Prescription Painkiller Abuse & Addiction Signs, Effects & Symptoms

Prescription painkillers have been used to help countless individuals all over the world find relief in times of healing. When used properly and in accordance with one’s physician’s instructions, prescription opioids, such as OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet, and Vicodin, can be a safe means of mitigating pain for short periods of time.

However, these drugs contain habit-forming chemicals that have caused many men and women to fall victim to a pattern of substance abuse when they begin using these painkillers outside of their intended purpose. Over time, these individuals will develop a tolerance to the substance, meaning that they will require larger amounts and more frequent doses to achieve the same euphoric high that these substances are known to create.

When this occurs, it is likely that the person has developed a severe chemical dependence that will require professional help to overcome. Fortunately, treatment centers exists that offer specialized programs of care for individuals who have succumbed to prescription painkiller abuse.

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Statistics

New data continues to demonstrate the severity of the prescription painkiller problem in the United States. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of prescriptions for painkillers being written quadrupled during the years between 1999 and 2014. During this same period of time, annual prescription opioid overdose deaths rose at similar rates. The tragic loss of life from painkiller overdose is being felt in communities throughout the country and is taxing the resources of law enforcement and public health agencies alike.

Causes and Risk Factors for Prescription Painkiller Abuse

Prescription painkiller abuse has impacted nearly all segments of the population. And as the problem continues to grow, researchers are delving into the reasons why some people become addicted. While no single factor can be used to predict with absolute certainty that one will develop a prescription painkiller dependence, there are certain scenarios that might result in one being more susceptible to this type of opioid addiction, some of which are described in the following:

Genetic: It has been shown that one’s family of origin might impact the likelihood that a person will struggle with chemical dependence. For example, having a first-degree relative such as a parent or sibling who struggles with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol might elevate one’s risk.

Environmental: Early exposure to addictive behavior in the home has been demonstrated to increase the odds that a child will grow up to abuse illicit substances him or herself. This is possibly because this type of exposure may serve to normalize unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking to excess or abusing drugs such as prescription painkillers.

Risk Factors:

  • Ease of access to prescription pain medications
  • Poor coping skills
  • Family history of substance use disorders
  • Trauma
  • Experiencing severe acute or chronic pain
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Stress

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Painkiller Abuse

If you are someone you care about is beginning to exhibit some of the following signs and symptoms, it may be likely that a prescription painkiller addiction is present.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Visiting multiple doctors to get prescriptions for painkillers
  • Deception regarding whereabouts and/or activities
  • Borrowing or stealing medication that has been prescribed to someone else
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Slurring speech
  • Diminished participation in significant activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Heavy perspiration
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Itchiness
  • Pupil dilation
  • Constipation
  • Impaired coordination

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic changes in mood
  • Depression
  • Irritability
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Prescription Painkiller Abuse

The damaging effects of a prescription painkiller addiction cannot be understated. Without help from a quality treatment center, an opioid-dependent individual will likely experience a vast array of negative outcomes, including many of the following:

  • Impaired or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Homelessness
  • Isolation
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempt or attempts
  • Financial distress
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Family discord, including separation and divorce
  • Legal problems, including arrest and incarceration
  • Development of physical health problems

Co-Occurring Disorders

As is the case with other types of chemical dependence, individuals who suffer from an addiction to prescription painkillers are likely to also have other mental health difficulties, including one or more of the following disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of prescription painkiller withdrawal: A withdrawal from prescription painkillers can be a harrowing experience, and indicators that a person is experiencing withdrawal are outlined below:

  • Powerful cravings for opioids
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Heavy perspiration
  • Dysphoria
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Inability to sleep
  • Pain in bones and muscles

Effects of prescription painkiller overdose: An overdose of prescription painkillers may have fatal consequences. If you or someone else begins exhibiting the symptoms outlined below, seek immediate medical attention:

  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Extreme disorientation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slow or otherwise irregular pulse
  • Breathing problems
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