Q. I'm worried about taking pain medications. Could I become addicted?

A.

Fear of becoming addicted is common among people who are prescribed medications for cancer pain. This fear can keep some patients from talking with their doctor about the pain they are in. It can also keep them from following their doctor’s orders about when and how often to take their medicines. Some people may even skip some of their doses because they are afraid of “getting hooked.”

It is true that you may experience physical symptoms of withdrawal when your pain medication is stopped. Some common symptoms might include feelings of irritability and agitation. This is called physical dependence, and it is a normal response to taking a pain medication, not a sign of an addiction. Addiction is a psychological, or emotional, dependence on a drug.

Sometimes our bodies can become used to the medicines that we are taking. This is described as building up a “tolerance” to your medication. It means that the pain medications that used to work may no longer help relieve your pain.

Building a tolerance to your pain medications is usually not considered a problem. Your physician can simply change the dosage of your medication or prescribe a new medication for you. Again, it is important that you keep your doctor informed as to what works and what doesn’t in easing your pain. Your physician will work very closely with you when prescribing your schedule of pain medication.

It’s important to talk with your doctor about any concerns or fears you may have. This will help ensure that pain medications are used safely and effectively.