Painkiller Addiction and Treatment Options

Pain can be one of the most debilitating symptoms from injuries, illness, and disease. Chronic pain is something that affects up to 20% of American adults, making it one of the most common reasons people seek medical care. In search of relief, individuals may turn to painkillers. Even if they were prescribed by a doctor, painkiller addiction is one of the most common and one of the hardest to treat. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a staggering 54 million Americans have reported misusing prescription drugs at some point in their lives.

How do painkillers work and which ones are the most addictive?

Prescription painkillers which include powerful opioids interact with key receptors in the brain, blocking or intercepting neural functioning to prevent the sensation of pain. These drugs tend to have a depressant effect on the central nervous system, slowing down the activity of several bodily functions including heart rate, breathing, and generally inducing calmness and relaxation.

Opioid painkillers increase the amount of dopamine and endorphins in the brain, important neurochemicals in the sensation of pleasure. This action, combined with its pain-relieving properties, give painkillers its high potential for misuse and addiction. In fact, most prescription painkillers are classed as Schedule II controlled substances by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Some of the most widely abused painkillers in the US include Vicodin (hydrocodone), Oxycontin (oxycodone), and fentanyl. Other commonly abused painkillers include Stadol, Percocet, Demerol, and Lorcet. In most cases, there is a direct correlation between painkillers that are commonly prescribed and painkillers that are commonly abused. Many individuals that are addicted to prescription painkillers get the drug legally by prescription, though the majority obtain it through friends or acquaintances.

Signs of Painkiller Addiction

As with all addictions, painkiller addiction may be difficult to spot right away. However, some early signs that painkiller use is becoming problematic include:

  • Doctor shopping to obtain multiple prescriptions from different doctors
  • Increased mood swings
  • Erratic or dangerous behavior, particularly when it comes to obtaining painkillers
  • Decrease in cognitive function, including confusion or impaired reflexes
  • Social isolation
  • Neglect of professional responsibilities or responsibilities at home

Symptoms of a Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction may present differently according to individual factors and the specific painkiller being abused. Symptoms may include physical symptoms and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Constipation
  • Sedation or drowsiness
  • Itchy and flushed skin
  • Seizures
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Mood disturbances
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosis
Painkiller Addiction Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms occur when there is physical dependence fueling addiction. When the body is physically dependent on a substance, suddenly stopping or reducing use can lead to many physiological and psychological changes that are unpleasant and may even be dangerous. These may occur in as little as six to twelve hours after the last use. Withdrawal symptoms increase the likelihood of continued drug abuse as the individual tries to avoid the unpleasant symptoms by taking another dose. Painkiller withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold flashes and shivering
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
What are the dangers of mixing painkillers with alcohol?

Individuals who abuse painkillers may also be suffering from co-addiction to other substances. Painkillers and alcohol may be a particularly dangerous combination because individually both substances have a similar depressant effect on the nervous system. Together, they may exacerbate the effects of one another, leading to a reaction that is much more dangerous and could even be lethal.

The most dangerous symptoms of mixing painkillers with alcohol include dehydration, changes in blood sugar, depressed heart rate and breathing, seizures, inability to concentrate, loss of consciousness, or coma.

Treatment for Painkiller Addiction
Though it can be complicated, treatment for painkiller addiction follows the standard protocol for substance abuse and addiction as outlined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Treatment includes medical detox, one-on-one therapy, peer support groups, treatment of co-occurring mental health disorders, and other interventions as needed. Treatment for painkiller addiction can be tailored to the needs of the individual, which dictate the length and array of services needed.
Medical Detox
The first step in most addiction treatment programs is medical detox. Since addiction involves the development of physical dependence on painkillers, the person has to safely eliminate the drug from the body before therapeutic work can be effective. Since this process can be so distressing and potentially dangerous, medical detox is recommended. During medical detox, individuals have access to round-the-clock care, during which use of the abused painkiller will slowly be tapered off and withdrawal symptoms can be managed.
Replacement Medications

Since painkiller addiction is often associated with severe or chronic pain, replacement medications may be necessary to treat pain symptoms or to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. This is typically done only as recommended by a physician and under close medical observation during detox.

Replacement medications may include longer-acting opioids such as methadone that reduce symptoms of painkiller “high” but still work effectively to treat pain. Other effective replacement medications include buprenorphine and naltrexone. Buprenorphine activates opioid receptors to a milder degree than prescription painkillers. Naltrexone conversely blocks opioid receptors from being stimulated.

Painkiller Addiction FAQs

Painkiller Addiction Recovery at Riverwalk Ranch
A Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area Addiction Treatment Center

At Riverwalk Ranch, painkiller addiction can be treated as part of our comprehensive addiction treatment services. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, our professionals use only effective treatments to help you safely and comfortably begin your journey toward recovery. Our facilities provide a safe haven to detox, surrounded by medical professionals, addiction specialists, and other like-minded individuals who want to live a healthier drug-free life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from painkiller addiction, contact our addiction treatment center today at (877) 863-3869. Whether Texas is your home or you’re looking for a fresh start in a new environment, Riverwalk Ranch can provide a therapeutic and supportive home for you. Everyone deserves a happy and healthy life free from addiction, and we are committed to helping you achieve that by overcoming painkiller addiction.

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