Teach Me

Am I Developing a Drug Tolerance?

Prescription drug addiction is a growing issue. In fact, the number of deaths involving prescription drugs is four times higher today that it was 20 years ago. Many of the people suffering from prescription drug addiction didn’t intend to abuse the substance. It’s important to understand the nature of the drugs you are prescribed and work with your doctor to monitor their effects on your body.

One important thing to monitor is your drug tolerance. Of course, this is not the same thing as drug dependence, but the two can become related if tolerance is left unchecked. To help us understand what doctors are doing for patients to avoid the pitfalls of prescription medication, we spoke with Jenna Holtom, a Banner Health pharmacist.

What is tolerance?

“When you are developing a tolerance, your body will need more and more of a medication to produce the same therapeutic effect,” said Dr. Holtom. As your doses get larger, side effects may become more severe. Dr. Holtom mentioned narcotics, inclusive of opioids, as the most important class of drugs to prevent growing a tolerance.

How can you prevent growing a tolerance?

You and your doctor are partners in your health. Work together to keep each other informed and educated so that you can both recognize the signs of a growing tolerance. Dr. Holtom listed a few helpful ways that you and your physician can avoid the need for ever-increasing doses.

1. Consider non-pharmaceutical treatments

Medication is vital for many patients, but it’s not the only treatment available. Increased exercise, counseling services, and improved diet can do wonders for your recovery. Good habits should be a part of every treatment plan, reducing the duration and lowering your likelihood for dependence on drugs. In some cases, they may even eliminate the need completely.

2. Keep a journal

Especially when recovering from an injury, it can be hard to recall how you’ve progressed. Dr. Holtom recommended keeping a daily journal. Consider including details like your level of pain before and after medication, the severity of your side effects, how you are sleeping, what time you take your medication and other relevant information.

3. Dispose of unnecessary prescriptions

You may be tempted to hold onto extra pills, “just in case.” Not being wasteful is a great attribute in most areas of life, but the smartest thing you can do with unneeded pills is dispose of them safely. Not only are expired pills less effective, and sometimes risky, they can be a temptation for improper use. Not just for you, but for anyone in your home.

How is tolerance different from dependence?

Developing a tolerance isn’t the same thing as gaining a dependence, although one thing can easily lead to another. Dr Holtom described dependence as your body getting used to the presence of a drug. When the substance is no longer present, you feel withdrawals. Those withdrawals can range from mild to life-threatening depending on the medication and the dose you were prescribed.

Your body’s relationship to medication can be complicated. You should never stop taking a medication immediately without consulting with your physician. Some medications require you to taper on or off and could be dangerous to suddenly discontinue. If you are concerned about your relationship with a prescribed medication, start an honest conversation with your physician or pharmacist. Your questions are always welcome!

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