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How to beat addiction to painkillers

Painkillers are powerful pain-relieving drugs that can come in lots of forms. These include illegal painkillers such as heroin, and prescription painkillers such as fentanyl and codeine. People often start taking illegal painkillers as a result of curiosity, peer pressure or as unhealthy coping mechanisms, whereas prescription painkillers are usually prescribed by a medical professional to provide pain relief after an injury or an operation. However, it’s still possible for people to acquire prescription drugs illegally.

Whether you’re taking illegal or legal painkillers, these drugs can be very addictive and can lead to dependency. In this blog, we explore why painkillers are so addictive, outline the symptoms of painkiller addiction to look out for, and provide tips on how you can beat your addiction to painkillers.

Why are painkillers so addictive?

As well as numbing pain, both legal and illegal painkillers cause a number of other effects. These include feelings of:

  • Euphoria
  • Pleasure
  • Relaxation
  • Tranquillity

These effects can be very addictive to some people and can cause them to want to take more and more of the painkiller, until they develop a dangerous addiction.

What are the signs and symptoms of painkiller addiction?

There are lots of signs that you may have an addiction to painkillers. These include:

  • Visiting lots of different doctors to try and get prescription painkillers
  • Trying to buy prescription painkillers online
  • Stealing or ‘borrowing’ painkillers from other people
  • Continuing to take prescription painkillers even when your pain has gone
  • Focusing more and more time on obtaining, using and recovering from the effects of painkillers, whether these are legal or illegal
  • Feeling as though painkillers have taken over your life
  • Feeling as though you want to stop taking painkillers but finding that you can’t
  • Intense mood swings
  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness and guilt
  • Taking painkillers when it’s clearly dangerous e.g. before driving
  • Continuing to use painkillers even if this has had a negative impact on lots of different areas of your life
  • Lying to loved ones about your whereabouts or the extent of your painkiller use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Finding that you only tend to associate with other drug addicts and people with an addiction to painkillers
  • Developing a tolerance to painkillers, meaning you need to take more of the drug, and more frequently, in order to feel the effects you crave. This can increase the chances of you overdosing
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t taken painkillers for a certain amount of time or try to cut back on the amount you’re using
  • Having strong cravings for painkillers
  • Experiencing persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Financial difficulties and legal problems
  • Relationship breakdowns
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

How to beat addiction to painkillers

If you’re worried about your drug use, whether these are legal prescription drugs or illegal substances, there are a number of things you can do to beat your addiction to painkillers.

Admit you have a problem with painkiller addiction

One of the most important steps in a person’s recovery is for you to admit you have a problem. You may have noticed you’re displaying the symptoms of painkiller addiction and can’t seem to curb your use of these drugs. By accepting you have a problem and realising that you need to make some very real changes to your life, you can take steps towards getting the help you need.

Talk to someone about your worries

It can be useful to open up to someone about this. This might be a family member or a friend you trust. If you’re very close to the person, the chances are they’ve already spotted some of the signs that you’re addicted to painkillers and will want to help you beat it.

Talk to them openly and honestly about your worries and let them know how they can help you moving forwards. They may offer to call your GP on your behalf and go to an appointment with you as moral support, or they can help to distract you when you’re having cravings. Just having someone on your side can help massively in the early stages of recovery. Remember, it’s often the case that a problem shared is a problem halved.

Be kind to yourself

If you’ve realised that you may have an addiction to painkillers it’s so important to be kind to yourself. Your recovery isn’t going to happen overnight and you may have slips. This is completely natural and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about it - just admitting that you have a problem is a huge step and you should be proud of this progress.

Also, even though it sounds really simple, try and get enough sleep at night, eat healthily and try to do some exercise. Looking after yourself physically can go a long way towards helping you feel better mentally.

Get professional help for your addiction to painkillers

Although the above tips can help you in your early stages of recovery, addiction to painkillers is a serious condition and it’s likely you’ll need professional help to beat it. At Priory, we offer expert Addiction Treatment Programmes at our specialist hospitals located all over the country. Painkiller addiction treatment at Priory offers:

  • A free, no-obligation addiction assessment with a member of our highly qualified team. This can be done over the phone
  • A medically assisted withdrawal detoxification programme to remove all traces of the painkiller from your system. Going through detox in a medically supported environment is really important as trying to withdraw from painkillers on your own can be very dangerous
  • Individual 1:1 therapy and structured group therapy programmes
  • Family and couples programmes
  • Access to both on and off-site 12-Step support groups
  • Free aftercare for 12 months following treatment (aftercare is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton and Manor Clinic)
  • Free family support for 12 months following treatment (family support is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton and Manor Clinic)

As well as intensive inpatient treatment for your painkiller addiction, we are also able to offer outpatient therapy via our online therapy service, Priory Connect.

You don’t have to struggle with an addiction to painkillers – expert help is available and you can make a lasting recovery.

Coronavirus information

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, our addiction treatment team have been working hard to quickly and effectively adapt our practices so that we are able to safely provide addiction support.

We are able to offer free addiction assessments via the telephone or through online communication platforms such as Skype. And for people within our residential treatment programme, we are ensuring social distancing measures and infection control measures are adhered to.

Our online therapy service - Priory Connect - also allows us to provide therapy sessions with highly trained therapists who are experts in their fields. For more information on our online therapy service, please visit our Priory Connect page.


Blog reviewed by Simon Wilson (PG Cert, PG Dip, MA, MBACP, FDAP), General Psychiatry Clinical Lead and Addiction Treatment Programme Therapist at Priory Hospital North London.

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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