The Bad and the Ugly of a Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addictions are becoming more and more common. This is especially true since pills for pain are becoming a staple in America. It is used to treat anything from mild to severe pain, and many doctors do not hesitate to write a prescription for painkillers.

In 2012 alone, doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain relievers. These prescriptions ranged from oxycodone, which is one of the strongest pain killers, to codeine phosphate. Codeine phosphate is a relatively mild pain killer.

Although pills for pain are great for business and quite effective, misuse or long-term use can lead to addictions. Many people are under the misconception that these medications are safe because they are prescribed by doctors. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth.

Painkillers are some of the most commonly abused and most addictive substances out there. Use of these medications can quickly spiral out of control.

Common Types of Prescription Painkillers

Doctors prescribe pain medications to treat mild to severe pain. Mild pain pills, otherwise known as non-opioids are used to treat minor pain, like headaches, while prescription opioids are the big guns that take care of more severe matters.

Prescription opioid pain pills, like oxycodone, are particularly easy to misuse and abuse. Misuse and abuse can lead to tolerance and dependence on the drug. This means that it can lead to an addiction to painkiller pills.

The most common types of prescription opioid painkillers include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone  

The strongest pain killer is the easiest to get addicted to. It's important to also know that mixing any of these pain meds with alcohol or other drugs can lead to adverse effects. The effects of all substances can be magnified when taken together.

There are two different types of prescription opioid painkillers: immediate-release and extended-release.

Immediate-release pain pills provide short-term pain relief. It is often the first type of pain medication to be prescribed because the dosage is easy to adjust. These pills for pain will usually have a quick acting effect on the body.

Extended-release pain medications take longer to have an effect on the body. With that said, they also tend to last longer, and are often prescribed after immediate-release pills for pain.

How Long Do Pain Relievers Stay in Your Body?

Many people often wonder how long pain meds stay in their body for. The answer will vary depending on the type of pain pill that you are taking. It will also depend on the dosage that was prescribed.

Even the same type of drug will stay in your system for various lengths of time depending on whether it is immediate-release or extended-release. For example, oxycodone can have a half-life as rapid as 37 minutes, and as slow as 6.2 hours.

Even when a pain killer is removed from your system, its metabolites may still remain in your body. Most drug tests actually screen for these metabolites, which is why they can detect painkiller use for days after the body metabolizes the pain pills.

Other than the type of painkiller that is being used, other factors can influence how long pain pills stay in your body for. Some of these factors include:

  • Age
  • Body fat content
  • Genetics
  • Liver and kidney health and condition
  • Metabolism

Out of those factors, the liver and kidney health and condition are the most important. These organs are responsible for metabolizing the active chemical compounds in pain relievers. If they are not working in an efficient manner, the chemical compounds in the pain pills will remain in the body for a longer period of time.

Pain Pill Addiction Signs

Prescription opioid painkillers have grown in popularity. Although pain levels in America haven't changed one bit, 400% more pills for pain are sold than in the past. 2 million Americans are addicted to pain pills, and the number is rising more and more each year.

Painkiller Recovery

Many people don't even realize that they are addicted to pain meds until they've developed quite a big dependence on the drug. This is because it's possible to get addicted even if the pills are taken as prescribed.

Knowing what painkiller addiction signs to look for is key to preventing an addiction or getting help. Some common symptoms of an addiction to pain medications include:

  • Being unable to control or reduce pain pill use
  • Building tolerance to the drug and needing a larger dose each time
  • Engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Experiencing financial difficulties as a result of purchasing pain relievers
  • Failing to quit because of the withdrawal symptoms
  • Going through withdrawal symptoms when quitting
  • Having a strong desire to get high using the pills
  • Having an intense craving for the painkillers

Many people have difficulties coming to terms with their pain killer addiction. However, if you suspect that you are developing an addiction or if you suspect that someone close to you is getting addicted to painkillers, speak to a specialist. You can even take one of our addiction quizzes to see how you measure up. Our quizzes can even help you determine whether an addiction treatment can help you get sober.

So, why are painkillers so addictive?

The reason behind this question lies in the neurotransmitters in your brain. The neurotransmitters are messengers that send signals from one part of your brain to another. In the case of an addiction, the messengers responsible for sending signals of pleasure and euphoria are affected.

The main neurotransmitters that are affected by pain killers include dopamine and serotonin. Upon taking a painkiller, dopamine levels in your brain can jump up by 200% in as little as 8 seconds. This is what causes the intense euphoric sensations you feel.

These sensations are also what makes pain medications so addictive, and one of the hardest addictions to kick.

With time, your body will get used to the elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin. It will adjust other areas of the brain to accommodate these changes. For example, it may reduce natural production of dopamine and rely on artificial stimulation instead.

When you quit taking pain pills, your body simply cannot adapt to the change quick enough. All of a sudden, it has a low supply of important neurotransmitters needed to regulate your mood and feelings. This is what causes the intense withdrawal symptoms associated with pain meds, and the intense painkiller cravings that often come with quitting.

Painkiller Addiction Side Effects

Much like with any type of drug, there are some side effects that can accompany painkiller use. These side effects will become much more pronounced and intense among those who are abusing pain pills.

Some of the most common short-term effects of painkiller abuse include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Increased irritability and mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor decision making skills
  • Poor sleep or insomnia
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting and nausea

The amount of short-term pain med side effects that one may experience will depend on the person. These side effects are generally not permanent and will be reversible once the active compounds in the pain relievers exit the body.

Common Long-Term Side Effects of Painkiller Use

Those who are addicted to painkillers are more likely to use them for long periods of time. Long-term use can cause significant damage to the dopamine and serotonin systems in the brain. When this happens, long-term side effects may emerge. These side effects will usually subside as the brain heals and regains balance.

Common long-term painkiller side effects include:

  • Bladder dysfunction
  • Bleeding ulcers
  • Brain damage
  • Cardiac conditions like low blood pressure
  • Coma
  • Hormonal changes that result in poor libido and sexual performance
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Infections
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Poor memory or loss of short-term memory
  • Poor psychomotor abilities
  • Sedation
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Sleep disturbances

Some long-term side effects are unique to certain pills for pain. For example, long-term use of hydrocodone can lead to hearing loss. If this happens, surgery will be needed to repair the damage that the ear canals have sustained.

Painkiller Withdrawal Symptoms

Once a person makes using painkillers a habit, it can be difficult to quit. Pain pill withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to bear, persistent and incredibly intense. This is why as many as 91% of painkiller addicts who are in recovery will relapse.

The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms will differ depending on the dosage that was taken and the type of drug that was taken. Not everyone will experience all of the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting.

Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Cold sweats
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Goosebumps and chills
  • Insomnia and sleep disorders
  • Intense cravings for pain pills
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness
  • Profuse sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Seizures

To deal with the pain med withdrawals, most professionals recommend seeking addiction treatment. You can choose to go for either residential treatment programs or intensive outpatient treatment programs. The former offers a higher level of care, which makes it easier to get sober.

It's easier to focus on recovery with a residential treatment program. This is because you won't be affected by any external factors, and can focus solely on how to get better.

Prescription opioid pain reliever withdrawals can last for varying lengths of time. Check with our withdrawal handbook to get more information.

The length of the withdrawals will be influenced by numerous factors. It may depend on the dosage that was taken, the drug type, as well as one's biological makeup, age and weight.

In most cases, addicts who use pills for pain can expect the withdrawal symptoms to kick in approximately 8 to 12 hours after the drug was last ingested. Physical symptoms will usually peak and become more intense within 12 to 72 hours. They will subside by the 5th or 10th day.

Psychological withdrawal symptoms, like cravings for pain killers and depression, may last much longer. Some reports indicate that these symptoms can last for months after recovery.

Painkiller Overdose Symptoms

Overdoses are common with painkillers. The most common painkillers involved in overdoses include methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Overdoses caused by pills for pain are eerily similar to heroin overdoses. During an overdose, the cardiac and respiratory system shuts down. The user will feel sleepy, fall asleep and then stop breathing.

Symptoms of a prescription painkiller overdose include:

  • Bluish tinge around the fingertips and lips
  • Clammy skin
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Respiratory arrest and depression
  • Sleepiness and extreme fatigue
  • Vomiting and nausea

An overdose can happen 1 to 3 hours after taking the drugs, and can cause significant neurological damage to the body. When a person is overdosing, it's important to call 9-1-1 immediately, and to place the person in a position of recovery. This is to prevent them from choking on their own vomit.

Fortunately with opioid overdoses, it is possible to reverse the effects of an overdose with naloxone. This medication can be injected into the muscles or sprayed into the nasal cavity.

The active compounds in naloxone will bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. This prevents the drugs from having an effect on the body. Its effects will kick in within 5 minutes after the administration. If you don't see any effects at all, you may have to administer a second dose.

Naloxone kits can be purchased at pharmacies. It is even free in some states.

Detoxing from Pain Meds

Opioid Replacement Therapies (ORTs) are often used to treat painkiller addictions. This type of therapy involves using substitutes that are weaker than the pain pills being abused.

The substitute drugs often have similar effects on the body to block cravings and lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. You can choose between three different classes of ORTs: antagonists, partial antagonists and agonists.

Some of the most commonly used medications in ORTs include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone
  • Suboxone
  • Vivitrol

Each medication possesses unique features that make it stand out. For example, buprenorphine has a "ceiling effect", so it cannot be abused or misused. The body simply won't develop a strong dependence or tolerance to the drug at all.

If you're wondering which one of these medications may work best for you, speak with one of our counsellors. We'll explore the features of each drug, as well as your concerns, to find a match.

Have Faith in the Road to Recovery

Many people falsely believe that prescription painkillers can't be addictive because they are prescribed by doctors. Unfortunately, these medications are some of the most addictive ones out there.

A painkiller addiction can completely take over your life. You may find yourself withdrawing socially or performing poorly at work, at school or at home.

Once you notice that you're addicted, it's time to get help. Many recovery centers offer personalized treatment plans to help patients get sober. Although the road to recovery may be filled with potholes and bumps, persist through the obstacles and you'll break free from a painkiller addiction.

Talk to a Rehab Specialist

Our admissions coordinators are here to help you get started with treatment the right way. They'll verify your health insurance, help set up travel arrangements, and make sure your transition into treatment is smooth and hassle-free.

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