Prescription Painkillers and Addiction

A relatively new addiction that we are seeing more and more of these days are addictions to prescription painkillers. In the San Diego area alone, narcotic analgesics (another word for pain relievers) there were 45 mentions of this type of substance abuse per 100,000 population (UCLA Substance Abuse Programs, 2005). The increased use and misuse of these drugs has undoubtedly contributed to the increased number of Addiction Counselors required in San Diego. But first, let’s briefly discuss narcotic painkillers, the way they work on the body, why they are used, and their side effects. We will then look at signs of prescription painkiller addictions.

How do Prescription Painkillers Work?
By acting on certain receptors in the spinal cord and brain, narcotic analgesics tend to effectively relieve pain as well as lower one’s emotional response to pain.

Why are Prescription Painkillers Used?
A physician will usually prescribe narcotic painkillers for serious or chronic pain. This pain could be a result of a specific injury (i.e. a car accident), or may be administered after a surgical procedure. For patients with chronic pain, narcotic painkillers are prescribed to control and relieve the pain. However, the risk of developing a physical dependency on these painkillers is much higher for individuals taking them for chronic pain, since the pain is ongoing and generally continues for a longer period of time (as compared to individuals taking it post-surgery). For example, migraine sufferers are sometimes given narcotic painkillers, but due to the recent trend of prescription painkiller abuse, they are being prescribed for this disorder less often. Depending on your specific illness, there are usually a variety of other pain medications a doctor can prescribe that will respond directly to your symptoms without the risk of developing a physical dependency or addiction.

What are Some Examples of Prescription Painkillers?
Narcotic painkillers that are commonly prescribed include Hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), Morphine, and Oxycodone (brand name OxyContin or Percocet).

What are the Side Effects of Prescription Painkillers?

Due to their strong effect on the receptors in the brain, narcotic painkillers usually cause symptoms of:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Skin itching

The Danger of Addiction to Prescription Painkillers

For the majority of people taking narcotic painkillers, the side effects are not too bothersome. The danger is that some of the side effects are pleasant, such as the induced feeling of euphoria and elation one gets from taking a pill of this nature. This is dangerous because it is human nature to do something again if it is rewarding or pleasurable. Often times, this is how psychological addictions to painkillers begin. The patient begins taking the drug when they are not experiencing any physical pain, but instead are taking it in order to “get high” and induce the euphoric feelings once again. Another danger of narcotic painkillers occurs in people who are taking them for chronic pain. Like other addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin, narcotic pain pills can cause a person to becomephysically addicted or dependent on them. This means that the body that is so used to receiving the drug on a regular basis comes to “expect” it. Therefore, when treatment with these pills is stopped, the body goes into a withdrawal state, which is usually very unpleasant. Withdrawal symptoms can be as mild as headaches or as severe as bodily shaking. Chronic pain sufferers are therefore at a higher risk for dependency on narcotic painkillers solely because of how often they are taking the drug. Most painkillers of this nature can be taken two at a time, every four hours. This amounts to (approximately) 8 pills per day. As you can imagine, if this dosage is suddenly reduced or ceased, the body will experience withdrawal symptoms to some degree.

How Do I Know If I Have an Addiction to Prescription Painkillers?

Taking narcotic painkillers is risky since they can cause a psychological and/or physical dependency. Therefore, if you are taking these drugs, you should ask yourself the following questions to help determine whether or not you have an addiction to prescription pain pills.


  1. Am I taking my medication exactly as it has been prescribed? For example, do I take it earlier than I am supposed to or take extra doses?
  2. Are the methods I use to consume the medication what the Doctor advised? For example, am I crushing and snorting the pills in order to get them into my system faster?
  3. Am I buying prescription painkillers online or from friends? In other words, am I getting this medication from outside sources or in ways that they were not prescribed to me directly?
  4. Am I double-Doctoring? For instance, am I going to one Doctor and receiving a prescription for a narcotic painkiller, and then visiting another Doctor and getting another prescription for the same type of medication?
  5. Am I taking my medication for my physical pain? Or am I taking it to treat bad moods or other underlying psychological problems such as depression or anxiety?
  6. Am I spending a lot of time thinking or worrying about running out of my medication and how I’ll get more?

Chances are if you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions (and especially if you answered “Yes” to more than one of the above questions), you could have an addiction to narcotic painkillers – either a physical dependency or a psychological addiction. Regardless, you have to realize that you have a problem and begin treatment with anAddiction Counselor as soon as possible. Narcotics are not good for your body, particularly your brain and your vital organs. And an addiction, whether it is physical or psychological, can consume and ruin your life if left untreated. Please do not be embarrassed if you think that you may have an addiction, either mild or severe, to prescription painkillers. It is all too common nowadays, but the good news is that this type of addiction is highly treatable! Call my San Diego office today at 858-481-0425  or fill out the form on the right side of this web page for a free consultation so that I can get to know you and your situation better. Together we can turn your life around and get you back on the right path to a happy and healthy life, addiction-free!

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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