Friday, July 19, 2024

Why Are Pain Pills Addictive

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Prescription pain pill addiction is almost commonplace in the U.S. In fact, the year 2010 saw the writing of 210 million prescriptions for opioids, with 12 million people taking them for non-medical reasons.

Thus, prescription drug abuse has become rampant, in part, due to how easy the drug is to obtain.

That is to say, about 20 percent of people are prescribed opioids at some point in their lives to treat pain. While these drugs can be beneficial when taken for a prescribed amount of time, they can also be highly addictive.

Abusing medication is disturbingly easy as well, and can occur with actions as simple as:

  • Taking more than intended
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tremors

While withdrawal symptoms are not deadly, their intensity can be enough to drive someone back into addiction. Supervised opioid rehab, whether using medication or not, offers patients the greatest chance of completing a successful detox.

Learn About Prescription Painkiller Addiction

It should be made clear that absolutely no one decides to become addicted to prescription painkillers. No one swallows their first OxyContin and thinks about how theyre now going to alienate their loved ones, lose their job, or become involved on the wrong side of law enforcement. However, while the abuse of illegal street drugs is on the decline in the United States, the abuse of prescription painkillers in on the rise.

Like all commonly abused drugs, opiate narcotics prescription painkillers are known to stimulate areas of the brain that are associated with pleasurable feelings. Usage of opiate painkillers creates, alongside analgesia, feelings of happiness and the sensation that all is right with the world. These feelings are similarly stimulated by eating food, drinking water, caring for children, and having sex, all activities necessary for sustaining life. As such, these activities, like prescription painkillers, stimulate the reward system of the brain and release a flood of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.


Why Do Most People Get Addicted To Prescription Drugs

In Canada today, addiction to prescription drugs is increasing at an alarming rate. Yes, people abuse prescription drugs too. Even worse, more often than not, such action leads to a dependence on the drug. According to world statistics, about 10% of people who are given prescription drugsas medication will eventually become addicted to the drug. This number also holds in Canada. The reasons people abuse these drugs are numerous. However, this behaviour puts them at risk of substance addiction and severe health complications.

Many people assume drug abuse only happens with street drugs such as heroin and cocaine. However, addiction is, in fact, more common with prescription drugs. Every year, more than 15 million people around the world develop an addiction to these drugs. Some of these drugs include opioid painkillers, anxiety medication, sedatives and stimulants. Unsurprisingly, you are not alone in wondering how people get addicted to these prescription drugs. Thankfully, we have answers for you.

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How Do People Become Addicted

Addiction to opioids isnt a one-size-fits-all issue.

Everyone who takes prescription opioid painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin, even as prescribed by a doctor or medical professional, is at risk of developing a tolerance, becoming dependent on them, and even addicted. Which is confusing, since taking things as prescribed is usually what people do when theyre trying to be responsible.

Thats not to say people shouldnt trust their doctor/surgeon/dentist/nurse practitioner. They absolutely should! But over-prescriptions can happen, so its important to talk to those medical professionals. Or the pharmacist thats filling the prescription. Having the most information possible about opioids before taking them is a good strategy because dependence on opioids can happen after just five days of use.

The more someone takes opioids, the more the brain adapts to having them around. Having a tolerance to opioids means that someone has taken enough over time to require higher or more frequent doses in order to get that same feeling.

Dependence on opioids happens with repeated use, so the parts of the brain responsible for releasing dopamine only function normally when the drug is around–and when its not, things get unpleasant. Withdrawal symptoms can include aching, fever, diarrhea/vomiting, sweating and chills. Which sounds like the flu or a bad order of clams, but worse, since the brain is still screaming for the one thing that could make it all stop.

What Is The Difference Between Addiction And Dependence

Prescription pain pills perpetuate pain

Dependence does not always lead to addiction. However, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two conditions. Additionally, the two terms are often used interchangeably. The World Health Organisation characterises both states as involving tolerance, compulsive drug-seeking behaviour and symptoms of withdrawal.

Tolerance describes the reduced reaction to a drug after frequent using, which means that the dosage must be increased to reach the same effects. Similarly, withdrawal refers to the physical and psychological symptoms that occur when a person suddenly stops using or greatly decreases their regular dosage.

Drug addiction is marked by a change in behaviour caused by the biochemical changes in the brain after continued substance abuse. It is beneficial to use both terms independently when a person is dealing with addictive substances that are used for medical reasons or addictive pain medications. Even though many individuals who regularly use opioid pain medication can become dependent or tolerant, that does not necessarily mean that they display addictive behaviour when using or getting the drug.

The characteristics of addiction and dependence can often overlap. Generally speaking, a person can be dependent on a drug without having an addiction, but once an addiction forms, they are often dependent.

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What Substances Are Addictive

Some of the things that make a drug addictive are things that give it its initial pleasurable effects: its chemistry and how it interacts with the bodys biochemistry.

In a 2007 article in The Lancet, a panel of addiction experts determined that the five most addictive substances on Earth are:

  • Heroin, an illegal opioid
  • Nicotine, the key addictive component of tobacco
  • Barbiturates, central nervous system depressant drugs used as sedatives

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse , the most commonly used addictive drugs include:

  • and THC
  • Synthetic cannabinoids such as K2 or Spice
  • Prescription opioids
  • Prescription stimulants
  • Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers

Over-the-counter medications

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 youre very close to the person, the chances are theyve already spotted some of the signs that youre 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 youre having cravings. Just having someone on your side can help massively in the early stages of recovery. Remember, its often the case that a problem shared is a problem halved.

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Why Do Some People Become Addicted But Not Others

Scientists believe that some people do have an inherited, genetic predisposition toward addiction. According to the NIDA, the potential for addiction may be influenced by biology, including development, and environment.

  • Biology genes, stage of development, gender, and ethnicity. Statistically, according to NIDA, genes and environmental influences on gene expression, account for 40-60 percent of an increased risk for addiction. They also state that teens and anyone with a mental disorder are at a greater risk of drug use and addiction.
  • Environment family, school, and neighborhood. For young people, risk of drug use and addiction are increased by misuse of drugs or alcohol by family members, legal violations by family members, a lack of parental supervision, poor school performance, poor social skills, friends who use drugs, ready availability of drugs, community poverty, or a neighborhood environment where drug sales and use are common.

Studies have found a strong link between childhood trauma, including sexual and physical abuse, and substance use and mental disorders. As with children, adults who experience trauma are also at an increased risk for both disorders. Other factors impacting adult addiction include having friends and family who use drugs, having a mental disorder, and economic factors.

Why Certain Drugs Trigger Addiction More Easily Than Others

Opioid Pain Meds: How They STOP PAIN, Why So Addictive & Recovery (Made Easy to Understand)

Addiction can take many forms. Even over-the-counter medications can become habit-forming and addictive. But there are particular types of drugs that trigger addictive behaviors more easily than others. These are typically stronger, more potent versions of drugs and are designed to rapidly change the brain and bodys chemistry. Sometimes these changes are intended to be pleasurable and relaxing, as with alcohol, while other times these changes help combat pain, increase focus, or lessen depression. These highly addictive drugs include:


  • Because of its highly addictive properties and legality, alcohol is one of the most popular addictive substances nationwide. Like many other drugs, alcohol causes the brains neurotransmitter activity to increase, especially levels of dopamine and serotonin. These two chemicals cause the buzz associated with alcohol, where individuals feel calm, sedated, or a sense of pleasure. This reaction is relatively short-lived, however, and can easily trigger a pattern of frequent drinking.


  • Commonly used to manage chronic or extreme pain, opioids are highly potent painkillers. In order to accomplish this goal, these drugs are designed to block the bodys pain sensations while boosting the level of dopamine and other neurotransmitters to create a sensation of calm and pleasure. As with many drugs, this unnaturally high level of neurotransmitter chemicals can prompt the brain and body to develop cravings for the drug very quickly.

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Causes And Risk Factors For Painkiller Addiction

No one walks into the doctor presenting with pain issues with the express intent to become an addict in fact, most people who go to the doctor for pain issues are aiming to do one thing: reduce the pain theyre experiencing. Even if an individual is experimenting with the feelings associated with prescription painkillers, they rarely have the intention of reaching full-blown addiction.

There has not been one single identifiable cause for the development of addiction in an individual. Its generally believed that individuals develop an addiction based upon a number of factors. Common causes of prescription painkiller abuse may include the following:

Genetic: Its been long understood that addiction has a genetic component. Individuals who have first-degree relatives who struggle with addiction are more prone to develop an addiction later in life.

Brain Chemistry: As prescription painkillers stimulate the rewards system of the brain by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, its been postulated that some individuals have inborn deficiencies in dopamine levels. These individuals may use food, drugs, or prescription painkillers in order to correct these inborn deficiencies.

Environmental: Individuals who are born into chaotic home environments in which drug use is prevalent are more likely to develop an addiction later in life. Additionally, those who begin to abuse drugs at a younger age are more likely to develop an addiction to serious drugs later in life.

Replacement Medications And Detox

Physically, opioid withdrawal is typically similar to a particularly bad case of the flu, including symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, chills, muscle aches, runny nose, tearing of the eyes, and insomnia. Emotionally, individuals are likely to feel anxious, depressed, irritable, and agitated in addition to suffering from strong cravings for the drugs. The National Library of Medicine publishes that withdrawal symptoms likely begin within about 12 hours after the last dose of an opioid drug. Autonomic functions of the central nervous system that have been regularly suppressed by the opioid drug can become hyperactive during withdrawal, and things like body temperature, respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure can be irregular.

Admission to a medical detox program is ideal to stop taking pain pills safely. Withdrawal symptoms that result from stopping a prescription opioid pain reliever once a dependence has formed can be extremely uncomfortable, and for this reason, it is not recommended to stop taking these drugs cold turkey, or suddenly. Instead, they are often tapered off slowly over a set period of time to allow the brain a chance to recover and re-stabilize itself.

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Can Prescription Drugs Be Addictive

The straightforward answer is Yes, and we will tell you why. Prescription drugs are usually strong medications. Furthermore, some prescription drugs are similar to controlled substances in that they can affect how your brain works over time. Such drugs influence the brains neurotransmitters and can affect its reward system. So, if you continue the inappropriate use of such medication, your self-control will decline in the long run. This will lead to further dependence and, of course, an addiction to the prescription drug.

Furthermore, by choosing to use the wrong dosage of prescription drugs, your body may develop a tolerance. In this case, to feel the same effect that you are used to, you will have to up your drug intake. For instance, if you abuse prescription pain medication, as time progresses, you may have to take more to achieve the same level of pain relief. This tolerance can then lead to dependency.

More often than not, drug abuse is how people get addicted to prescription drugs. Let us look at why addiction to prescription drugs is more rampant in recent times.

What Are The Signs Of An Addiction

Everything You Need to Know About Addictive Painkillers

People addicted to drugs may change their behavior. Possible signs include:

  • Mixing with different groups of people or changing friends
  • Spending time alone and avoiding time with family and friends
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Getting into trouble with the law
  • Attending work or school on an erratic schedule
  • Experiencing financial hardship

Also Check: How To Help Someone With Opiate Addiction

What We Face Today

The biggest problem we are faced with today is the high availability of pain medications. We are currently looking at an increase of written prescriptions by 400 percent over the last decade, according to the New Mexico Department of Healths Jim Davis. Davis also notes that in 2012, an estimated 259 million Americans were on prescription painkillers.

These numbers are staggering and troublesome. We have reached a point where death by prescription drug abuse has risen to exceed illegal drug-related deaths, such as cocaine and heroin. Because these are legal substances, we must remain even more diligent in educating ourselves, preventing cases, and assisting those suffering from addiction during the recovery process. While efforts are being made to cut back prescriptions, it doesnt stop there. Prescription drug abuse is a big problem, and we must all put forth an effort to prevent prescription painkiller addiction from claiming any more lives.

Additional Treatments For Stopping Pain Pills And Controlling Dependence

Detox and medications are only part of the answer for stopping pain pills and staying off them. They can be great tools to help process these drugs out of the body and reach a safe physical balance however, the emotional aspects of drug dependence and addiction need to be handled too.

Relapse is common and can be particularly dangerous after detox and a period of abstinence. For this reason, counseling and therapies are essential in helping to prevent and minimize relapse. Behavioral therapies help individuals learn how to control cravings, recognize and manage potential triggers for relapse, and form healthy coping mechanisms for handling stress. Therapy and counseling sessions typically include both individual and group formats.

A residential addiction treatment program is often recommended in cases of severe or long-term painkiller abuse. These programs can promote overall healing and wellness by attending to both physical and emotional needs. For example, therapy and counseling improve self-reliance and emotional balance while physical health is improved with nutritious and balanced meals, regular physical activity, and structured sleep schedules. Malnutrition is often a side effect of chronic drug use, and healthy sleep, exercise, and eating habits can promote healing. The brain will need time to restore its balance without drugs, and a comprehensive addiction treatment program can provide the time and space for this to take place.

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Can You Tell If A Person Is Addicted Or Dependent On Drugs

In order to understand why drugs are addictive, it is vital to understand the difference between addiction and dependence. Psychological and physical dependence and addiction do not necessarily mean the same thing. Dependence is often defined by characteristics including:

  • Physical dependence on the substance that leads to withdrawal symptoms if the person cannot use the drug
  • A level of tolerance that requires greater quantities of the substance to fulfil a persons need for the drug
  • Intense cravings for the substance that lead to relapse when a person tries to stop drinking or using
  • The inability to control the amount of the drug, regardless of the intention to stop or control their habit

How Could Confounding Affect The Study Results

I’m addicted to Pain Pills

With this new study of tramadol, confounding is a real concern. For example, for a person who has both kidney disease and arthritis, doctors may prescribe tramadol rather than naproxen because the latter may worsen kidney disease. Yet kidney disease could increase the risk of other health problems, including a higher rate of death, which could then be attributed to the tramadol. In other words, the very reason your doctor chose tramadol could make this medication appear riskier than it really is.

The authors of the study acknowledge this possibility and took measures to limit it. In fact, many studies try to avoid these sorts of errors, but they are impossible to avoid completely.

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