Painkiller Addiction is a potentially life-threatening condition that can detrimentally affect the health and well-being of the person who experiences it. Painkillers are narcotic opioid drugs that can be found in either prescription form (for example, OxyContin) and illicitly (heroin or fentanyl) on the black market.

Painkillers can be habit-forming because they produce a surge of “feel good” chemicals that collect in the brain’s reward center. Once administered, they take control of dopamine and serotonin transmitters in the brain.

Painkillers also have properties that can result in central nervous system (CNS) depression. As such, they lessen neurological activity in the brain and body and induce pleasurable feelings such as pain reduction and euphoria. Painkiller abuse, however, can and does result in life-threatening complications such as respiratory distress and coma.

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction can lead to a wide variety of negative consequences, including poor or failing health, mental health conditions, criminal activity, legal and financial problems, and damaged or broken relationships with family and friends.


  • Continued use of opioids despite the presence of adverse physical, psychological, and social effects
  • Lack of interest in activities or hobbies once considered enjoyable
  • Use of painkillers in dangerous or inappropriate settings
  • Negative changes or problems in critical areas of life such as school, work, relationships, family and financial status
  • General malaise


  • Drowsiness/heavy sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation
  • Skin rash

Painkiller Addiction and Dependence

Over time, the consumption of painkillers can result in dependency, a condition in which the brain has become accustomed to a drug’s presence and can no longer function well without it. When a person becomes dependent on a substance, they start to experience drug cravings and suffer from unpleasant withdrawal effects when they attempt to cut back or quit altogether.

Symptoms of painkiller withdrawal may include the following:

  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Confusion
  • Appetite changes
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Sweating/chills and shivering
  • Rapid breathing
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Cold-like symptoms including runny/stuffy nose

Painkiller Addiction – Tolerance and Overdose

Tolerance is a condition that develops when a person’s body has become less sensitive to a substance and the response is thereby reduced. When this happens, the user has little choice but to increase drug abuse regarding dose, frequency, or potency, or method of administration (e.g. taking a pill versus injection.)

When these people boost their substance abuse patterns, they also markedly heighten the risk of severe side effects, overdose, and death.

Taking high amounts of painkillers, especially in combination with other drugs or alcohol can result in life-threatening complications.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Restricted pupils
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Pale skin, cyanosis (blue color to lips and nails)
  • Limp body and cold, clammy skin
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Extremely slow, labored respiration or breathing stopped altogether
  • Seizures
  • Extremely slow heart rate
  • Respiratory depression
  • Coma
  • Death

If you or a loved one are experiencing the above symptoms, please call 911 immediately.

Types of Painkillers

Many painkillers are prescribed legally by physicians and include the following:

  • codeine
  • fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic)
  • hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
  • hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Norco, Vicodin)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • meperidine (Demerol)
  • methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • morphine (MS Contin, Morphabond)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet)

Illegal/Illicit Painkillers

Any painkiller can be considered illicit if the person takes it knowingly without a prescription. Other types of common illegal painkillers include heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, U-47700, and other synthetic opioids.

Treatment for Painkiller Addiction

Treatment for opiate and opioid painkiller addiction usually begins with a medically-assisted detox. During this process, patients are monitored around-the-clock for several days while their body rids itself of drugs and alcohol. Medical staff note vital signs and administer medication to treat withdrawal symptoms.

After detox is complete, patients are urged to participate in a 30-60 treatment program which includes either an inpatient or outpatient treatment format or a combination of both. Both tracks include group and individual therapy and counseling, group support meetings, and holistic approaches such as music therapy.

Outpatients can choose to live in a private residence or a local partnered supportive housing environment while they transition their normal lives outside of the center. After formal treatment has completed, patients can participate in alumni activities and continue their recovery journey under the recommendation of an individualized aftercare plan.

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