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Doctors routinely prescribe painkillers to help manage pain after a patient has surgery or sustains an injury. These drugs are highly addictive and prone to abuse. Some people who simply follow the prescribed dosing schedule may soon find themselves hooked on the pills. On the other hand, some may begin to abuse these drugs, taking them in ways not intended. To learn more about painkiller abuse and addiction, read on.

What Are Pain Killers?

Painkillers are in a category of drugs called opioids. Opioids are the synthetic, man-made versions of naturally occurring opium products like morphine or codeine. Synthetic opioids mimic the effects of natural opiates. Painkillers include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl 
  • Meperidine

When a doctor prescribes a drug they take into account both the benefits and risks to the patient. Because each person is unique, it is not easy to predict who might become possibly become addicted to the painkiller. While some people can take painkillers for a couple of weeks following surgery without adverse effects, another might become addicted.

What Causes Pain Killer Abuse or Addiction After Prescription?

The brain has opioid receptors built into its reward center. When painkillers enter the system it binds to the opioid receptors. This triggers the release of endorphins, known as the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals. This causes a sense of euphoria, pain relief, and deep relaxation, which is deeply pleasurable. The brain sends a signal to its reward center that this feels good and therefore should be repeated. With repeated use, the brain reduces the natural production of endorphins, which is a sign of increased tolerance. This often prompts the person to take higher doses than what is prescribed. Because the drug mimics natural brain chemicals like dopamine, the brain eventually stops producing its own dopamine. This is when someone becomes dependent on the drug. When the person attempts to stop using the opiate, he or she will experience highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms within hours. To avoid this pain and discomfort, the individual reverts back to using the drug.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pain Killer Abuse?

Certain signs or behavior patterns are common in someone who is abusing the painkillers or has become addicted to the drug. These include:

  • Increased tolerance.
  • Requesting frequent refills of the drug.
  • Mood swings.
  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits.
  • Weight gain or loss.
  • Irritability
  • Doctor shopping.
  • Stealing pills from friends or family members.
  • Buying prescription pills off the street or from illicit online sources.
  • Obsessive about the next dose, keeping enough supply on hand.
  • When attempting to stop the drug, experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Obsessing about the next dose.
  • Obsessing about obtaining the drug.
  • Lying about how much they are taking.
  • Avoiding activities once enjoyed.
  • Isolating behaviors.
  • Sneaky behaviors.
  • Continue to abuse the painkillers despite negative consequences.
  • Can’t stop or control the use of the drug.
  • Drug cravings.
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech.
  • Sweating
  • Small pupils.
  • Reduced sex drive.
  • Shallow breathing.
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.

Detox and Withdrawal With Tapering Schedule

To start your recovery from painkiller abuse or addiction, you will complete a medical detox. The detox and withdrawal symptoms vary in severity from one person to another, and range from mild to severe. Certain factors influence how intense the withdrawal symptoms might be. These factors include:

  • How long painkillers were misused.
  • The daily dosage of the drug.
  • The person’s general health status.
  • Whether there is a poly-drug addiction.
  • Whether there is a co-occurring mental health disorder.

After an assessment, the doctor will plan a tapering schedule. Tapering off opiates allows the person to slowly adjust to the reduced dosing. This is less painful than the harsh symptoms they would experience stopping cold turkey. The detox process occurs in two phases: Early stage: Withdrawal symptoms emerge within 6-12 hours and may include:

  • Eyes tearing up.
  • Runny nose.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Joint pain.
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Excessive yawning
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  • Racing heart.
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

Late stage: Withdrawal symptoms peak on days 2-3 and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or goosebumps.
  • Stomach cramping.
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) may persist in those who have a long history of painkiller addiction. These are mostly psychological symptoms and can linger for a few months after detox is completed. Common PAWS symptoms might include depression, anxiety, and cravings.

Treatment Options for Opioid Use Disorder

Immediately following detox you will begin the process of addiction treatment. There are two basic options available: outpatient or inpatient rehab.

  • Outpatient treatment is a good option for those who have just recently begun abusing painkillers and have a strong support. You will reside at home while engaging in outpatient rehab during the week, which allows some flexibility.
  • Inpatient treatment is the highest level of care, and you will reside at the treatment center and receive round-the-clock support and a daily schedule of therapeutic activities. Inpatient treatment is the better option for individuals who have a long history of abusing painkillers.

Treatment involves a range of therapy sessions and other activities that will help you succeed in remaining drug-free. These include:

  • Individual psychotherapy sessions. During these one-on-one sessions, the therapist will help the client identify underlying factors that might be driving the dependence on opioid drugs, such as using it to self-medicate a mood disorder, chronic pain, or a difficult emotional event or trauma.
  • CBT. CBT shows clients how their disordered negative thoughts led to the maladaptive use of the opioids, and then helps them replace those distorted thoughts and behavior patterns with healthy ones.
  • Group counseling sessions. Group therapy provides the social support essential in addiction treatment. Members of the group, under the facilitation of a therapist, share their own experiences, offer their suggestions, and bond together with the common goal of overcoming the addiction.
  • Holistic treatment modalities. Treatment is enhanced with holistic activities, such as mindfulness, yoga, recreation, and art therapy.

Whether you misused prescription pills or became addicted to the drug after a doctor prescribed it, help is available. Reach out today!

LifeSync Malibu Comprehensive Treatment for Pain Killer Abuse and Addiction

LifeSync Malibu is a premier addiction recovery center that provides treatment for opioid use disorder. You or a loved one may be struggling with pain killer abuse after it is prescribed for pain management. If so, we can help you get off the drugs and regain control over your life. Call us today at (866) 491-4426.