Millions of Americans struggle with addiction to opioids. Their individual battle has become a national crisis, devastating communities and ruining lives in some of the country’s most vulnerable areas.
The picture looks bleak, but there is hope. When friends and family members work with drug treatment centers to help their loved ones overcome addiction, victory becomes possible.
Together, we can conquer this blight on our families, our communities, and our people. Together, we can build a brighter future.
What Are Painkillers?
Painkillers are a group of medications used to reduce or ease physical pain. Doctors often prescribe different types of drugs to treat anything from mild pain to severe pain, from chronic pain to acute pain.
Categories of painkillers include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (e.g. aspirin), opiates (e.g. hydrocodone), and combination drugs (e.g. Vicodin, which contains both opioids and acetaminophen).
One of the most powerful forms of painkillers are opioids. Often referred to as narcotics, they help millions of people overcome the effects of pain, but they also carry with them a high potential for abuse, addiction, and even death.
Commonly used drugs that contain opioids include:
Why Do Painkillers Pose a Problem?
Because of the danger of abuse and physical harm, the government strictly regulates narcotics. As Schedule II drugs, they are restricted to the public and can only legally be obtained through a valid medical prescription.
While there are legitimate medical uses for painkillers, the habit-forming nature of the drugs has led to widespread abuse. In some instances, people have been known to graduate from painkillers to cheaper forms of narcotics, such as heroin.
In spite of the legal restrictions, many people without prescriptions manage to get their hands on Schedule II painkillers. Some secure the pills through family members and friends; others buy them through drug dealers.
Why Do People Use Painkillers?Most people use pain medication to manage pain arising from chronic diseases such as cancer, or acute conditions such as broken bones or damaged nerves.
Unfortunately, even those who get a prescription from their doctors face the risk of addiction, since long-term use can lead to physical dependency.
Those who circumvent the law and use the drugs without medical supervision put themselves in even greater danger. Perhaps they want to ease their physical pain without going through the struggle of getting a prescription; maybe they use drugs to mask their emotional pain, or perhaps they want to experience the intoxicating high created by the drug.
In any case, self-medication can be dangerous, increasing the likelihood of dependency as well as other major health complications.
How Painkillers Affect the Body
Various painkillers work in different ways. NSAIDs like aspirin block enzymes and proteins that cause pain, inflammation and fever. They tend to reduce discomfort at the site of pain by decreasing swelling in the area.
Opioid painkillers like Fentanyl, on the other hand, bind to special receptors in the brain and on the spinal cord. By blocking pain messages from reaching the brain, they reduce the sensation of pain in the body. In other words, they fool the body into thinking that there is no pain.
Narcotic pain relievers also depress the central nervous system, inducing a feeling of relaxation in the user. That calmness, combined with a sense of euphoria, produces a powerfully pleasant feeling of detachment.
Unfortunately, the more someone uses the drug, the more the brain adapts to its presence. Over time, the body slows down the production of its own natural painkilling chemicals (endorphins). The drugs also kill important brain cells. Gradually, the brain becomes reliant on foreign chemicals (opioids) in order to manage everyday pain.
The Path to Prescription Drug Addiction
Before long, a person who uses opioid painkillers may become physically dependent on the drug. This may happen over a long period of time, or within a few days of repeated use. This suddenness with which dependency arises depends on many factors, and isn’t clearly understood.
The consequences are clear. As soon as the body’s tolerance increases, a user will need higher doses in order to enjoy the same effects. At this point, withdrawal symptoms may follow any attempt to quit the drug.
Physical dependence is not the same as addiction. It can make addiction more likely, since withdrawal symptoms often discourage people from quitting, but full-blown addiction only arises when emotional dependency combines with physical dependency.
How do you know when someone might be suffering from a prescription drug addiction? If a person keeps using the pills in spite of the adverse effects on his or her health, professional life, and personal life, they’ve probably entered the vicious cycle called addiction, more accurately described as a serious disease that can have crippling effects on users and their loved ones.
Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction
Someone who is currently abusing prescription painkillers may display any of the following signs:
- Lying about painkiller usage
- Anger or defensiveness when confronted with questions related to painkiller use
- Increasing social isolation
- Withdrawing more money from accounts
- Asking for or even stealing money
- Doctor shopping (visiting multiple doctors in the hopes of obtaining additional prescriptions)
A person who has developed a tolerance to painkillers may experience a number of uncomfortable or even painful symptoms when they try to withdraw from the drug. Since opioid withdrawals can be painful, even dangerous, it’s important to undergo painkiller detox under the supervision of counselors and in the safety of a full-time recovery facility.
Early Onset Symptoms (6-30 hours after use)
- Muscle aches
- Bone pain
- Racing heart
Late Onset Symptoms (72 hours to 1 week after use)
- Nausea & vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Shaking & tremors
- Drug cravings
Possible Side Effects of Prescription Opioids
Immediate physical effects of opiate use may include:
- Nausea & vomiting
- Constricted pupils
- Itchy & flushed skin
- Relaxation & drowsiness
- Slurred speech
- Shallow breathing
Prescription drug abuse may also give rise to various behavioral and psychological symptoms, including:
- Mood swings
Side Effects of Chronic Opioid Use
Painkiller use may lead to serious health complications, such as:
- Weak immune system
- Chronic constipation
- Respiratory depression & failure
- Heightened risk of heart attack
- Cardiovascular complications
- Organ damage
Side effects often depend on the type of drug, as well as the frequency and duration of use.
Painkiller Addiction Treatment Starts with a Phone Call
Addiction is a disease. In the case of opioids, it is precipitated by chemical changes in the brain that occur after repeated or long-term painkiller use. Through no fault of their own, millions of people become hooked on such prescription medications each and every year. Many lose their jobs, their friends, and their independence. Some even lose their lives.
Fortunately, it’s possible to beat back the disease of addiction. At Yellowstone Recovery, we provide comprehensive, personalized painkiller addiction treatment that is both effective and affordable. Our painkiller rehab facilities in Southern California help people through every stage of recovery, from painkiller detox to long-term sober living assistance. Contact our treatment center to learn more about our 12-step approach to recovery.
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