Painkiller Addiction, Abuse Causes, Statistics, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What are Painkillers and Painkiller Addiction?

Painkillers are analgesics or groups of drugs and medications that are intended to reduce or ease pain.  Painkillers can range in function and have specific purposes, such as treatment for migraine pain for example, or for the purpose of treating general pain symptoms. Unfortunately, it is easy to develop a painkiller addiction.

Painkillers can be categorized by the manner in which they are obtained: Over the counter (OTC) painkillers – medications that can be purchased by the consumer without the need of a prescription, and prescription painkillers – those that require a prescription from a medical professional for legal purchase.  Painkillers can also be classified according to their chemical type.

Pills used in Painkiller Addiction

The following are the most common chemical types of painkillers along with examples of medications belonging to each category:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs:  Provides fever reducing and anti-inflammatory effects.  Examples include Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen.
  • Opiates:  Psychoactive chemicals that function by decreasing reaction to pain, the perception of pain, as well as increase pain tolerance.  Examples include Methadone, Oxycodone, Morphine, Codeine, and Hydrocodone.
  • Combinations:  There are painkillers that are used in combination to provide pain relief through multiple sites of action.  Examples include Percocet and Vicodin, which are a combination of opiates and acetaminophens.

Painkillers are available in a variety of forms, including gel capsules, tablets, liquids, topical gels, and injections.  They can be utilized to offer pain relief for a variety of ailments, including management of terminal diseases, surgeries, arthritis, sprains, strains, and other painful conditions.

When painkillers are used correctly, they can improve the quality of life for someone who suffers from chronic pain. Because painkillers are easily accessible over the counter or through wide prescription use, they are often abused or used for other reasons besides the intended medical application.

When painkillers are used recreationally or beyond their intended scope, a painkiller addiction typically develops.  This can be debilitating to any man or woman trapped in the cycle of addiction, and dependency to painkillers can negatively impact the many areas of an individual’s life.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to painkillers, it is important to enlist the help of loved ones, professionals, and a painkiller addiction center to find freedom from the substance abuse.

Painkillers Treatment and Help

An addiction to painkillers is a destructive habit that can result in numerous consequences that can gravely impact one’s life.  If you or a loved one is struggling with a painkiller addiction, consider taking the first step towards overcoming this is by recognizing the problem of your addiction and admitting your need for help.

Obtaining professional help is necessary to appropriately dealing with the complications that may have resulted from painkillers use, so search for an accredited pain killers addiction treatment center.  Suffering from an addiction to painkillers can be overwhelming and an isolating experience, but it is important to remember that you do not have to be alone.

Having the help of a professional treatment team, interventionist, or rehab program can allow for the best care and treatment, and ultimately, give you the tools you need to overcome this addiction.

Painkiller Abuse Statistics

The misuse of painkillers represents three-fourths of the overall problem of prescription drug abuse, with approximately 2.5 million Americans abusing prescription painkillers for the first time in 2007 alone [1].

Statistics on painkiller abuse are helpful in understanding the seriousness of this condition as well as in treatment and preventative measures. Other statistics about painkillers are as follows:

  • Emergency room visits related to painkiller use rose 153% from 1995 to 2002, while admissions to drug treatment programs for individuals using painkillers rose 321% from 1995 to 2005 [2].
  • Deaths related to painkiller abuse rose 160% from 1994 to 2004 [2].
  • Young adults, age 18 to 25, show the most painkiller use and the greatest increases in abuse [2].
  • The United States is the world’s largest consumer of painkillers, using 71% of the world’s oxycodone and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone or Vicodin [2].
  • Painkiller abusers get their drugs from friends or family members.  Only about 4% get painkillers from illegal dealers or strangers, and about .1% obtain painkillers from the Internet [2].
  • The most commonly abused drug (other than alcohol) in the United States by individuals over the age of 12 is Marijuana, followed by prescription painkillers, cocaine, and hallucinogens [3].
  • Each year, drug abuse and drug addiction cost employers over 122 billion dollars in lost productivity time and another 15 billion dollars in health insurance costs [3].

Causes of Painkiller Addiction

An addiction to painkillers can develop for a variety of reasons, depending on the individual.  The use of painkillers may begin with a simple prescription, intended to manage or reduce pain.

However, if a person taking painkillers becomes dependent on the drug, either physically or psychologically, or if a tolerance is built towards the drug, an addiction will slowly begin to progress. After prolonged use of consuming painkillers, a man or woman may feel that the drug is necessary for them to function in daily life, creating dependency on the drug.

Even if physical pain has been resolved, an individual may continue taking their painkillers for fear of pain returning without them, creating a psychological need for persistent use.

There are also major underlying causes of painkiller abuse that are related to biological, psychological, and social factors.  A person can be more likely to develop an addiction to painkillers in they have a genetic predisposition or family history of substance abuse.

Painkiller addiction can also develop as a result of psychological trauma, such as a history of abuse, depression, or anxiety. Social reasons that can be associated with an addiction to painkillers include exposure to the drugs or pressure from peer groups, family or friends.

An addiction to painkillers can also be co-occurring with abuse of other substances, alcohol, mood disorders and eating disorders.  The addiction nature is influenced by several factors, and it is likely that painkillers abusers may struggle with another form of addiction.

Painkillers may be used in an attempt to escape from uncomfortable feelings, pain, or realities of living.

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction

An addiction to painkillers will be evident by certain signs and symptoms.  While these symptoms can be specific depending on the type of painkiller abused, there are general signs of which to be aware.

If you or a loved one is addicted to painkillers, knowing these signs can help identify when the use of painkillers has become abusive:

  • Mood swings or behavior changes, such as frequent expression of hostility, anger, anxiety, or agitation.
  • Engaging in deceitful behaviors to obtain additional prescriptions or greater quantities of the drug
  • Persistent use of the painkiller, even after pain has subsided
  • Withdrawal from social activities, friends, and family
  • Decline in overall performance, in work, school, or social life
  • Complaint of physical symptoms, such as joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, etc
  • Alterations in appearance and daily habits, such as neglect with personal hygiene, changes in eating habits, or ill-looking appearance
  • Increased experience of blackouts or forgetfulness
  • Drowsiness, inability to concentrate or focus, ongoing confusion or disorientation

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these signs or symptoms as a result of an addition to painkillers, please seek the counsel of a health professional, as the addiction can quickly spiral out of control.

Painkiller Effects

Addiction to painkillers can result in several consequences on the abuser, both in the short and long term.  These consequences can impact a man or woman physically, psychologically/mentally, and socially.

The following are ways that painkillers can impact the various areas of a user’s life:

Physical Effects – The ongoing abuse of painkillers can interfere with the body’s ability to function normally, especially as systems are altered to adapt to the drug.  These are some of the physical consequences resulting from using painkillers:

  • Liver/Kidney failure or disease
  • Compromised immunity
  • Gastrointestinal distress or malfunction
  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Infection from injecting with needles
  • Impaired mental function
  • Respiratory collapse
  • Death due to overdose or toxicity

Psychological / Mental Effects – Abusing painkillers will also negative impact an addict’s mental health.  These are some of the negative psychological and mental effects from using painkillers:

  • Alterations in personality or character
  • Mood swings or extreme behavior changes
  • Frequent experience of depression and anxiety
  • Confusion, disorientation
  • Paranoia and heightened fear
  • Distorted perception of reality
  • Low self-esteem, negative body image
  • Feelings of anger, rage, hostility

Social Effects – The abuse of painkillers can result in multiple negative social effects.  These can include the following:

  • Withdrawal, isolation from friends and family
  • Loss of interest or decreased participation in activities once enjoyed
  • Alienation from social function
  • Damaged relationships with loved ones
  • Division or brokenness within a family unit

Painkiller Withdrawal

While painkillers can be taken safely when used as indicated or prescribed, they can cause tolerance and dependence, even with short term use.  Withdrawal will occur when the body detoxifies from a painkiller drug, and the symptoms that can accompany withdrawal are both physically and psychologically challenging.

Physical withdrawal symptoms can last from 48-72 hours or as long as 30-60 days, depending on the quantity, frequency, type, and extent of time painkillers have been used.  These symptoms result as the body attempts to recuperate from the interference of painkillers within its systems and the dysfunction the drug(s) may have caused.

Withdrawal from painkillers may cause the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cold Flashes
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness
  • Tremors
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Irregular respiration
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Anxiety/Panic Attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Paranoia

A medical professional or painkiller treatment center can offer the most effective help for anyone who has become dependent on painkillers and is attempting to withdraw from the drug.

Because several complications can arise as one attempts to withdraw from a painkiller, it is recommended that the detoxification process takes place under the supervision of a professional or painkiller rehabilitation center.  Having the support of a rehabilitation center and treatment team can create long-term success for recovery, minimize withdrawal effects, and help establish relapse prevention.


[1]: Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “Prescription Painkiller Abuse”. Accessed 12 March 2013.

[2]: Substance abuse and mental health services administration. Accessed 12 March 2013.

[3]: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis.. Available at: