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Staying on the Path

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May 8, 2012 by Annie McCormick

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A longtime friend of mine is battling Hepatitis C. He’s currently on his second round of treatment. Besides the nastiness of the drugs used to treat the disease, he is struggling with another aspect of his treatment. He is a recovering addict and has been clean for about 25 years and he needs to take drugs to alleviate the side effects of the chemotherapy.

There is pain, depression, insomnia and mood swings that result from the Hep C treatment. To tolerate a normal day, he has to take narcotics. For a recovering addict, this is a tricky situation. The drugs are to stop pain but the brain doesn’t really know what the drugs are there for. Areas of the brain are stimulated and seek more stimulation. For people with addiction problems- even those with many years drug-free- this is a tricky situation.

Some call it “awakening the beast.” The feeling of being high can initiate the obsession and compulsion to take more than prescribed and run the risk of being back in full-blown addiction.

I’ve seen a lot of people with pain conditions who have fallen into this trap. They are prescribed pain relievers, something to help them sleep, something to relieve anxiety and so on. Many are over prescribed, even by a well meaning physician. Even when the pain becomes tolerable and an Advil will do, they keep taking the meds. Addiction tells them that they still need them so they find the ways to keep in supply even when the doc cuts them off.

Because taking narcotics for any reason distorts rational thinking, some of us who take the meds as prescribed, and for legitimate reasons, can tell ourselves that we’re no better than a junkie. I’m in this category. Those who know me have seen how chronic pain affects my life. I’m conscientious about the dosage and see a dolorologist (pain management physician) regularly, but sometimes I still feel guilty. Like I’m doing something wrong. That’s how my brain works. I don’t like the fact that I have to take pills every day. I don’t even take as much as my doc wants me to take. Nodding out on a couch all day just doesn’t suit me. Even though I still have a lot of pain, I need to be able to function. I need to be a part of this world.

I’ve had people tell me how lucky I am that I get to take narcotics every day. Horseshit. I’d much rather be able to do the things I used to do than have to be on drugs all the time.

From time to time I have to remind myself that without treatment I wouldn’t even be able to walk. Sometimes this little mind game is what I have to do to be ok with the drugs.

I am lucky in one respect. I have a support group that would quickly pull my covers if I started getting goofy. Being honest with them from the get-go allows them to keep me in check if my brain ever decided to turn down that dark path to really being a junkie.

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