Understanding the Addictiveness of Prescription Painkillers

Posted On Monday, 07 August 2017
Understanding the Addictiveness of Prescription Painkillers

When you’re in extreme pain, you’ll do anything to make it stop. A doctor tells you that one pill can temporarily put an end to your pain, and it seems like a no-brainer.

Prescription painkillers seem harmless enough. After all, most of us have taken them at one point or another.

However, there are some dangers that come with taking prescription painkillers with addiction being at the top of the list.

Many painkillers fall into the opioid category, which means they are narcotics.

Below are some commonly prescribed painkillers that cause addiction:

  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycontin
  • Demerol
  • Percocet
Most people don’t seek out painkillers for their addictive properties. Instead, they are legitimately seeking pain relief. Unfortunately, though, they are likely already addicted before they realize there’s a problem.

How Painkillers Work in the Brain

Long-term opioid use changes the way nerve cells work in the brain.

Opioid painkillers block the brain from perceiving pain by binding to opiate receptors, which interferes with signals from the central nervous system.

Opioids are depressants, so they decrease pain by increasing relaxation. As they bind to the opiate receptors, these painkillers elicit feelings of euphoria. This explains the “high” that people report from opioids.

Sometimes, the high alone is enough to lead to addiction. In other people, it’s the long-term use of painkillers. After using opioids for some time, the body slows its production of natural chemicals. This causes the body to become less efficient at relieving pain on its own.

The body becomes accustomed to relying on the opioid to relieve pain.

Interestingly, many of the neurotransmitters that are diminished with opioid use are associated with natural endorphins that help with pain. These are the brain’s feel-good chemicals. Without them, someone who is addicted will come to need the painkillers to feel good again.

Next, comes an increased tolerance. When naturally-occurring neurotransmitters decrease, more painkillers are required to produce the same result.

Factors That Contribute to Addiction

Many people take prescription painkillers without developing an unhealthy addiction. Others seem to become addicted immediately. While we can’t dissect every case, we do know that there are various factors that may cause someone to become addicted to painkillers.

1) A Doctor Who Prescribes Freely

Since 1990, opioid prescriptions have multiplied by a factor of 10, which may have been driven by an aggressive OxyContin marketing campaign.

If your doctor doesn’t question or provide caution with refills, he may be sending the message that your prescription is harmless. Although prescription painkillers are sometimes necessary, we must always take measures to prevent addiction. Only take painkillers when necessary and never exceed the recommended dose.
High tolerance to opioids

Over time, anyone will build a tolerance to opioid painkillers, so they will require higher doses to alleviate the same pain. With increased doses, the person is more susceptible to addiction.

2) Environmental Factors

A person’s environment can have an impact on their chances of becoming addicted. For example, if their friends abuse painkillers, they are more likely to do so. If the person lives in a community that has generally favorable attitudes towards drug use, their risk of becoming addicted increases.

3) Genetic Factors

There’s no such thing as an addiction gene, but there are definitely genetic components of addiction. More research must be done on the topic, but we know that multiple genes can make an individual susceptible to addiction. This may be one reason why two people can take the same dosage of the same drug and only one will become addicted.

Recovering from Prescription Painkiller Addiction

The first step in recovery is to stop using the painkillers. This will cause withdrawal symptoms, but the recovery process cannot begin without a detox. You must rid your system of the opioids that it has become so reliant on.

This is a long journey, but it is worthwhile. Anyone who has suffered from addiction can tell you that it can ruin relationships and end lives. If you or a loved one are suffering from painkiller addiction, get help right away. The longer you remain addicted, the more reliant your body becomes on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms also tend to be greater when someone has been addicted for a long period of time.

Talk to a counselor and find ways to detox from the painkillers before your addiction gets any worse.

Trevor McDonald

Trevor McDonald is a freelance writer and recovering addict and alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over five years. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources and addiction awareness. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

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