Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction is a life-threatening condition that can adversely affect the health and well-being of the person who suffers. Painkillers are opioid drugs that can be found both legally by prescription (i.e., OxyContin) and illicitly (i.e., heroin) on the black market. In any case, all types of opioids and opiates have a high potential for addiction.

All painkillers can be habit-forming because they cause a surge “feel good” chemicals to collect in the brain’s reward center. Once administered, they take control of transmitters in the brain such as dopamine and serotonin.

Painkillers also have properties that can lead to central nervous system depression. As such, they reduce neurological activity in the brain and body and induce pleasurable feelings such as pain relief and euphoria. Painkiller abuse, however, can and often does result in serious complications such as respiratory distress, coma, and even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction can lead to a variety of adverse consequences, including ill or failing health, mental illness, criminal activity and legal problems, and strained or broken relationships with family and friends.


  • Continued use of painkillers despite adverse physical and psychological effects
  • Lack of interest in activities once deemed enjoyable
  • Use of painkillers in hazardous or inappropriate settings
  • Adverse changes or problems in other areas of life such as work, school, relationships, and financial status
  • General malaise
  • Frequent, profound sedation


  • Drowsiness/heavy sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash

Painkiller Addiction – Dependence

Over time, the use of painkillers can lead to dependence, a condition in which the brain has adjusted to drug exposure and can no longer function properly without its presence.

When a patient or user becomes dependent on a substance, they begin to crave the drug and suffer from unpleasant withdrawal effects when they cut back or quit.

Symptoms of painkiller withdrawal may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Confusion
  • Appetite changes
  • Tremors
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating/chills and shivering
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cold-like symptoms including runny/stuffy nose and fever

Painkiller Addiction – Tolerance

Tolerance is a condition in which the person’s body has become desensitized to a substance and response is reduced. When this occurs, the user has little choice but to increase drug use regarding dose, frequency, or potency.

When these individuals amp up their substance abuse patterns, they also significantly heighten the risk of serious side effects, overdose, and death.

Types of Painkillers

Many painkillers are prescribed legally by health care providers and include, but are not limited to the following:

  • codeine
  • fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic)
  • hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
  • hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • meperidine (Demerol)
  • methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • morphine (MS Contin, Morphabond)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet)

Illicit Painkillers

Any painkiller can be illegal if someone knowingly takes it without a prescription. Other types of illicit painkillers include illegally-produced fentanyl, carfentanil, and their analogs, as well as heroin, U-47700, and other synthetic opioids.


Using high doses of painkillers especially in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol can result in life-threatening complication such as central nervous depression, overdose, respiratory or cardiac arrest and death.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Restricted pupils
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Pale skin, blue color to lips and nails
  • Limp body and cold, clammy skin
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Extremely slow, labored respiration or breathing stopped altogether
  • Seizures
  • Extremely slow heart rate
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death

If you or a loved one are experiencing the above symptoms, please contact emergency personnel immediately.

Treatment for Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction treatment usually starts with a medically-assisted detox. During this process, patients are supervised around-the-clock for several days while their body cleanses itself of drugs and alcohol.

Staff monitor vital signs and medication is administered to treat withdrawal symptoms.

After detox, patients are urged to undergo a 30-60 treatment program which includes either inpatient or outpatient treatment or a combination of both. Both formats include group and individual therapy and counseling, participation in 12-step group meetings, and holistic practices such as art and music therapy.

Outpatients can opt to live in a private residence or an approved sober living environment while they readjust to society outside of the center. After formal treatment has ended, patients can engage in alumni activities and continue their recovery journey under the recommendations of a customized aftercare plan.

If you or your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, please seek help as soon as possible.

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