Our dad has cancer and is having constant pain. Mom doesn’t want him to take morphine regularly because he will get addicted to it. What can we do to help him?
For “acute” pain—such as with headaches, fractures, sprains—you take something, and it hopefully works; but you only take a pill when needed.
However, when a person with a life-limiting disease [like a cancer] has pain which never completely goes away, by definition it now has become “chronic”.
With chronic pain, if you wait to take something only when the pain gets worse, you never really “get ahead” of it; it is uncontrolled and you’re always playing “catch-up”. Constant pain requires constant treatment
Your mom does not need to worry about your dad becoming ‘addicted’. Although someone with a life-limiting disease could become addicted, it’s uncommon, since their need to increase the dose is usually related to progression of the disease. However, they certainly do become ‘dependent’ on the drug. Dependency is a physiologically expected response: your body becomes used to the drug and when stopped, symptoms of withdrawal occur, such as pain, rapid heart rate, irritability. In fact, taking almost any drug daily for more than a few weeks can result in dependency.
But they aren’t addicted. Addiction is when someone gets a psychological ‘buzz’ from the drug, needs to take increasing doses for the same effect, and keeps taking it despite the fact it is causing them financial, physical, psychological, or spiritual problems.
It has been shown that uncontrolled chronic pain leads to permanent nerve damage resulting in hypersensitivity to any painful stimulus, which then makes control even more difficult and often leads to depression and social withdrawal.
Thus, it is important for anyone with a life-limiting disease who has chronic pain, to take their pain medication regularly. Hospice promotes this philosophy and monitors the drugs prescribed which helps avoid the problem of addiction.