Prescription painkillers, also known as opioids, are a type of medication used to relieve pain. They are generally considered safe when taken as prescribed by a doctor. However, they can be dangerous and even deadly when abused. Frequently referred to as opioid use disorder (OUD), painkiller addiction affects roughly 3 million people in the US.
What Are Painkillers?
Painkillers are a type of medication used to relieve pain. They work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord that help to reduce the perception of pain. Painkillers can be either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription. Common OTC painkillers include ibuprofen and acetaminophen.
Common prescription painkillers include:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet)
- Oxycodone with aspirin (Percodan)
- Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Vicodin)
- Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
Other drugs that may be considered illegal opioids include heroin and street fentanyl.
Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction
If you suspect you or a loved one has a painkiller addiction, here are some signs and symptoms to watch for:
- Taking drugs more often than you should
- Using painkillers longer than intended
- Spending the majority of your time finding drugs or recovering from use
- Having intense cravings for painkillers
- Continuing to use drugs despite social and legal consequences
- Developing a tolerance – needing more painkillers to feel the same effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Painkiller and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Detoxing from painkillers can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous process because it can cause withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Cold sweats
- Muscle aches
The main cause for concern with painkiller withdrawal is severe dehydration from the significant loss of fluids. This can lead to serious cardiac events such as a heart attack or stroke.
How Do People Become Addicted to Painkillers?
People usually become addicted to painkillers after taking them for legitimate medical reasons. For example, someone who has surgery may be prescribed painkillers for postoperative pain relief. However, because they contain potent chemicals that are highly addictive, it’s possible to develop a tolerance to them.
This means the person will need to take increasingly larger doses to get the same effect. As tolerance builds, so does dependence. When dependence becomes an addiction, the person may start “doctor shopping” to get multiple prescriptions for opioids or turn to illegal sources such as heroin when they can no longer obtain pills legally.
Painkiller Addiction Treatment
Treatment for painkiller addiction typically begins with detoxification, followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment. During detoxification, the drug is slowly removed from the person’s body under medical supervision. After detoxification, the person can begin inpatient treatment or an outpatient program.
Inpatient treatment requires the person to live at the treatment facility for the duration of their program, typically 30-90 days. During this time, they will participate in individual and group therapy sessions and activities designed to help them recover from their addiction.
Outpatient treatment does not require the person to live at the facility. Still, it does require them to participate in regular therapy sessions and attend recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Mental Health Counseling for Painkiller Abuse
Mental health counseling is an essential part of treating any addiction but is especially important for treating opioid addiction because of the high rate of comorbidity with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Counseling can help the person understand why they turned to drugs in the first place and provide them with tools to deal with triggers and cravings to stay sober in the long term.
Finding Treatment That Works For You
If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, don’t hesitate to seek help. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating opioid addiction; each person’s situation is unique and requires a customized approach based on their individual needs. Contact our addiction treatment helpline for more information about individualized treatment today.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Opioids
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – What are prescription opioids?
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus – Opioid addiction