Addiction Drug Use Opioids Print How Painkiller Addiction or Overuse Happens Is Your Prescription Painkiller Use a Problem? By Elizabeth Hartney, PhD Updated July 06, 2019 More in Addiction Drug Use Opioids Cocaine Heroin Marijuana Meth Ecstasy/MDMA Hallucinogens Prescription Medications Alcohol Use Addictive Behaviors Nicotine Use Coping and Recovery No patient starts taking doctor-prescribed painkillers with the intention of becoming addicted. Typically, people start taking these medications to ease post-surgery pain or to deal with pain related to diseases, such as cancer, or chronic pain following an injury. Still, the risk of addiction exists. Here are some common factors that can fuel an addiction or overuse behavior in patients taking painkillers. Painkillers Numb Physical Pain Very Effectively Andrew Bret Wallis/Stockbyte/Getty Images 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. How to Spot the Signs of a Pain Killer Addiction Painkillers Distance You From Emotional Pain Over time, patients come to depend on prescription painkillers to manage their negative emotions, too. It is no surprise, then, that people with mood disorders are more likely to use prescription pain medication. People 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.” Non-Medication 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. Prescribing of opioids for pain relief quadrupled between 1999 and 2013, as did the number of deaths by overdoses. An estimated one in four people who are prescribed painkillers struggle with addiction. 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. Traditional and Alternative Pain Management Treatments 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. How to Relax for Control Over Your Chronic Pain 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. What Does Medication Tolerance Mean? Physical Neglect Intensifies Pain The ups and downs of a developing addiction cause physical behaviors such as: Overuse of an injured part of the bodyPoor posture resulting from a lack of sensation when in positions that would otherwise be uncomfortableA 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. 9 Things That Make Chronic Pain Worse 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. How Long Does Withdrawal From Opioids Last? Particularly worrying is the reduction in medical support for youth and women with opioid use disorders, even while the number of people dying from overdoses is increasing. Less than two percent of 13 to 15-year-olds with opioid use disorder receive medical treatments, compared to over 30 percent of 20 to 25-year-olds, despite the fact that opioid use disorder often develops during adolescence. 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 Can Lead 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. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Learn the best ways to manage stress and negativity in your life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Halbert B, Davis R, Wee C. Disproportionate longer-term opioid use among U.S. adults with mood disorders. Pain;157(11):2452-2457. 2016. Hu M, Griesler P, Wall M, Kandel D. Age-related patterns in nonmedical prescription opioid use and disorder in the US population at ages 12-34 from 2002 to 2014. Drug & Alcohol Dependence;177:237-243. 2017. McCarberg B. The continued rise of opioid misuse: Opioid Use Disorder. American Journal of Managed Care ;:S169-S176. 2015. Prevention and Management of Opioid Misuse and Opioid Use Disorder Among Women Across the Lifespan. Women's Healthcare: A Clinical Journal For NPs; 5(1):22-27. 2017. Zimlich R. Teens not being treated for opioid use disorders: Early intervention for adolescents is the key to heading off a cascade into lifelong addiction. Contemporary Pediatrics;34(9):32-35. 2017.