Understanding Painkiller Addiction

In general, there are three main types of drugs that are called “painkillers”.

These painkillers include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (“NSAIDS,” like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen)
  • Paracetamol (acetaminophen)
  • Opioids

Opioid painkillers are most commonly abused and can lead to a painkiller addiction. Most people begin using painkillers for perfectly valid medical reasons, even for extended periods of time. Surgeries or injuries can cause a medical need for pain management. Depending upon the severity of the pain, the need for painkillers can last for weeks or even months. Under these circumstances, even people under medical supervision with no history of substance abuse can find themselves becoming addicted to painkillers. For people who have a substance abuse history – or who are predisposed to developing addiction – use of painkillers can quickly lead to painkiller dependence and then to full-blown addiction to painkillers.

What Causes Painkiller Addiction?

Opioids are very effective painkillers. Opioid painkillers suppress not only the perception of pain – they suppress the user’s emotional reaction to pain. In addition to managing pain, opioid painkillers provide a sense of euphoria that many people (even non-addicts and non-abusers) find pleasurable, which can lead to painkiller addiction.

Opioid painkiller users quickly develop tolerance to the drugs and require more to achieve the same pain management effect. Extended use or abuse of opioids causes the body’s own pain management system (the “endorphin” system) to stop producing natural painkillers. These changes can quickly lead a user from simply filling a valid prescription to opioid dependence, and then to full-blown opioid addiction.

What are Common Opioid Painkillers and How are They Ingested?

Some of the more common opioid painkillers (and their trade names), include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilauded®)
  • Morphine (Astramorph®, Avinza®)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic®)

Opioid painkillers are available in the form of pills, lollipops, adhesive transdermal patches, suppositories, and in liquid forms for use by mouth or by injection. In order to get high, some painkiller abusers will often take more of the drugs than prescribed (“1 pill every 4 hours” becomes “4 pills every hour”). Some abusers will change the method of ingestion (like crushing pills and snorting them, or dissolving them with water and injecting the drug into a vein).

What are the Effects of Painkiller Abuse and Painkiller Addiction?

There are short and long term effects that can occur with painkiller use, abuse, and addiction.

The more common short-term effects from painkiller use and abuse are:

  • Euphoria
  • Pain suppression
  • Mood changes
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy, feeling of heavy limbs
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Itching
  • Hallucinations

The more common long-term effects from painkiller abuse and addiction are:

  • Scarred or collapsed veins from injecting drugs
  • Heart lining/valve infections
  • Major organ damage (brain, liver, or kidney)
  • HIV, hepatitis, abscesses and other viral/bacterial infections
  • Nasal passage damage from snorting drugs
  • Coma
  • Death

What are Painkiller Addiction Symptoms?

The painkiller addiction symptoms are similar to those of opiate addiction. The most common signs of painkiller addiction are:

  • Needle and track marks from intravenous use (or wearing long sleeves/pants at inappropriate times to cover marks)
  • Changing ‘friends’ from non-users to users
  • Sudden need for money/borrowing money
  • Hygiene and appearance suffer
  • Excessive drowsiness and sleeping
  • Drastic weight gain/weight loss

How Does Painkiller Abuse / Painkiller Addiction Affect The Brain?

Taking painkillers results in the production of compounds that bind to opiate receptors in the brain. When these compounds bind to the receptors, the perception of pain is reduced, along with the emotional response to pain. In day-to-day life, the body naturally produces small amounts of endorphins that bind to the same receptors and reduce pain. Flooding these receptors by using painkillers causes the body’s endorphin system to shut down.

Because painkillers are central nervous depressants, they cause reduced respiration and circulation. Reduced respiration and circulation can cause an oxygen deficiency in the brain (hypoxia), which can lead to brain damage or death.

What are the Painkiller Withdrawal Symptoms?

Users who have a short-term, less intense addiction to opiod painkillers are able to quit without any medical help for withdrawal symptoms (called “cold-turkey”). Users with full-blown painkiller addiction should not attempt to stop cold-turkey. For such users, a medically supervised withdrawal may be necessary.

Withdrawal syndrome can begin after a few hours of stopping the drug. The worst withdrawal symptoms generally peak between 24-48 hours later. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense, persistent cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Achiness
  • Moodiness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Confusion
  • Poor appetite
  • Headache
  • Anxiety

If you or someone you love is showing signs of painkiller withdrawal, you should consider seeking medical assistance immediately. You can find more information here.

What Can You Do?

Please call our New Jersey rehab center today to find out what therapy programs may be available for you or your loved one. Call our rehab facilities in NJ 24 hours a day at 888-687-6977, or contact us here.

One call may be all it takes to make a brighter tomorrow.