There is absolutely no one who enjoys suffering from acute or chronic pain. To someone who’s experienced an injury or endured surgery, prescription painkillers can help them deal with the discomfort. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Americans lose their lives each year due to painkiller addiction.
Painkillers are synthetic opioid medications such as those sold under the brand names Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. These drugs work to suppress the effects of physical pain by modifying the signals in the central nervous system through the body’s opioid receptors.
By blocking the pain signals, the perception of pain is altered, allowing the individual to endure physical discomfort. When used appropriately and for a limited period, painkillers serve an important role in managing pain. Unfortunately, extended use of these medications can result in dependency or addiction.
What is opioid use disorder?
Painkillers, or opioids, are highly addictive substances. They interact with our brain’s opioid receptors, attaching to the receptors and creating a surge of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that signals the body to feel pleasure, which is recorded in the brain’s reward system.
With continued painkiller use, the neurotransmitters in the brain become altered, which leads to drug dependence. With prolonged use, the body requires higher doses more frequently in order to satisfy its physiological demands. As a result, dependence and addiction, or an opioid use disorder, can develop within weeks.
What are the signs of painkiller addiction?
Here are three categories of signs and symptoms that may indicate an opioid use disorder is present:
- Behavioral signs:
- Seems obsessed with obtaining the medication
- Engages in doctor shopping to obtain more refills
- Steals painkillers from friends and family
- Experiences financial problems associated with opioid use
- Experiences legal problems related to opioid use
- Has a decline in work performance
- Withdraws from social activities
- Neglects responsibilities
- Physical signs:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Skin rash
- Slowed respiratory rate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed respiratory rate
- Chronic constipation
- Muscle pain
- Impaired vision
- Increased tolerance
- Withdrawal symptoms emerge when opioid wears off
- Psychological signs:
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Memory problems
- Mental confusion
- Symptoms of psychosis
If you recognize a cluster of these symptoms in yourself or someone you care about, it may indicate an opioid use disorder.
Treatment for painkiller addiction
Fortunately, there is expert support and evidence-based treatment available to help someone who has developed a painkiller addiction. Here is what you can expect in treatment for opioid use disorder:
- Withdrawal management: The recovery journey starts with withdrawal management. Throughout the withdrawal process, symptoms will be closely observed and mitigated by the support of a medical detox team.
- Medication supported recovery (MSR): MSR is an adjunctive treatment element that utilizes medications like buprenorphine and others to ease cravings and minimize withdrawal discomfort.
- Individual psychotherapy: During the one-on-one therapy sessions, the psychotherapist guides the individual toward identifying factors that may be driving the painkiller addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy can guide individuals in shifting disordered thought and behavior patterns toward healthy, productive ones.
- Group counseling: Having the support of peers in recovery is a vital aspect of substance use treatment. Group therapy provides an opportunity to connect with others on a deeper level by sharing personal experiences and struggles.
- Complementary therapies: These include family therapy, meditation, yoga and art therapy. These activities can augment clinical results and improve recovery success rates.
Opioid use disorder is highly treatable, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support. A fulfilling, productive life awaits you.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.