Painkiller Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Often times the signs of painkiller addiction can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of painkiller addiction.

Understanding Painkillers

Learn about painkillers and substance abuse

Prescription painkillers provide countless benefits for those who grapple with physical ailments and pain. While beneficial in this capacity, these medications can be very harmful if used inappropriately. Regardless of the reason why they are being consumed, whether it is being done recreationally or in an effort to self-medicate, prescription painkillers can cause addiction to develop the longer this type of substance abuse continues.

Many popular prescription painkillers, including fentanyl, OxyContin, and Vicodin, all contain opioids, which are extremely addictive substances that are in the same category of drugs as heroin. This does not mean that consuming a prescription painkiller is the same as consuming illicit opioid substances like heroin. Prescription painkillers are legal and beneficial when taken as directed by a professional. However, the danger of developing opioid use disorder is a very real risk that is increased significantly when these substances are consumed outside of a prescriber’s guidelines.

Oxycodone, meperidine, and hydrocodone (the active ingredients in OxyContin, Demerol, and Vicodin, respectively) are either synthetic or semisynthetic opioids, which means that while they have been developed in a lab, they share similar structures to the opium poppy, which occurs naturally. These medications also share similar properties in the sense that they trigger the onset of similar effects as one another, including pain relief and euphoria when they are abused. If you are abusing a prescription painkiller and continue to do so, you can become more tolerant on them. Tolerance is a symptom of dependence, as is the presence of distressing withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop your use.

Ongoing misuse of painkillers can increase your cravings for these substances and make withdrawal more intense. It can be exceptionally challenging to stop your dependence on opioids without professional help offered at a clinic or a rehab center. When comprehensive care is obtained, however, you can begin clearing your body of the dangerous substances that you have consumed and begin building a life that is happy, healthy, and free of prescription painkiller abuse.


Painkiller addiction statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over 52 million Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once in their lives. Six million of those have done so within the past 30 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that medications containing opioids are responsible for nearly 44 overdose deaths each day in the United States, which breaks down to 18 women and 26 men every day. More than 16,000 people in 2013 died because of prescription opioid overdoses, and in 2011, there were 420,000 visits to the emergency room because of the abuse of these substances.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for painkiller addiction

The abused of prescription painkillers and the development of opioid use disorder can be impacted by many different factors such as:

Genetic: Extensive research proves that there are genetic ties to the development of chemical dependency. A genetic predisposition to characteristics including novelty-seeking and impulsivity can put you at increased risk for abusing prescription painkillers. Also, studies involving adopted children and twins prove that having a biological parent with a substance use disorder can raise the likelihood that a person may also struggle with similar issues.

Environmental: If you have experienced problems during childhood such as abuse, you may be at a higher risk for participating in substance abuse. Additionally, you may also be at an increased risk if you experience exceedingly large amounts of stress that outweigh the coping skills you have developed. Specific to prescription painkiller abuse, experiencing an accident or injury that requires prescription painkillers can act as an environmental risk for the development of this form of addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Prior substance abuse
  • Ease of access to prescription pain medications
  • Trauma
  • Family history of substance use disorders
  • Stress
  • Poor coping skills
  • Experiencing severe acute or chronic pain

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of painkiller addiction

Below are some of the most typical signs and symptoms that one might display if he or she has been abusing prescription painkillers:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Diminished participation in significant activities
  • Deception regarding whereabouts and/or activities
  • Visiting multiple doctors to get prescriptions for painkillers
  • Borrowing or stealing medication that have been prescribed to someone else

Physical symptoms:

  • Heavy perspiration
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Constipation
  • Slurring speech
  • Pupil dilation
  • Impaired coordination
  • Itchiness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic changes in mood
  • Irritability
  • Depression


Effects of painkiller addiction

The abuse of prescription painkillers can have a significant impact on one’s social, psychological, and physical health, and can cause the following effects to develop if treatment is not received:

  • Financial distress
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Impaired or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Social isolation
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Development of physical health problems
  • Suicide attempt or attempts
  • Family discord, including separation and divorce

Co-Occurring Disorders

Painkiller addiction and co-occurring disorders

If you have developed a dependence on prescription painkillers, you might also be struggling with one or more co-occurring mental health conditions at the same time. Below are some of the most common co-occurring conditions that one might experience when addicted to prescription painkillers:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Learn about painkiller withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription painkiller withdrawal: Ending or significantly minimizing your use of prescription painkillers after developing a dependence on them can lead to painful symptoms of withdrawal that can include the following:

  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Inability to sleep
  • Dysphoria
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Powerful cravings for opioids
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Pain in bones and muscles

Effects of prescription painkiller overdose: Opioids affect areas of the brain that also impact involuntary processes such as heart rate and respiration. Therefore, overdosing on these substances can place your life in danger. If someone is displaying the following symptoms after consuming prescription painkillers, he or she must obtain immediate medical help to avoid a grave outcome:

  • Breathing problems
  • Slow or otherwise irregular pulse
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
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