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Addiction to Pain Medication – Finding Alternatives

Addiction to Pain Medication—Finding Alternatives

Addiction is a disease. Learn about the causes, signs, symptoms, and treatment options for addiction to pain medication.

What Is Addiction to Pain Medication?

Substance use disorder is considered a progressive condition that starts at a low level and increases in severity. Fortunately, addiction can generally be noticed and acted on in the early stages, no matter the substance. One of the most common substance use disorders is an addiction to pain medication, with an estimated 9.7 million people abusing prescription pain relievers in 2019.1

Addiction to pain medication is a common result of initially misusing the prescribed medication. For example, people with chronic pain or post-surgery patients are often prescribed strong painkillers to help mitigate the pain and maintain a normal daily life. However, if this medication is misused, it can lead to pain pill addiction.

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How Pain Medication Works

Those who are given prescription pain relievers are often prescribed opioid-based medications, which activate opioid receptors in the brain and cause significant changes in neurotransmitter levels. These changes cause pain receptors to essentially “turn off” while also causing significant amounts of dopamine to enter the system—providing the trademark “painkiller high” that is often sought out.

Eventually, the number of painkillers the individual takes will not be enough to give them the same effect they are looking for or used to. This is called tolerance, and it’s a signal that the body is becoming addicted to the substance. Tolerance leads to increased doses and frequency of consumption to achieve similar effects. One in ten people reported taking pain medication without a prescription, and around 5% reported abusing or having an addiction to painkillers.2

Most Addictive Painkillers

The following includes the most addictive pain medications:

  • Fentanyl
  • OxyContin
  • Demerol
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Percocet
  • Codeine

Why Do People Become Addicted to Pain Medication?

addiction to pain medication

One of the most common reasons that people develop pain pill addiction is through a prescription for pain mediation. Painkiller addiction is a common result of tolerance to prescription pain relief, meaning more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effects. This can progress into taking more than prescribed or taking the prescribed amount more frequently than indicated. Approximately 21% to 29% of people with chronic pain who are prescribed opioid pain medication misuse them. 3

In either case, this is considered misusing the drug. Over time, this misuse can potentially develop into an addiction, which is indicated by a compulsion to obtain and consume more of the drug despite adverse effects. The urge to take the pain medication could be due to pain relief or seeking the drug’s pleasurable effects., which is a large contributor to addiction and a strong reinforcing agent to the cycle of abuse.

What Should You Do if You or Someone You Know Is Addicted?

An addiction to pain medication can be very serious and quickly lead to overdose situations. If you or someone you know is facing pain pill addiction, the most important thing is to get professional help as quickly as possible. Experienced addiction professionals can create a personalized treatment plan for detox and pain management going forward, which is the best way to minimize the long-term effects of addiction to painkillers and help ensure a solid future to recovery.

How Is Heroin Addiction Diagnosed?

A heroin use disorder is relatively hard to hide and will create noticeable changes in the person living with the addiction. These changes are listed in full in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and can often be spotted easily by close friends or family members. The more items on the list that are checked off, the more serious the addiction is.

Risk Factors of Heroin Addiction

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of substance abuse
  • Risk-taking or thrill-seeking behavior
  • History of severe depression or anxiety
  • Stressful circumstances
  • Prior drug or alcohol rehabilitation

Signs and Symptoms of an Addiction to Pain Meds

There will likely be visible signs or potential indicators in the person suffering from pain medication addiction. Thus, by paying attention to the possible signs and symptoms, you can better recognize the painkiller addiction and get help before it’s too late. Some indications of painkiller addiction include:

Extreme Drowsiness

The effects of opioids, in general, create a state of significant relaxation and even drowsiness for those that take them. If someone is taking them in excess, this will become more pronounced.

Behavioral Changes

Taking pain pills without pain, taking them more often than needed, borrowing or stealing medication, and even “doctor shopping” are all indicators that an addiction may be in place.

Social Changes 

Many people will change their social circles to coincide with others sharing the same addiction or suppliers of the medication. They will also begin to isolate themselves from friends and family.

Dependency on Medication

Those with a pain pill addiction will often feel they can only complete tasks after taking painkillers or participate in activities as long as they have some on hand.

Quality of Life Has Decreased

Lower quality of life is common for those with an addiction to pain medication, as depression and poor self-care, health, and hygiene are typical side effects.

Addiction to Pain Medication

Treatment for Addiction to Pain Medication

Treatment for pain medication addiction is possible with professional help. A few vital steps are necessary to ensure a healthy and lasting recovery, such as:


The first step to recovery is detoxification, the process of ridding the body of the addicted substance. Withdrawal from opioids ranges from mild to severe, so it is important to always detox in a medical facility to ensure safety and comfort.  

Replacement Medications

There are many different replacement medications and assistive medications for treating opioid addiction. Below are the most common.

  • Methadone – eliminates withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Buprenorphine – reduces cravings and physical withdrawal symptoms
  • Naltrexone – prevents opioids from creating the rewarding effects addicts crave

Years of research has proven the efficacy of methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone in treating opioid use disorder. They are all FDA-approved and commonly used in professional recovery centers to treat addiction to opioids like prescription pain medication and heroin. 4

Get Help With Medication Addiction at Genesis Recovery

If you or someone you love has an addiction to pain medication, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. By working with local addiction experts, like those at Genesis Recovery, a treatment plan can be created that’s tailored to the individual, giving them the best possible chance at lasting recovery. Contact us at Genesis Recovery today to learn more.