How does painkiller addiction start?
Many times, addiction starts innocently enough. Someone has surgery or an injury and is prescribed medication for pain. With time, someone may develop a tolerance and need more and more of the drug to feel the effects. With prolonged and escalating use, addiction often follows. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a dysfunction of the reward, motivation and memory mechanisms of the brain. So, with time, the body and mind come to depend on the drug just to feel “normal.” What started as the need to relieve pain has become distorted. The need for painkillers dominates our mental, physical and emotional processes.
“If my doctor prescribed it, it must be alright, right?”
Well, maybe not. Painkiller addiction is rampant in our country. Experts estimate that 8.5 million Americans are addicted to prescription pain medicine right now. While painkillers are highly addictive for most people, someone with mental or emotional disorders is even more likely to become addicted. Those who struggle with anxiety or depression may find relief (at least at first) when taking painkillers. The drugs can easily become a way to self-medicate for daily emotional distress. People start taking the pills for pain relief then find they need the pills for relief from anxiety or depression.
“If painkillers make me feel better in so many ways, why do I need to stop?”
If painkillers only relieve pain and emotional distress, there would be no problems. But, as with addiction to nearly anything, addictive use of painkillers leads to more and more problems. Just like alcoholism and illicit drug abuse, addiction to pain pills takes everything away from us. Our behavior while “high” alienates our friends and family. Our erratic behavior jeopardizes our careers. We cannot be good parents. Painkiller addiction becomes the one motivating force in our lives. We want the pills above all else. The prescription pills may appear at first to be a “miracle cure.” They later turn on us and take away everything we love.
Here are 12 things to look for if you suspect someone is abusing painkillers:
If you suspect that someone you know is addicted to painkillers, you may doubt yourself. You may notice that your loved one seems high a lot. They may stumble frequently or slur their words. They may deny that they are taking too many pills if you ask them. They may isolate or become irritable. You may want to help them but are wondering if you are overreacting. If you know the signs of painkiller abuse, you can make some informed choices concerning your loved one.
- Increased usage: Using more and more pills to get the same effect. No longer adhering to the “prescribed amount.”
- Personality changes: Different moods, shifts in focus, lack of concentration
- Social isolation: No longer interacting with family and friends.
- Prolonged use: Taking pills after the initial malady has healed
- Time and energy obtaining the medication: Spending a lot of time and energy to get new prescriptions. Driving far to see new doctors.
- Change in self-care: Less personal grooming, sleeping less, different eating habits
- Neglect responsibilities: No longer does household chores, misses work or school often
- More sensitive: Over-sensitive to lights and sounds
- Poor memory, blackouts: Unable to remember events and conversations
- Defensive: Lashing out and becoming angry when questioned about drug use
- Often “under the weather”: Constant cough, runny nose, red or glazed eyes, lack of energy
- Just not interested: No longer interested in the things that they once enjoyed
Painkiller Addiction Symptoms
- Sleepiness, grogginess, sedation
- Acting high or euphoric
- Shallow or slow breathing
- Vomiting and nausea
- Itching skin
- Flushed or red skin
- Slurred speech
- Small pupils
- Poor judgment, making strange decisions
Painkiller Withdrawal Symptoms
Another way to tell if your loved one is abusing painkillers is to notice their behavior when they don’t have access to the pills. This is called “withdrawal.
- Grumpy, irritable
- Stressed, anxious
- Craving the pills
- Rapid breathing
- Frequent yawning
- Stuffy nose or runny nose
- Muscle pains
- Stomach pains
- Large pupils
- Shaky hands, tremors
- No appetite
The person who is addicted is not the only person who suffers. Watching our friends and family members change before our eyes can be a nightmare. We may experience sleepless nights filled with worry, alternating with fits of anger. If you suspect that a loved one has become addicted to painkillers, knowing the signs and symptoms will help you make informed choices. They will need to make the decision to fight addiction themselves. But you can provide the support and information they will need when they do make that decision.
The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before a miracle happens.
Am I addicted to painkillers?
If you are addicted to painkillers, you probably already know it. You only need to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find it hard to take just one pill and stop? Do you start craving more and more pills once you have some of the drug in your system?
- Are you unable to keep from taking the pills? Do you “swear off” only to go back to taking the drugs a bit later?
If your answer is “yes” to these questions, you have some important decisions to make. You can continue to take more and more painkillers until your health fails, you lose your job, family, friends and home. Or, you can make the decision to make a change. Many who know the struggles of addiction agree on one point. They could not get sober alone. They had to have help. Call a local drug rehabilitation center for treatment. There are literally thousands of programs out there that can help. SAMHSA is a government program that is a great resource for finding treatment options. Call them at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit their website by clicking here.