Don’t rely only on drugs
No matter what the reason for your discomfort—migraines, an injury that’s not getting better, or a chronic condition like cancer— pills shouldn’t be your only source of relief after a week or two, says Scott Fishman, M.D., professor of anesthesiology and chief of the division of pain medicine at the University of California, Davis. “Physical therapy, counseling, alternative medicine like acupuncture, or surgery can help you resume your normal life.”
Get off the meds safely
The longer you’re on painkillers, the more likely it is that your body will develop a tolerance for them. “People may end up addicts because they need increasing amounts to get the same effect,” says Coleman. It’s impossible to estimate how quickly you could become physically dependent, because everyone is different, but if you take painkillers for much longer than a week, you may experience withdrawal when you stop. “To prevent this scenario, your doctor should wean you off of them gradually by tapering your dose,” advises Coleman.
Reach out for help
Unfortunately, most people who become addicted to narcotics can’t stop on their own. A three- to 30-day detox in a medical setting may be required. “But detox is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh. “We need to teach people coping tools so they can live without the drug, or the problem will come back.”