Effective Tips To Wean Off Of Pain Medications After Surgery

Even if surgery is elective, such as plastic surgery, very few people enjoy the pain that follows in the initial stages of the recovery period. As a result, surgeons will commonly prescribe pain medications to help minimize discomfort. But, as more people become cognizant of prescription drug dependency, learning how to effectively taper off prescription pain medications is critical to avoid the risk of addiction.

Long-term versus short-term use

One factor that will impact whether or not dependency can occur is the length of time in which a patient continues to take pain medication. Depending on the purpose and type of surgery, some patients may be on medications for a longer period. And that timeline can impact how quickly an individual can undergo the tapering process to either significantly reduce or fully eliminate taking a medication. A person that’s only been taking medication for 2 weeks or less may be able to stop cold turkey with no side effects. Meanwhile, the patient who’s been on medication for more than 6 months may need several weeks or months to reduce or eliminate medication.

Short-term use cessation

For patients that haven’t been taking medications for extensive periods, medication cessation should be relatively easy. While individual experiences will vary, most experts agree that for medication use of 2 weeks or less, especially with opioids, simply finishing the prescription and not getting a refill should be sufficient. However, when in doubt, consider speaking with a healthcare provider.

Long-term use cessation

By contrast, a cold turkey approach to medication cessation for patients that have been taking medications for extended periods is rarely recommended. Depending on the prescription, patients may experience withdrawal symptoms which could encourage a relapse to continue taking the medication. Instead, long-term medication use patients are encouraged to speak with a healthcare provider to formulate a tapering plan.

Fast versus slow tapers for long-term use

Even for patients who have developed a drug dependency, there are two common methods for weaning off of medication. Fast tapering usually occurs over a range of days to a few weeks. In this scenario, the patient’s dose is decreased by 25-50% every few days. However, severe withdrawal symptoms are more likely. By contrast, a slow taper will reduce the dosage by 10-20% every 1-3 weeks. Once on the lowest dose, the patient will be encouraged to take 1 less tablet per week until only a nighttime dose remains before stopping.

When to consider tapering off pain medications

Usually, the length of medication use will determine whether a person can simply stop taking medication cold turkey, or opt for a tapering plan. As a general guide, if a patient’s pain medication at the current dosage or strength no longer effectively works to alleviate pain, then tolerance has been developed, and quitting the medication at once might lead to withdrawal. Instead, phasing out the drug is a good idea. Patients concerned about pain medication dependence or that want to begin tapering off medications should speak to a healthcare provider.