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Signs of Painkiller Addiction

“Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Painkillers have been around for centuries, providing relief in many scenarios such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, and recovering from surgeries. But what happens when your loved one can’t stop taking the medication? How can you help when you see the signs of painkiller addiction?

In 2021, over 50 million Americans reported living with chronic pain (pain that lasts more than 3 months). In the same year, over 2 million Americans were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder. At Clean Recovery Centers, we provide treatment options that fit the individual needs of our clients and help them achieve lasting recovery from painkillers.

Let’s talk about painkiller addiction, what causes it, and how to help a loved one.

signs of painkiller addiction clean recovery centers

signs and symptoms of painkiller addictionUnderstanding Painkiller Addiction: What Causes It?

When we talk about understanding painkiller addiction, it’s important to be specific on types. There are many pain relievers that are available over the counter, typically in a class of medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen. However, painkiller addiction does not typically involve these medications as they do not trigger effects of euphoria or relaxation. Even when prescribed at higher doses than over the counter options, NSAIDs and acetaminophen carry a very low risk of developing dependence.

So, what painkillers are we referring to? The most common painkillers that result in dependence are opiate and opioid medications, all of which require a doctor’s prescription. Painkillers include codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and more. These medications are utilized for chronic pain scenarios where NSAIDs or acetaminophen have not provided relief.

Even when taken as prescribed, painkillers can lead to dependence. The way painkillers work is by binding to opioid receptors within the brain. This creates the sensation of euphoria and relaxation while blocking feelings of pain. However, the longer the medication is taken, the more the brain adjusts to it. Tolerance begins to develop, meaning it will take more of the medication to produce the same effects. When taking these medications as prescribed, a doctor will monitor how they are affecting you and advise on dosage and frequency to prevent dependence. Illicit use does not come with a doctor, and can quickly turn to dependence and an opioid use disorder.

Risk Factors for Developing Painkiller Addiction

There is no specific gene, trait, behavior, or factor that will guarantee someone develops a painkiller use disorder. However, a combination of genetics and environmental factors can increase the odds of developing a painkiller use disorder. These factors include:

  • Experiencing childhood adversities including abuse, poverty, and witnessing traumatic events (violence, substance use, death)
  • Growing up in an environment where parents or siblings use substances
  • Having a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety and lacking necessary care
  • Having genetic predispositions to behaviors such as recklessness

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction

Those who are misusing painkillers will show signs as dependence develops. These symptoms affect everything from how the person acts to how they physically feel. Recognizing these signs can help you determine if your loved one is managing a painkiller use disorder and what you need to do to help.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of painkiller misuse are usually the most prominent. From the start, you will notice your loved one feeling more drowsy and dizzy. They may complain about stomach pain as most opioid medications cause constipation. Another common side effect of opioid use is itching, which can occur localized to extremities or randomized all over the body. Nausea can also occur especially early on in use.

As use continues and dependence forms, the person will experience withdrawal between uses. Opioid withdrawal can begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose and comes with many different symptoms. These include vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose and eyes, joint pain, and muscle cramps. Withdrawal is one of the biggest drivers in continued use as the person does not want to feel sick and in pain. Medical detox is the safest way to remove opioids from the system.

A surefire sign that opioids are being used is experiencing an overdose. It does not matter how long the person has been taking painkillers, an overdose can occur during the first use or the 200th use. Opioids work by suppressing the central nervous system, which is responsible for regulating breathing. Taking too high of a dose of painkillers can result in breathing stopping, which is the mark of an overdose. Opioid overdoses are life-threatening situations and require medical attention immediately. While Narcan can reverse the effects of opioids – and should be given if one is suspected – medical help will still be needed to ensure proper treatment and recovery from an overdose.

Psychological Symptoms

Psychological symptoms of painkiller use disorder often involve mental health. If the person already has depression or anxiety, the conditions can worsen with continued painkiller use. Withdrawal can severely worsen these conditions and possibly trigger thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If this occurs, seek medical help immediately and help get the person somewhere safe.

The area of the brain most affected by opioid use is the orbitofrontal area. This portion is responsible for emotion regulation, anxiety response, and reward-seeking behavior. Emotional responses may become over the top or nonexistent from chronic painkiller use. A situation such as losing a loved one can be met with overwhelming grief or numbness to no reaction because of the lack of emotional regulation.

Behavioral Symptoms

As we mentioned above, the area of the brain affected by painkillers includes reward-seeking behaviors. Our brains naturally create a reward response for activities it sees as good – exercising, eating good food, and having sex for example. However, painkillers disrupt this response by triggering it, tricking the brain into thinking something good has happened. The brain then adjusts to this response and essentially turns off the natural reward response. The only thing that triggers a reward response is the painkiller. Because of this, the brain creates reward-seeking behaviors, and in this case, it triggers cravings. Cravings for painkillers can affect behaviors as the person will do anything to get the medication. Lying, stealing, and other negative behaviors are common for this reason.

Effects of Painkiller Addiction on Loved Ones

Seeing someone you love lose themselves to painkiller dependence is difficult. You want to help them but it can be painstakingly hard to get them to see they need help. Because of this, painkiller use disorder often leads to lost relationships. It does not matter how your loved one is in your life – painkiller use disorder can tear apart marriages, friendships, sibling bonds, and parent-child relationships. There are ways to try and help a loved one end their painkiller addiction and get them the treatment they need.

How to Help Someone You Love Living with Painkiller Addiction

If you have been seeing the signs of painkiller use disorder and you want to help, begin with a conversation. Ask your loved one about their use in a calm and compassionate manner. Do not use attacking words such as “addict” or “junkie” as these tend to shut people down. Your loved one is still a person, not a problem. They want to be respected and heard when talking about their use. Offer a listening ear and a helpful hand to how you can move forward. Looking at treatment centers together and providing rides to appointments is a great start to get your loved one on the path toward healing.

Seeking Help for Painkiller Addiction in Tampa, FL

Painkillers are everywhere and do serve a purpose for those living with constant pain. However, taking these medications illicitly can result in devastating consequences, including dependence and possibly overdose. It can be hard to quit on your own, but the good news is there is help available that can allow you to regain your freedom. Opioid use disorder is common, and treatment will consist of therapies, classes, and support groups that help you understand the root causes of your addiction. You will rediscover your passions and begin the road to recovery and a life of healing.

If you or someone you love is managing a painkiller addiction, help is here right on the Suncoast. Clean Recovery Centers has a team well-versed in recovery and we are here to provide hope and pave the way to healing. Our program utilizes a unique, three-phase approach that addresses all facets of addiction: spiritual, mental, physical, and social. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about our program.

Get clean. Live clean. Stay clean.

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