In part because of their esteemed ability to relieve pain, abuse of painkillers is on the rise in the United States. Every day, an estimated 128 Americans die from opioid overdose. Just last year, more than 1.3 million people in America developed an addiction to prescription pain relievers. Another 1.6 million Americans had an opioid use disorder. Painkillers, which were once thought of as “miracle drugs” have now become part of a nationwide opioid epidemic. As federal lawmakers, state legislators, medical professionals, and law enforcement personnel work together to combat the issue, family members, close friends, and concerned coworkers may wonder why prescription painkiller abuse continues to rise.
As the name suggests, painkillers are medicines used to reduce or relieve pain. There are two main types of painkillers: over-the-counter medicines (OTC) such as Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, and Motrin, and stronger painkillers prescribed by doctors, which are more commonly abused. Although highly effective, prescription painkillers can have a high potential for abuse and serious side effects. Opioids, the strongest form of painkillers, are typically prescribed for people in severe pain and should only be used under a doctor’s supervision. Unfortunately, people also use opioids and other painkillers for recreational purposes.
Some of the most common painkillers include:
People use painkillers for an obvious reason: to ease or relieve pain. Unfortunately, there can be several different reasons why people abuse painkillers. Some people abuse painkillers because their tolerance for these drugs increases, requiring them to use more of the substance for the same level of pain relief. Other people abuse painkillers because they think they’re less harmful and addictive than street drugs. Additional reasons can include a genetic predisposition to addiction, easy accessibility, and the desire to escape psychological and emotional pain.
Increased tolerance is one of the most common reasons why people end up abusing prescription painkillers. When people take painkillers, their body processes the drug and initiates the pain relief process. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the current dosage. When this happens, the medicine becomes less effective at relieving pain and seems to stop working.
At that point, the patient’s tolerance for the drug has increased, meaning they need more of the painkiller to relieve the same amount of pain. Sadly, most prescription painkillers can be addictive. As the patient takes more of the painkiller or consumes the drug more frequently, their tolerance continues to increase, causing them to become even more dependent on the drug, which can lead to abuse and, if left untreated, addiction.
Many people mistakenly assume that prescription painkillers are safer and less harmful than street drugs like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and methamphetamine. They wrongly assume that because painkillers are prescribed by doctors, the substances are safe and free of risk. Unfortunately, that’s not true. All drugs contain risks and several drugs prescribed by doctors have a moderate or high potential for abuse. Fentanyl, for example, is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, which has effects similar to heroin. People also mistakenly believe that Oxycodone is safer than heroin, although the two substances consist of similar chemicals and have similar effects on the body.
Sadly, some people consume prescription painkillers without a second thought, not knowing how addictive the substances can be. At first, they feel good, free of pain, and maybe even euphoric, but at some point, their tolerance for the painkiller increases, opening the door to physical and chemical dependence, substance abuse, and possibly, addiction.
Scientists have discovered that some people have a genetic predisposition to substance abuse. A genetic predisposition is an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease or trait based on a person’s genetic makeup. In other words, some people abuse painkillers because their genetic makeup may make their tolerance for painkillers higher, meaning they need more of the drug to relieve pain. In other cases, they take these drugs because they have less self-control or behave more impulsively thanks to their genes. Scientists continue to study genetic predisposition, but some experts suggest that addiction is 50 percent due to genetic predisposition and 50 percent due to a lack of coping skills.
Even though painkillers are designed to relieve pain, the drugs can have other seemingly appealing effects. In addition to relieving physical discomfort and suffering, painkillers can have other effects on the body, including:
These effects, however appealing, are short-lived. Use of painkillers outside of the supervision of a doctor — or in violation of a doctor’s orders — can quickly lead to addiction.
Many people in need of prescription pain relief also grapple with psychological and emotional pain. Cancer patients prescribed fentanyl, for example, may also experience depression. Survivors of traumatic car accidents may experience high levels of anxiety long after their surgery is over. As a source of relief, prescription painkillers are often easy to access. Typically, they’re stashed away in kitchen cupboards and bathroom cabinets, readily available and easily accessible. Unfortunately, this makes them a viable option for people looking to self-medicate for psychological and emotional pain. But consuming painkillers without a prescription can be extremely dangerous and the relief painkillers provide is temporary, leading to tolerance, dependence, and substance abuse.
Prescription drugs may seem safe, but all drugs come with risks, especially painkillers. Luckily, at Genesis Recovery, we offer a prescription drug treatment program and an opioid addiction treatment program. Our recovery programs include detox, therapy, clinical support, a 12-step program, and a faith-based community.
You don’t have to use painkillers to deal with stress or escape from pain. We can help you overcome addiction and restore your life from the inside out. Contact us today if you or a loved one have been misusing painkillers and are interested in finding a better way to cope.