Painkiller addiction - signs, symptoms and next steps
When you are overcoming a serious injury or recovering from major surgery, prescription painkillers can provide short-term pain relief.
However, there is a risk of misuse with these prescription drugs, particularly with painkillers containing opiates. 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.
How do people become addicted to painkillers?
People who are prescribed painkillers may continue to take them for longer than advised or choose to take more than the recommended dosages. They may also start to take over-the-counter medicine available from pharmacists, develop a tolerance to these drugs and then seek stronger painkillers that they need prescriptions for. They may also decide to take prescription painkillers solely for recreational purposes.
Painkiller addiction signs and symptoms
If you are worried that you or someone you are close to has a painkiller addiction, common signs and symptoms of dependency include:
- 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
- Slurring speech in conversations
- Spending a lot of time thinking about, getting, taking and recovering from painkillers
- Spending less time with family and friends, or doing activities once enjoyed
- Prioritising painkillers over family, work and financial responsibilities
- Excessive sweating
- Pinpoint or dilated pupils
- Problems with co-ordination
- Trouble sleeping
- Too much time sleeping
- Struggling to focus or concentrate
- Poor judgement
- Confusion, dizziness and disorientation
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Mood swings
When someone is addicted to prescription painkillers, they are less likely to experience the associated high, as they have 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 are physically dependent on it. Signs of 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 abusing or addicted to painkillers may also purchase the drugs online, where 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 are 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 these types of drugs also has associated risks, which make withdrawing with medical support extremely important. With a high risk of seizure, increased levels of anxiety and a longer detox time, it is important that the process is managed by a medical professional.
Steps for recovering from a painkiller addiction
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s addiction, it is important for the person that is addicted to painkillers to visit their GP. They will be able to provide a referral to a drug misuse specialist, such as one of our Priory experts, to gain access to the right support and 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, which may include:
- A free addictions assessment
- 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, while those who attend Priory Roehampton or The Manor Clinic receive free aftercare for life, to help people continue their life free from prescription painkillers.