How Painkiller Addiction or Overuse Happens

Is Your Prescription Painkiller Use Abuse?

No patient swallowing doctor-prescribed painkillers does so with the intention of becoming an addict. We take them, for example, to ease post-surgery pain or deal with pain related to diseases, such as cancer. Still, for some people with particular natures and certain risk factors the risk of addiction exists.

Here are some factors that can fuel an addiction or overuse behavior in patients taking addictive painkillers.

Painkillers Numb Physical Pain Very Effectively

woman at her work station taking headache pills
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Because painkillers work well with little effort, they are frequently the first choice for pain management. Rather than exploring alternative pain management techniques, which take effort and may not eliminate pain to the same extent as the painkillers, patients reach for the pill bottle. The ease of use and their effectiveness may lead some to reach for the drugs more often than is safe or necessary.

Alternative Pain Management Services Are Inaccessible

There are many other effective forms of pain management, but our medication-oriented culture promotes drugs as the first approach.

Even when people are desperate to try non-drug alternatives for pain relief, they often have a much harder time accessing these alternatives than they do getting a prescription for painkillers.

This leaves people with few alternatives for pain management, other than the drugs.

Painkillers Distance You From Emotional Pain

Over time, patients come to depend on prescription painkillers to manage their negative emotions, too.

Loved ones in physical pain have often suffered emotional trauma from an accident or illness and are more vulnerable to the attractions of a pill that just “makes it all go away.” 

Painkillers Can Be Pleasurable

Opioids give you a euphoric feeling. As pain patients have typically suffered an unpleasant experience that caused the pain, the pleasurable effects of these painkillers can seem like a delightful surprise. Seeking repeated experiences of pleasure through an addictive behavior or substance is one of the hallmarks of addiction.

Painkillers Induce Relaxation

Unless you practice non-drug pain management techniques, such as yoga or meditation, you are likely to tense up when you feel pain. Because many painkillers, such as Demerol, induce physical relaxation, they can provide welcome relief from tension.

After a while, patients rely on painkillers to provide this relief.

Tolerance Builds Quickly

You can quickly develop a tolerance to opioids, which means you need to take increasingly higher dosages to get the same effect. Tolerance is one of the key signs of a developing addiction.

Physical Neglect Intensifies Pain

The ups and downs of a developing addiction cause physical behaviors such as:

  • overuse of an injured part of the body
  • poor posture resulting from a lack of sensation when in positions that would otherwise be uncomfortable
  • a lack of moderate exercise that would otherwise strengthen the weakened area

Instead of correcting these bad habits, the patient often takes more painkillers, creating a vicious cycle of physical neglect concealed by the effects of the drugs.

Withdrawal From Opioid Painkillers Is Very Unpleasant

An addict experiences withdrawal when the drug wears off. It often feels like a more intense version of the very symptoms the person was trying to escape through taking painkillers.

If you take the drug again, the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms disappear. Over time, patients choose to manage withdrawal by taking more painkillers, sometimes without even realizing the drug caused the symptoms.

Painkillers Are Legally Available

Although painkillers prescribed to you are legal, some are chemically similar to illicit drugs such as heroin. The implicit encouragement by a medical professional and the explicit encouragement in advertising can lead people who would normally avoid addictive substances down a dark path.

Addiction Leads to Stigma, Which Leads to Illicit Drug Use

“Drug-seeking” is a sign you have a problem. Once recognized, you may find your physician and insurance provider suddenly becomes less sympathetic to your need for painkillers. At this point, many patients turn to getting their medication illegally.

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