A Drug User’s Guide

Using drugs is like using doctors. When done correctly, you can benefit, sometimes greatly. Done poorly, you’ll just add to your problems. Be rational. Act wisely.

At the beginning of this series, I listed 3 questions I ask myself about drugs (see Thinking About Drugs):

What does the drug do?

How is it used?

What are its risks?

I believe you should do your best to get answers to these questions yourself. Ultimately, you will be the one who decides whether or not to use any drug you are offered. You are the one who will bear the consequences of your decision. Even though the burden of your pain may be great and the last thing you want is to take on more responsibility, the stakes are very high when it comes to drug use. If you don’t try to be rational and choose wisely, you are setting the odds against yourself.

Find out what a drug is supposed to do for you. What symptoms exactly is the drug supposed to affect – pain in general, a particular kind of pain, depression, anxiety, poor sleep, stiffness, muscle tension or something else? If you know, you can better judge how well it’s working for you.

Learn how to take the drug properly. This means taking the proper dose at the proper time of day. Know if you should take it with or without food. Be aware that side effects may occur most frequently when you start a drug. They often go away after a week or two if you can put up with them that long. Don’t keep taking a drug that isn’t helping or continues to cause serious side effects.

Know the risks. Become as familiar with the symptoms that signal potential harm as you are with the benefits. When using certain drugs, regular blood tests are required to detect early signs of harm or to ensure levels remain within safe limits. For your own safety, cooperate with getting these tests. If you believe you are having a drug reaction, seek appropriate medical care immediately. The more severe and debilitating the reaction, the more urgent the need for immediate help.

Is the drug you’ll be taking an anti-inflammatory, opioid, antidepressant, anticonvulsant, short acting or long acting? How is it supposed to work? Ask about the evidence for its use, keeping in mind that there is always some uncertainty when it comes to drug use. Understand that testing remains the best source of information about drugs, no matter what your friends’ or family’s advice may be. Make sure your prescriber knows about all the drugs you take including alcohol, tobacco, herbs, supplements, over-the-counter preparations – everything, and ask about possible interactions.

No matter what you’ve been told, there are no drugs that will take away all your pain. It is vital you understand this when you take a drug. Putting all your hopes in drugs (or any one kind of treatment) will distract you from the chance of reducing your pain by other means. On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who hates taking drugs, your prejudice may be keeping you from life changing benefits. Refusing all or certain kinds of drugs without getting the evidence is no more rational than believing there is a drug out there that can solve all your problems. You will need to think carefully about what you put into yourself, so gather facts and not myths about drugs.

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