Painkiller Addiction Causes & Effects

Learn About Painkiller Abuse

Learn About Painkiller Abuse & Treatment at Life Healing Center

Prescription painkillers have improved the quality of life for those who were once struggling with acute or chronic pain. However, these medications can come with risks. Regardless of whether they are consumed under the care of certified healthcare professionals, illicitly abused in an effort at self-medication, or abused for recreational purposes, prescription painkillers pose the risk of addiction. Many of the most commonly prescribed painkillers, such as Percocet, Demerol, Vicodin, and OxyContin, all contain opioids, which are a very addictive category of substances that also include heroin and morphine.

This does not mean that consuming a prescription painkiller that has been professionally prescribed is the same as consuming heroin. These prescription medications can be incredibly beneficial, and the risks are minimized when they are consumed as directed. However, the danger of developing an opioid use disorder is real, and the risk is significantly increased when these drugs are consumed without proper guidance.

Oxycodone (the active ingredient in OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and meperidine (Demerol) are all synthetic or semisynthetic opioids, which means that they are manufactured in a laboratory, however they share similar structures with naturally occurring extracts from the poppy plant. They also have similar properties, such as relieving pain, triggering a sense of mild euphoria, and presenting the risk that individuals will develop opioid use disorder. Tolerance is a sign of dependence, as is the presence of upsetting symptoms of withdrawal when an individual attempts to stop using the drug or dramatically decreases the amount that he or she has been consuming.

The desire to experience pleasing effects of an opioid-based painkiller, while fending off the pain of withdrawal, can keep an individual stuck within what might feel like a never-ending opioid use disorder. It can be highly challenging for an individual in this position to end his or her dependence on opioid-based drugs without effective painkiller addiction treatment. When comprehensive care is provided, though, an individual can clear his or her body of opioids within a safe and comfortable manner, and can then finish the therapeutic programming that will help him or her prevent relapse and live a more joyful, happier, life that is free from the desire to abuse prescription painkillers.


Painkiller Abuse Statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that over 52 million Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medicinal purposes at least once in their lives, and six million have done so within the last 30 days. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid-based prescription medications make up nearly 44 overdoses each day in the United States, breaking down to roughly 18 women and 26 men. In 2013, more than 16,000 people lost their lives from prescription opioid overdose. Before that, in 2011, prescription painkillers led to more than 420,000 visits to emergency rooms.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Painkiller Abuse

The abuse of prescription painkillers and the development of opioid use disorder may be affected by a number of different elements, including the following:

Genetic: Detailed research supports the presence of a genetic impact on the development of chemical dependency. For instance, a genetic disposition to impulsivity and novelty seeking might place an individual at increased risk for abusing these medications and other substances. Also, studies that included both adopted children and twins show that having a biological parent with a substance use disorder heightens the likelihood that an individual will share similar problems.

Environmental: An individual who experiences child abuse or other forms of childhood adversity are more likely to engage in substance abuse, as will those who struggle with high levels of stress that surpass his or her coping abilities. Specific to prescription drug abuse, suffering an accident or injury that requires treatment including prescription painkillers can be an environmental risk factor for developing opioid use disorder.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Abuse

Below are some of the most typical signs and symptoms that might show that an individual has been abusing opioid-based painkillers:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Poor decision-making skills

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic changes in mood
  • Depression
  • Irritability


Effects of Painkiller Abuse

Opioid use disorder that includes prescription painkillers can have a significant impact on one’s psychological, social, and physical wellbeing, and can cause the following upsetting consequences:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Painkiller Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

An individual who has become dependent on prescription painkillers might also be struggling with a co-occurring mental health problem. The following disorders are most often diagnosed in those who are also battling opioid use disorder:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Painkiller Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of prescription painkiller withdrawal: Ceasing or significantly decreasing one’s use of prescription painkillers after becoming dependent on them can cause many upsetting symptoms, including:

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

Effects of prescription painkiller overdose: Opioids work with parts of the brain that also impact involuntary processes such as respiration and heart rate. Therefore, overdosing can put an individual in great peril. Anyone who shows the following signs and symptoms after consuming a prescription painkiller might require immediate medical attention:

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

At one point in my life, I found myself faking back pain to get painkiller prescriptions. The harm it incurred on my financial stability and my physical and mental well-being was too much. I decided to get help from the caring staff at Life Healing Center. My sobriety is in reach and I am forever grateful to the staff at LHC.

– Steve H.
Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • LegitScript
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)