Painkiller addiction - signs, symptoms and next steps

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When you're overcoming a serious injury or recovering from major surgery, prescription painkillers can provide short-term pain relief. Alongside numbing pain, they give a sense of relaxed euphoria. This sensation, alongside the addictive nature of these drugs, can quickly lead to a painkiller addiction.

Painkiller addiction signs and symptoms

If you're worried that you or someone you're close to has a painkiller addiction, common signs and symptoms of dependency include:

Behavioural signs of a painkiller addiction

  • Using painkillers after pain has subsided
  • Lying or exaggerating pain to get medication
  • Going to different doctors or chemists in an attempt to get medication
  • Hiding bottles and packaging
  • Acquiring painkillers by borrowing, stealing or illegally purchasing them
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about, getting, taking and recovering from painkillers
  • Spending less time with family and friends, or doing activities that you once enjoyed
  • Prioritising painkillers over family, work and financial responsibilities

Physical symptoms

  • Excessive sweating
  • Pinpoint or dilated pupils
  • Problems with co-ordination
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Too much time sleeping
  • Itchiness
  • Slurred speech

Cognitive abilities

  • Struggling to focus or concentrate
  • Poor judgement
  • Confusion, dizziness and disorientation
  • Hallucinations and delusions

Psychosocial symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

When someone has a painkiller addiction, they're less likely to experience the associated high, as they've built up a tolerance to the drug and need it in order to function. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to cut down or stop taking the drug when they're physically dependent on it. Signs of drug withdrawal can include stomach cramps, muscle and bone pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms.

Dangerous effects of prescription painkiller addiction

While people may receive painkillers through prescriptions, those with a painkiller addiction may also purchase the drugs online. This means they don’t know the exact substances or doses within the tablets.

A painkiller addiction can cause someone to develop liver and kidney damage as well as have seizures. When someone becomes addicted and builds up a tolerance to painkillers, they're also likely to take higher doses. These high doses can lead to respiratory depression, where breathing slows down, heart rate drops and blood pressure falls.

This dangerous effect can cause the person to stop breathing or go into a coma. Higher doses also come with a risk of overdose, which can cause respiratory failure.

Detoxing from painkillers also has associated risks, which makes withdrawing with medical support extremely important. With a high risk of seizures, increased levels of anxiety and a longer detox time, it's important that this process is managed by a medical professional.

Steps for recovering from a painkiller addiction

If you're worried about your own or someone else’s painkiller addiction, it's important for the person that's addicted to painkillers to visit their GP to talk through their concerns and worries. Your GP may refer you for expert addiction treatment at Priory. In addition, while we prefer people to have a GP referral, this isn’t essential and you can also contact Priory directly to discuss your needs and options for treatment.

At Priory, we have several types of treatment for prescription drug addiction. A programme will be put together based on a person’s needs and the severity of their misuse. This can include:

  • A free addiction assessment
  • Detoxi
  • Residential addiction treatment
  • Day care addiction treatment
  • Outpatient addiction treatment

People who attend our addiction treatment programme will also receive 12 months of free aftercare as well as a detailed post-treatment care plan, to help them continue their life free from prescription painkillers.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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