Learn About The Symptoms & Signs of Painkiller Abuse

The signs, symptoms, and effects of painkiller addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about painkillers is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Painkillers

Learn about painkiller addiction and substance abuse

Prescription painkillers have been extremely beneficial for those who have struggled with physical pain. Unfortunately, these medications can also be very dangerous. Regardless of whether they are being consumed under the care of trained professionals, abused in an effort to self-medicate, or taken recreationally to get high, prescription painkillers can lead to addiction. Many of the most popular prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin, Percocet, Demerol, and OxyContin, all contain opioids, which are highly addictive substances that are also in the same category as heroin.

However, this does not mean that consuming a prescription painkiller that has been legally prescribed by a healthcare provider is the same are consuming an illicit substance like heroin. These medications can be highly beneficial, and the risks are lessened when they are taken as directed. Yet, the danger of developing opioid use disorder is very real, and the risk is raised significantly when these drugs are consumed outside of medical supervision.

Oxycodone, hydrocodone, and meperidine (the active ingredients in OxyContin, Vicodin, and Demerol, respectively) are either synthetic or semisynthetic opioids, which means that, while they have been created in a laboratory, they share similar structures to that of the opium poppy, which is naturally occurring. These medications also share similar properties in the sense that they produce similar effects as one another, including relieving pain, triggering euphoria, and being highly addictive. Those who continue to consume prescription painkillers containing opioids can become tolerant to them. Tolerance is a sign of dependence, as is the presence of upsetting withdrawal symptoms when an individual attempts to stop the use of the drug or makes an effort to decrease the amount that he or she is consuming.

The desire to experience pleasant effects brought on by a prescription painkiller, while avoiding the pain of withdrawal, can cause an individual to stay stuck within a continuous pattern of opioid abuse. It can be terribly painful for someone to end his or her dependence on opioids without professional treatment. When comprehensive care is supplied, however, an individual can rid his or her body of opioids in a safe manner, allowing him or her to achieve a happy, healthy life free from prescription painkiller abuse.


Painkiller addiction statistics

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that more than 52 million Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes at least one time in their lives, and six million of those Americans have done so within the past 30 days. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), medications containing opioids make up nearly 44 overdose deaths each day in the United States, a number that includes roughly 18 women and 26 men. Over 16,000 people in 2013 lost their lives from prescription opioid overdoses, and before that in 2011, prescription painkillers were responsible for over 420,000 visits to emergency rooms.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for painkiller addiction

Prescription painkillers and the development of opioid use disorder might be affected by a series of factors, including the following:

Genetic: Detailed research shows that there is a genetic tie in the development of chemical dependency. For instance, a genetic predisposition to characteristics such as impulsivity and novelty-seeking might place an individual at greater risk for abusing medications such as these and other dangerous substances. Studies involving adopted children and twins prove that having a biological parent with a substance use disorder can increase the chances that the individual will also struggle with similar issues.

Environmental: Someone who has experienced childhood adversity, such as abuse, will be at greater risk for partaking in substance abuse, as well as someone who experiences tremendous levels of stress that surpass his or her healthy coping abilities. Specific to prescription drug abuse, experiencing an accident or injury that requires treatment that includes the use of prescription painkillers can serve as an environmental risk factor for the development of this type of substance abuse problem.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of painkiller addiction

Below are some of the most common signs and symptoms that one might display if he or she has been abusing painkillers that contain opioids:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Poor decision-making skills

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Drastic changes in mood


Effects of painkiller addiction

Opioid use disorder including prescription painkillers can have a dramatic effect on one’s physical, psychological, and social health, and can lead to the following negative effects:

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

Co-Occurring Disorders

Painkiller addiction and co-occurring disorders

An individual who has developed a dependence on prescription painkillers might also be suffering from one or more co-occurring mental health conditions. The disorders listed below are some of the most commonly diagnosed in those who are also grappling with opioid use disorder:

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

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of painkiller withdrawal and overdose

Effects of prescription painkiller withdrawal: Ending or dramatically decreasing one’s use of prescription painkillers after developing a dependence on them can lead to the onset of painful withdrawal symptoms, including:

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

Effects of prescription painkiller overdose: Opioids impact parts of the brain that also control involuntary processes including respiration and heart rate. Therefore, overdosing can cause an individual to be put in grave danger. If someone shows the following symptoms after consuming one or more prescription painkillers, he or she is likely in need of immediate medical care:

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

I loved the staff! Most of the techs and nurses were wonderful. The doctors were great, too. I would choose it again if I had to go back.

– Former Patient