What are the chances of becoming addicted to opioids after wisdom tooth surgery? This is a valid question. With all the media hype about the so-called opioid crisis, many people, and some doctors, too, hesitate when it comes to the use of opioids. While opioids are potentially addictive, and some level of caution is always advisable, as with any drug or medical procedure, the risks must be balanced with the benefits. To answer the opening query in general terms, approximately 25 percent of patients taking prescribed opioids will misuse them. This means that they may take more than prescribed, combine the opioid with something else for a stronger effect, crush tablets meant to be swallowed whole or take the opioid even when no pain is present. This kind of misuse is not addiction in itself, but it’s possible for it to lead to addiction in some people.
Approximately 10 percent of persons taking prescribed opioids will eventually develop an addiction to them. Of course, this also means that 90 percent will not. Therefore, looking strictly at statistics, the chances of addiction to prescribed opioids, especially for a short-term reason such as wisdom teeth removal, is quite low.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is defined as drug-seeking behavior that persists even in the face of plain and convincing evidence of harm. This harm could be physical, social or financial, or all three, in nature. An addicted person puts the drug ahead of all else. It becomes the only important thing in their life. They will lie, steal, cheat and endanger themselves or others to get their drug. They may commit illegal acts to get the money for the drug, knowing an arrest would result in the loss of their job. They will continue to take the drug knowing it’s destroying their health and could well kill them. Those are the extremes of addiction.
Genes and Environment
Not everyone who uses a drug will become addicted. Why? The tendency for addiction is a mysterious mix of nature and nurture. Genes play a pivotal and critical role. As much as half of this tendency may be purely genetic. This is dangerous because there is no way to really know if you’ve inherited this addiction potential or not, at least not until you’re exposed to the drug that may addict you. The other major factor is environment and other social factors, especially a history of childhood psychological trauma. But, again, this doesn’t guarantee addiction, either. The drug in question matters, too. For example, many opioid abusers won’t touch any other drug, even if they have access to it. It’s also true that many people don’t find opioids to be pleasant at all and avoid them unless they’re absolutely necessary.
Addiction, Dependence and Common Sense
Then there is the question of dependence. Anyone who takes an opioid for any length of time, say more than a few weeks of daily use, will become physically dependent on them. This is not addiction. This dependence is just a function of how opioids work in the brain. In other words, addiction always involves physical dependence, but physical dependence may or may not involve addiction. Many people with very painful conditions rely on prescription opioids for pain relief and a decent quality of life. Opioids also speed healing time for surgery patients by relieving stress-inducing pain. In the example of the dental wisdom teeth removal patient, short-term use of an appropriate opioid will keep the person comfortable and able to sleep and function for the first few days after the procedure. It doesn’t seem fair or logical to deny opioids to people who legitimately need them.
Prescription Opioids or Illicit Fentanyl?
The sharp rise in recent opioid deaths cannot be disputed, but legitimate prescription opioid death statistics may be skewed. They may not be recognizing the role of illicit fentanyl in these opioid deaths. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid about 30 to 50 times stronger than street heroin. It’s cheap and easy to synthesize in rogue labs typically located in China. Although illegal there, the drug is mass-produced and smuggled into Western countries like the United States. This fentanyl is used to cut street heroin by dealers looking for a higher profit, but these dealers don’t have the skill to safely cut the heroin with fentanyl. Fatal overdose is inevitable, and it happens often. Worse, dealers use illegal pill presses and illegal Chinese fentanyl to create lookalike but counterfeit prescription tablets that look just like the real thing. This practice is widely used to produce a fake popular brand of blue 30-milligram tablets of oxycodone. However, the tablets contain fentanyl, not oxycodone.
What’s the Risk?
If your doctor thinks you need to take opioids, he or she is probably right. If you’re not comfortable with it, ask about alternatives. You can always try a non-narcotic pain reliever first to see if it works. Maybe it will. If not, the opioid option is still there. The risk of addiction overall is statistically low, but no one can ever predict ahead of time what exactly will happen in your case.
We can help you with any kind of questions or issues about drug abuse and treatment. Just call us anytime at 844-639-8371. We would like to hear from you, and we’ll help you in any way we can.