Painkiller Addiction

Pain relief is one of the most common reasons for a doctor’s visit. Roughly 20.4 percent of US adults reported chronic pain in 2016. Chronic pain has been linked to mobility restrictions, opioid dependence, and overall reduced quality of life. 

What Is Painkiller Addiction?

Prescription painkillers are considered part of the opioid class of drugs. Opioids are often prescribed to help manage pain. Typically, these medications are safe from short-term use as specified, but they are highly addictive and can be misused. 

Painkillers can be misused if someone: 

  • Takes the medicine in a way or dose outside the scope of their prescription
  • Takes someone else’s prescription medicine 
  • Takes the medication to achieve a “high” effect 

People may swallow or crush their pills to consume them or dissolve them in water to inject the liquid into a vein. Some individuals may also snort the crushed-up pill powder. 

Common prescription painkillers include: 

  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla, Zohydro) 
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo) 
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin) 
  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Percocet) 
  • Oxycodone with aspirin (Percodan) 

Prescription painkiller addiction is sometimes referred to as opioid use disorder (OUP). In 2017, the Health and Human Services declared the rate of opioid abuse in the US a national pandemic. 

Symptoms and Side Effects of Painkiller Addiction 

While used in the short term, painkillers can help relieve pain. However, when abused or taken longer than needed, opioids can have harmful side effects, including: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion 
  • Nausea 
  • Constipation 
  • Slowed breathing 

Slowed breathing causes the most significant concern of these symptoms, which can lead to hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition where the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen, which can cause: 

  • Coma 
  • Permanent brain damage 
  • Possibly death 

Painkiller and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms 

Once someone develops a painkiller addiction, they will likely continue to take the drugs to avoid dealing with the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can occur when they stop. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can vary, especially if more than one drug is misused. Some painkiller and opioid withdrawal symptoms that can occur include: 

  • Excessive sweating 
  • Confusion 
  • Enlarged pupils 
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Cramps and muscle aches 
  • Excessive yawning 
  • Flu-like symptoms (runny rose, congestion) 

Generally, opioid withdrawal is uncomfortable, and these symptoms can be challenging to deal with on your own. The time it takes to withdraw from opioid medications will vary from person to person, but the immediate symptoms should dissipate in a week or two. 

How To Recognize Painkiller Addiction 

Nearly three million people in the US have an OUD or have had one in the past. The following are signs to look for in someone you suspect to be misusing painkillers: 

  • Doctor shopping (going to more than one doctor for multiple prescriptions)
  • Not able to cut back even though they want to 
  • Using painkillers longer than intended 
  • Spending all their time finding or recovering from painkiller use 
  • Having a strong urge to use painkillers 
  • Continuing to use drugs despite their legal or social problems 
  • Driving while under the influence 

If someone experiences an overdose where they turn blue and stop breathing, call 911 immediately. Or administer a dose of Naloxone (NARCAN).

Note that a dose of Naloxone will save a life and send the person into immediate withdrawal. So it’s vital to get help immediately whether you or the emergency medicine techs dispense the Naloxone. 

Risk Factors for Painkiller Addiction 

Older individuals tend to have an increased risk of accidental painkiller misuse because they often take many prescriptions at once, increasing interaction risks and a decreased metabolism to help break down the drugs in their system. Additionally, taking opioids for more than five days increases someone’s chance of addiction. Other factors that can influence the risk for substance use disorder include: 

  • Family history of substance abuse 
  • Age (the younger someone is exposed, the more likely they are to become addicted) 
  • Risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior 
  • Lack of medical care 
  • Stressful life circumstances 
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehab 
  • Unemployment or poverty 
  • Heavy tobacco use 
  • Mental health history 

Painkiller Addiction Treatment Types

There’s a range of treatments available for painkiller addiction. Most drug rehab centers will provide behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatments (MAT).  Two medications: buprenorphine and methadone, are commonly issued to help reduce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These medications bind to the same opioid receptors as prescription painkillers to reduce cravings.  In addition to MAT, treatment programs will also include behavioral health therapy to help people modify their prescriptions regarding drug use. Therapy also helps increase healthy coping skills and learn to manage triggers. 

Finding Treatment for Painkiller Abuse and Addiction 

If you or someone you love are struggling to stop painkillers, Southeast Addiction Treatment Center is here to help. Reach out to an addiction specialist today to receive your free substance abuse assessment. Our team is here to take your call 24/7. Don’t wait to take control of your life. 


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016

Human Health Services (HHS) – What is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Opioids 

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Prescription Opioids DrugFacts