Spotting someone who may be addicted to painkillers can be difficult, as the signs and symptoms may not be immediately obvious. It is important to note that not everyone who takes painkillers will become addicted, and some people may misuse the medication without developing an addiction. However, if you suspect that someone you know may be struggling with a painkiller addiction, it is important to encourage them to seek professional help.
Curious about what signs or symptoms might be present in someone with an addiction to painkillers and how a painkiller addiction can be treated? Then read on and find out more about what exactly a painkiller addiction is, how to identify it, and how to treat it so that there is less chance of relapsing.
What Is Painkiller Addiction?
Painkiller addiction refers to the physical and psychological dependence on prescription pain medications, also known as opioid analgesics, which is why it can also be referred to as opioid use disorder (OUD). These medications, which include drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, are commonly prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain, but they can also be misused for non-medical reasons.
Long-term use of these medications can lead to tolerance, meaning that higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief, and withdrawal symptoms may occur if the drugs are abruptly discontinued. Addiction to painkillers can have serious consequences, including physical and mental health problems, social and financial difficulties, and, in extreme cases, death.
It is important for individuals using these medications to do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional and to be aware of the risks associated with their use. Healthcare professionals who prescribe opioids will therefore often give an extremely detailed description of not only what the drug will do but also the side effects and possible risks that can come with its use so that the person being prescribed the medication—or the one who is helping them take it—knows exactly what can happen in worst-case scenarios.
How Common Are Painkiller Addictions?
Painkiller addictions are not very common, but some factors increase a person’s risk of opioid addiction even before they start taking the painkillers. These factors include the following conditions:
- Being younger, particularly in your teens or early 20s
- Those living in stressful situations, such as those who are jobless or are below the poverty line
- Those with a history of drug misuse, either personally or in the family
- Those who have experienced prior issues with their jobs, families, or friends
- Those with a history of legal issues, such as DUIs
- Those who often interact with high-risk individuals or high-risk areas where drugs are used
- Those with severe depression or anxiety
- Those with a propensity for taking risks or seeking out exciting experiences
- Those who smoke heavily
Several additional factors, such as genetic, psychological, and environmental factors, can also play a role in addiction. No matter who you are, though, anyone who takes opioids is at risk of becoming addicted to them, hence why painkillers are carefully chosen and monitored by medical professionals.
What Are the Signs of Painkiller Addiction?
There are several signs of painkiller addiction that can be used to identify individuals who may be struggling with this condition. Some of the most common include the following:
Increased Tolerance to the Medication
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers will often require higher doses of the medication to achieve the same level of pain relief as they did when they first began taking the drug. This is because their body has become accustomed to the presence of the medication, and as a result, more of it is needed to have the same effect.
Taking the Medication More Frequently or in Higher Doses Than Prescribed
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers may begin taking the medication more frequently than prescribed or in larger doses than recommended. This is often done in an attempt to achieve the same level of pain relief as they did when they first began taking the drug.
Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms When the Medication Is Discontinued
Painkiller addiction can lead to physical dependence on the medication. As a result, individuals who are addicted to painkillers may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug. These symptoms can include anxiety, insomnia, and flu-like symptoms, among others.
Taking the Medication for Non-medical Reasons
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers may begin taking the medication for non-medical reasons, such as to get high or relieve emotional distress. This is often an indication that the individual is struggling with addiction.
Neglecting Responsibilities at Home, Work, or School Due to Drug Use
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers may begin neglecting their responsibilities at home, work, or school due to their drug use. This can include missing work or school, neglecting household chores, and neglecting the care of family members or pets.
Engaging in Risky or Dangerous Behaviors While Under the Influence of the Medication
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers may begin engaging in risky or dangerous behaviors while under the influence of the medication. This can include driving while under the influence, engaging in unprotected sex, or using other drugs in combination with painkillers.
Continuation of Usage Despite Negative Consequences Like Legal Issues or Health Problems
Individuals who are addicted to painkillers may continue to use the drug despite experiencing negative consequences, such as legal issues or health problems. This is often an indication that the individual is struggling with addiction.
What Are the Physical Signs of Addiction to Painkillers?
The physical symptoms of painkiller addiction can vary depending on the type of medication being used, the duration of use, and the individual’s own physiology and biochemistry. However, some common physical symptoms of painkiller addiction include the following:
- Constipation. Constipation is a common side effect of opioid use. It occurs due to the slowing of the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to difficulty in bowel movement.
- Nausea and vomiting. The nausea is caused by the medication’s effect on the digestive system, while the vomiting is caused by the medication’s effect on the brainstem.
- Respiratory depression. Opioids can slow down the respiratory system, which can lead to difficulty in breathing and in some cases, respiratory arrest.
- Drowsiness and sedation. Opioids can cause drowsiness and sedation, which can lead to difficulty with concentration and memory, as well as an increased risk of accidents. This is largely why most opioids have a warning not to operate heavy machinery, such as driving a vehicle, while taking the medication, as the risk of falling asleep at the wheel and getting in an accident is much higher.
- Dizziness. Opioids can cause dizziness, which can lead to difficulty with balance and coordination, as well as an increased risk of accidents.
- Itching. Opioids can cause itching, which can be uncomfortable and can lead to skin irritation and infection.
- Skin rash and hives. Some people may develop a skin rash or hives as a side effect of opioid use.
- Impact on sexual function. Long-term opioid use can lead to sexual dysfunction, such as decreased libido, difficulty with ejaculation or erection, and decreased fertility.
- Impact on mental health. Long-term opioid use can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and addiction.
How Is a Painkiller Addiction Diagnosed?
While there can be signs and symptoms visible to anyone, only a trained medical professional can make a diagnosis. If you suspect you or someone you love might have a painkiller addiction, the next step would be to take them to a medical professional for a diagnosis—though in order to get to this step, you might also need to plan an intervention. The diagnosis of painkiller addiction typically begins with a physical examination by a healthcare provider. The provider will ask about the patient’s medical history, including any past or current substance abuse issues. They will also ask about the patient’s current symptoms and any previous treatments that have been tried.
During the physical examination, the healthcare provider will look for signs of addiction, such as needle marks, changes in skin color or texture, and other physical signs of drug use. They will also check the patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, pulse, and breathing rate, to assess the patient’s overall health.
In addition to the physical examination, a psychological evaluation is also typically conducted. This may include interviews with the patient, as well as with family members or other loved ones, to gather information about the patient’s emotional and mental state. The healthcare provider will also assess the patient for any co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, which may be contributing to the addiction.
Through a combination of physical examination, psychological evaluation, diagnostic tools, and lab tests, the addiction will be properly diagnosed. These steps are important in determining the severity of the addiction and developing an appropriate treatment plan.
How Are Painkiller Addictions Treated?
Treatment for painkiller addiction typically begins with detoxification, which is the process of removing the addictive substance from the body. This can be done in a variety of settings, including inpatient and outpatient facilities, and can be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider. During detox, the patient may be given medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms that may occur, such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches.
Once detox is complete, the patient will typically enter a rehabilitation program. This can include inpatient or outpatient treatment and may involve individual or group therapy. The goal of rehabilitation is to help the patient learn how to manage their addiction and to help them develop the skills and tools they need to maintain long-term recovery. Rehab can provide a safe space for those with painkiller addictions to detox and start the long journey of recovery, but the most important step to recovery is to make certain that they have everything possible to help them stay away from opioids in the future.
Because of this, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used form of therapy in the treatment of painkiller addiction. CBT helps the patient identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to the addiction. It also helps the patient to develop new coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills that can be used to manage cravings and triggers. As the saying goes, the more tools in your toolbelt, the easier the problem will be to fix.
Motivational interviewing is also used in painkiller addiction treatment, which is a method to help the patient identify and overcome any internal resistance to change. This method can also help the patient set goals and make a commitment to change. Accepting that the addiction exists and making the decision to put it behind you is one of the hardest parts of the road to sobriety, but this method can help.
Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are also used to help treat painkiller addiction. These medications work by binding to the same receptors in the brain that are affected by painkillers and can help reduce cravings and prevent relapse.
In addition to traditional therapies, alternative and holistic therapies such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture may also be used to support the patient’s recovery. These therapies can help reduce stress and anxiety and can also improve overall physical and mental well-being.
What Happens After Treatment?
Aftercare is an important part of the journey to recovery, and it’s crucial to have a plan in place to maintain the patient’s recovery. This may include regular meetings with a therapist or addiction counselor, ongoing medication management, and participation in support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous. Painkiller addiction is a chronic condition, and recovery is a lifelong process. Because of how common relapse is with opioid addictions, it doesn’t hurt to view it as part of the journey and not a failure. With appropriate treatment, support, and commitment, individuals with painkiller addiction can regain control of their lives and achieve long-term recovery.
If you are looking for a place to receive treatment for a painkiller addiction, consider Christian’s Drug Rehab. We want our clients to reach sobriety and maintain it, and we offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment options. For more information or if you have any questions for us, reach out to us today.