.

    Alcohol and some drugs are forms of depressants, and when mixed with prescribed medication such as morphine can make these effects more extreme. There is also a very high risk of overdose.

    It is very important for cancer patients to keep their immune system and their body as healthy as possible.

    Some treatments can be gruelling and so doing so will help them recover from treatments quicker. Using drugs and alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to fight infection and cancer cells as substance abuse depletes the immune system.

    Having a strong support network of friends and family, and a pain management plan can help cancer patients cope better and help towards the prevention of addiction and substance abuse.


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