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What to Watch Out for When Injured Athletes Take Post-Surgery Painkillers

The country has been in the grip of an opioid crisis for years. Much of the crisis has been fueled by misuse of opioid painkillers that are often legally prescribed. They are highly effective for managing pain, however, they are also highly addictive if not used exactly as prescribed by the physician. 

This is a scenario that many athletes find themselves in while participating in a sport. Due to the physical nature of sports, athletes are at a higher risk for bodily injury. As a result they may need surgery or have to deal with chronic pain. And if an athlete has certain types of surgeries in high school they have a greater chance of needing surgery later in life if they continue playing. These issues are something that we hear about quite often at our addiction treatment centers in Dallas. 

As another football season kicks into full swing, it reminds us of the increased pressures that athletes face both mentally and physically. A side-lining injury that requires surgery can have a negative impact on mental and physical health. It’s a risky combination, so it’s important for loved ones to provide additional support during this time. That means looking out for their best interest, which includes watching out for the following signs that they may be abusing post-surgery painkillers. 

Medications Are Being Taken at the Incorrect Times

Opioid painkillers must only be taken as directed, typically at a certain dosage and time interval. That means the medications should be taken at the same time every day. If you notice that a loved one is taking painkillers at odd times or before the next dose is recommended it’s a red flag. 

Any time an athlete is under the age of 18, a parent or guardian needs to be in possession of the painkillers at all times to ensure they are taken as directed. Anyone is at risk of addiction when opioids aren’t taken as prescribed, but people in their early 20s and teens are at a higher risk.

Taking More Medication Than Recommended

Pay careful attention to the frequency of dosages to determine if your loved one is possibly taking more doses than recommended in a 24-hour period. You can also figure out if they are taking more than the recommended dose by counting the number of painkillers that are in the bottle.

If you do find that there are fewer painkillers than there should be and bring it up with your loved one they may provide a number of explanations. Be leery if they say they lost some of the painkillers or dropped them. These are common excuses that are used to try to cover up prescription drug abuse.

Medication Use is Not Tapering Off

Opioid painkillers are meant to be used for a limited period of time after surgery only while a person is managing pain. The use should taper off over time as pain from the surgery subsides. 

If a loved one is still using opioid painkillers at the same rate a week or more after surgery it is cause for concern. One thing that should be addressed is their pain level. If a person is still struggling with unmanageable pain over a week after surgery, the matter should be discussed with their physician.

If the pain is subsiding yet the opioid use is not, it’s a warning sign. Whenever a person uses painkillers when pain isn’t present they may need to enter a Dallas intensive outpatient program, like what Lighthouse Recovery offers for addiction treatment. Continued use will only increase the likelihood of dependence.

Taking Painkillers in Anticipation of Pain

Opioid painkillers aren’t made for preventing pain, therefore taking a painkiller in anticipation of pain is a dangerous practice that can lead to addiction. When opioids are used and no pain is present it creates a high effect. Be wary if a loved one says they are taking opioid painkillers “just in case” or because they anticipate pain later and want to stop it before it starts.

Their Behavior or Mood Has Changed

This is a hallmark sign of substance abuse in the early stages, and it may be the only indicator of an addiction. Anytime a loved one’s mood or behavior changes without reason it’s cause for concern that needs to be addressed. Be on the lookout for the following behavior and mood changes that are related to opioid addiction:

  • Going from happy to hostile in a short amount of time
  • Changes in their sleep patterns
  • Poor decision making
  • Loss of interest in things that they were interested in before
  • Requests for or attempts to get more medication
  • Acting more reclusive 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawing from social life
  • Impulsive behavior

Even if drugs are not involved, changes in behavior could indicate the individual may be dealing with stressors or other mental health issues. Struggling with anxiety or depression actually increases a person’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. No matter what the case is, behavior and mood changes should be discussed with a clinical expert. 

What to Do If You See the Warning Signs of Prescription Painkiller Misuse

If opioid painkiller use has turned into an addiction, it’s extremely important to seek professional assistance as soon as possible. The first step is connecting with an in-patient or Outpatient Addiction Treatment Program that can provide supportive, targeted therapy ideally within 48 hours of contact. 

If you’ve already completed rehab and are faced with an injury you may need to consider a sober living program that can provide additional support. For example, our program for Sober Living in Dallas is designed to create a healthy, safe environment for patients that have undergone treatment and are working to maintain their sobriety.

As a Hall of Fame Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Lighthouse Recovery is uniquely qualified to help athletes that are battling substance abuse and that are in recovery. Our services are customized to an athlete’s unique physical and mental needs.

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