Risk Factor for Opioid Addiction Higher in Middle-Aged Women

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Opioids prescribed after surgery are a major risk factor for opioid addiction, according to a new report, and middle-aged women are at the highest risk.

Despite efforts to stem the growth of the opioid epidemic, Americans were prescribed a record number of opioid painkillers in 2016, according to a new report funded by Pacira Pharmaceuticals that shows people undergoing surgery are at a particularly high risk of opioid addiction and dependence. Post-surgical pain is an important risk factor for opioid addiction, largely due to the overprescribing of opioids by physicians.

According to the report, individuals were prescribed an average of 85 pills to treat post-surgical pain, resulting in 3.3 billion pills left unused by patients and likely to find their way to the street. But not everyone left their pills unused. In 2016, nearly three million Americans became persistent users of opioids, continuing to take them three to six months after their procedure.

Being Female is a Key Risk Factor for Opioid Addiction Post-Surgery

Middle-aged women between the ages of 40 and 59 are at a particularly high risk of developing an opioid dependence or addiction after surgery. This demographic is given twice as many prescriptions as their male counterparts, including opioid prescriptions. For this reason in part, 40 percent more women than men became persistent opioid users in 2016. Additionally, women between the ages of 45 and 54 have the highest opioid overdose death rate among all women.

How Persistent Use Leads to Prescription Opioid Dependence and Addiction

Persistent opioid use can lead to prescription opioid dependence and increase the risk for opioid addiction.

Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using opioids. The frequent use of opioids leads to tolerance, which is characterized by needing increasingly larger doses of opioids to get the same effects a smaller dose once produced. Over time, this can lead to changes in the brain that culminate with the brain beginning to function more comfortably when opoids are present than when they’re not. Then, when opioids are withheld from the body, normal brain function rebounds and causes withdrawal symptoms like body aches, cold sweats, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences it causes. Opioid abuse often leads to problems with relationships, finances, or your health. If you continue to abuse opioids even though it’s causing your life to fall apart, and you can’t quit even though you’ve tried to or want to, you’re probably addicted. Opioid addiction can lead to severe medical and mental health problems as well as continued interpersonal and financial problems that typically grow worse with time.

Treating Opioid Addiction

Typically, it’s not a single risk factor for opioid addiction that leads to it. Rather, a number of underlying causes may be present. These often include:

  • Chronic stress from pain, illness, poverty, abuse, or other major life stressors.
  • A history of trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse or neglect, particularly in childhood.
  • A co-occurring mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, which many attempt to self-medicate with opioids.

Treating an opioid addiction requires addressing the underlying issues and helping addicted individuals develop the skills they need to stay off opioids for the long-term.

Preventing Opioid Addiction

For anyone going into surgery, but women in particular, taking preventive measures can help prevent opioid addiction and dependence.

  • Work with your physician to develop a medication plan that has a finite duration.
  • Stop using opioids, or cut down, when you no longer need them to control pain.
  • Look into other pain relief methods, which include acupuncture, meditation, and non-opioid medications.
  • Don’t take larger doses than your physician prescribes.
  • If you have more than one risk factor for opioid addiction, consider the alternatives to opioids.

Assessing your risk for opioid addiction is important for preventing it.

Treatment Can Help

If you’ve already developed an opioid dependence or addiction, treatment can help you successfully recover. Treatment involves medications to treat the dependence and therapy that helps you end an opioid addiction for good. Treatment works, and it can work for you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get help right away. Make a phone call that will connect you to a professional drug treatment center. The call you make may save your life or the life of someone you love. Call us today at 1.800.429.7690.