Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Painkiller Abuse

Understanding the Signs of Painkiller Addiction

Understanding the signs of painkiller addiction

Even as the use of many street drugs is decreasing, the number of people engaging in prescription drug abuse is growing. Prescription painkillers are powerful narcotic medications that are prescribed by a physician to people who are coping with chronic pain conditions, such as cancer, burns, or migraines. These medications interfere with the way the central nervous system responds to signals of pain from the nerves in the body. These medications also stimulate the pleasure center of the brain, creating a euphoric high alongside the reduction of pain impulses. The most abused prescription painkillers are called “opioids,” a powerful prescription drug derived from opium in much the same way heroin is. The most commonly abused prescription drugs include formulations of three narcotics: oxycodone, hydrocodone, and meperidine.

Oxycodone, the main ingredient and narcotic agent in such drugs as OxyContin, Percocet, and Endocet has the highest potential for abuse and is the most dangerous form of prescription painkillers. Oxycodone is as powerful as heroin and affects the central nervous system in the same manner as heroin. Hydrocodone is often combined with acetaminophen and is manufactured and sold under the names Norco, Loracet, and Vicodin. Meperidine, often known as Demerol, and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) are known as “drug store heroin” on the streets due to their potency –8 times more potent than morphine. They are manufactured in a wide variety of forms and may be injected, snorted, or smoked.


Statistics for painkiller addiction

Prescription painkiller abuse is a growing epidemic in the United States and throughout other developed countries. Nearly three out of every four deaths due to prescription drug abuse are caused by prescription painkillers. The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers was responsible for over 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009, a number that has nearly doubled in five years.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes & risk factors for painkiller addiction

It’s generally agreed-upon by leading experts that addiction is a disease triggered by a number of risk factors working together. The most commonly cited reasons for prescription painkiller abuse include:

Genetic: Addiction is a hereditary disease that is often passed down through generations. People who have a family history of addiction are more likely than those without a similar family history to develop an addiction to prescription painkillers and other drugs.

Physical: People who struggle with chronic illnesses that produce pain are at a greater risk for becoming addicted to prescription painkillers than those who do not struggle with pain. This, however, may be due to the fact that most people are not prescribed prescription painkillers without a medical diagnosis.

Environmental: It’s important to note that many environmental factors contribute to the development of addiction. These factors may include lower socioeconomic status, poverty, unemployment, and lower educational level. Other environmental causes may be related to the age at which a person begins to experiment with drugs or alcohol – the younger the age, the more likely a person is to develop an addiction later in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Being female
  • PTSD
  • Exposure to prescription painkillers by friends and family


Symptoms of painkiller addiction

The symptoms of prescription painkiller abuse will vary based upon type of drug used, presence of polydrug abuse, frequency of use, amount of use, and individual genetic makeup. The most common symptoms of painkiller abuse include:

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Neglecting responsibilities at home or school
  • Increased drug-seeking behaviors
  • Stealing money from friends and loved ones
  • Increased need for money
  • Ongoing use
  • Increase in amount used
  • Changes in daily habit and appearance
  • Defensiveness when asked about drug abuse

Physical Symptoms:

  • Physical dependence upon opiates
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Withdrawal symptoms when prescription painkillers are abruptly stopped
  • Dilated pupils
  • Constipation
  • Neuropathy

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Difficulties with short-term memory
  • Blackouts
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness

Psychosocial Symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Euphoric, blissed out feelings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Change in personality


Effects painkiller addiction can have

The effects of prescription painkiller abuse will vary depending upon severity of addiction, amount used, presence of other drugs, and individual genetic makeup. The most common effects of prescription painkiller abuse include:

  • Addiction
  • Loss of friendships
  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Job loss
  • Academic failure
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Respiratory depression
  • Depression
  • Brain damage
  • Mood swings
  • Overdose
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Effects

Effects painkiller withdrawal can have

When taken for the right amount of time at the right dosage and right frequency, most people do not become addicted to prescription painkillers. Those who do become addicted may take their painkillers simply to stave off the feelings of withdrawal. Withdrawing from prescription painkillers should always be done under the careful supervision of trained medical personal. The most common symptoms of prescription painkiller withdrawal include:

  • Flu-like aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Increased pain
  • Diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating and cold flashes
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Twitching and tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Intense craving for the drug
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation

Symptoms of Prescription Painkiller Overdose:

If you suspect an overdose, do not hesitate to call 911 immediately. The most common symptoms of prescription painkiller overdose include:

  • Extreme sedation
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Pupillary constriction – pinpoint pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Slowed respirations
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Painkiller abuse & co-occurring disorders

Addiction to prescription painkillers usually co-occurs with another mental disorder or addiction. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Alcoholism
  • Other substance abuse

Our treatment center is in Salt Lake City and serves residents from all over Central and Northern Utah.  Call one of our admissions counselors today for a free, confidential screening to see how Highland Ridge can help you regain a happy, healthy life.

I never expected to get addicted to painkillers, so I didn't know how to cope. Highland Ridge helped me not just to cope, but to recover.

– Jordan W.