Pain Med Addiction Symptoms, Signs & Effects

Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with painkiller addiction. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of painkiller addiction.

What is Pain Pill Addiction?

Learn More About Pain Pill Addiction

Prescription painkillers are used to treat moderate-to-severe pain associated with injuries, broken bones, cancer, and burns and can be a major source of relief for many who need them. Prescription painkillers are potent drugs that disrupt the transmission of pain signals from the nerves to the central nervous system. In addition, most prescription narcotics act on the areas of the brain associated with pleasurable activities and producing feelings of euphoria. Opioids are the most powerful of the prescription pain medications. Opioids act upon the central nervous system in the same manner as heroin, which is an illegal opioid narcotic.  Withdrawal from prescription painkillers can have life threatening consequences so it is always recommended the detoxification treatment protocol is medically supervised.  The two most common classes of prescription painkillers include:

Oxycodone (OxyContin) is a prescription pain medication that has the highest potential for abuse and can also present the gravest of dangers. Often called “oxy,” this drug is as powerful as heroin and provides similar pleasurable effects.

Hydrocodone is often combined with other chemicals, such as acetaminophen, an over-the-counter pain reliever, in order to increase its pleasurable effects. Hydrocodone is available in a number of formulations including Loracet, Norco, and Vicodin.


Statistics of Pain Pill Addiction?

Like the abuse of other prescription drugs, prescription painkiller abuse is on the rise in the U. S. In 2007, an estimated 2.5 million people in the United States abused prescription painkillers for the first time. It was also reported that year that the non-medical use of prescription painkillers rose to 12%, with one in every ten high school students admitting to using prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes. Sadly, people who abuse prescription pain medication are estimated to be 19 times more likely to begin abusing heroin.

Between the years of 1999 and 2010, almost 48,000 women died from an overdose of prescription painkillers. Currently, it is said that approximately 18 women die each day from a prescription painkiller overdose in the U.S. This growing epidemic has deadly consequences.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Pain Pill Addiction

There has not been one single cause identified as being the reason that some people develop an addiction to painkillers, but rather it is generally believed that individuals develop addictions based upon a number of interplaying factors. Common causes of prescription painkiller abuse may include the following:

Genetic: It has long been understood that addiction has a genetic component. Individuals who have first-degree relatives who struggle with addiction are more prone to develop addiction later in life.

Physical: As prescription painkillers stimulate the rewards system of the brain by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, it has been postulated that some individuals have inborn deficiencies in dopamine levels. These individuals may use food, drugs, or prescription painkillers in order to correct these deficiencies.

Environmental: Individuals who are born into chaotic home environments in which drug use is prevalent are more likely to develop an addiction later in life. Additionally, those who begin to abuse drugs at a younger age are more likely to develop an addiction to serious drugs later in life.

Risk Factors:

  • Past or present addictions
  • Pre-existing psychiatric problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Easy access to prescription drugs
  • Lack of understanding regarding the dangers of abusing prescription drugs

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Pain Pill Addiction

Signs and symptoms of prescription painkiller abuse will vary among people based upon factors such as one’s genetic makeup, the length of one’s addiction, and frequency of the abuse. Common symptoms that are seen in many people who abuse prescription painkillers include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased risky behaviors
  • Drug-seeking behaviors (finding ways to obtain prescriptions)
  • Notable shifts in energy
  • Increased usage over time
  • Ongoing usage after drug was meant to be discontinued
  • Lying to loved ones about drug use
  • Hiding stashes of painkillers around the house, in the car, and at work
  • Decline in occupational or scholastic functioning
  • Withdrawing from once-enjoyed activities
  • Social isolation
  • Inability to maintain responsibilities at home, work, or school
  • Neglecting personal hygiene

Physical symptoms:

  • Declining physical health
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Itchy, flushed skin
  • Respiratory depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Increased risks for heart attack and other cardiovascular complications
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms if drug use is stopped
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Blackouts
  • Forgetfulness

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Worsening mental and emotional health
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Feeling defensive when asked about drug use


Effects of Pain Pill Addiction

The effects of prescription painkiller abuse and addiction can lead to devastating consequences, leaving virtually no area of an addict’s life unharmed. Effects will range from mild to severe, depending upon one’s individual makeup, the frequency of which one is using, the length of abuse, and a combination of other factors. The most common effects of prescription painkiller abuse include:

  • Social isolation
  • Financial ruin
  • Inability to quit using prescription painkillers despite multiple attempts to cut down or stop using
  • Unemployment
  • Crumbling interpersonal relationships
  • Legal problems
  • Incarceration
  • Homelessness
  • Increasing medical consequences
  • Seizures
  • Overdose
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Death

Withdrawal & Overdose

Withdrawal and Overdose from Prescription Painkillers

Withdrawal occurs when a person has become physically dependent on prescription painkillers and then abruptly stops using or cuts down on the usage. The most common withdrawal symptoms from prescription painkillers can include:

  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Drug craving
  • Rapid breathing
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors, sweating, and shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Involuntary leg movements
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps

An overdose from prescription painkillers occurs when a person inadvertently or intentionally consumes more of the medication than his or her body is able to handle. Overdose from prescription pain meds is a life-threatening emergency and 911 should be contacted immediately. Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Unresponsive to external stimuli
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Slowed or stopped respiration rate
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Coma
  • Death from respiratory arrest or damage to vital organs

Co-occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders with Pain Pill Addiction

Many individuals who abuse and become addicted to prescription pain medications have a concurrent, comorbid mental health disorder. The most common co-occurring mental health disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Other drug abuse
  • Alcoholism

Initially, I took pain medications to help ease the pain I was experiencing after a surgery. However, I ended up getting addicted to them and was about to reach rock bottom when I decided to seek out help at Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry. Thanks to the staff at OHP, I was able to get out of those dark days.

– Daryl F.