Pain pill is a broad term used to describe medications that relieve pain. Over-the-counter pain pills, such as Tylenol, Advil and aspirin, are not addictive.
Most prescription pain pills are addictive. The most powerful prescription painkillers contain man-made drugs called opioids. Natural versions of the drugs — those that have not been chemically altered in a lab, such as morphine and codeine — are called opiates.
The phrases “painkiller addiction” and “pain-pill addiction” refer to opioid addiction.
Opioids and opiates interact with parts of the brain in charge of regulating pain. They also affect parts of the brain in charge of happiness and motivation. In some people, opioids manipulate these parts of the brain and cause addiction.
Addiction is a disease characterized by compulsive drug use despite negative consequences. The presence of one or two symptoms isn’t enough to diagnose addiction. But the existence of multiple warning signs usually means a person has an addiction.
Abusing opioids to get high is a possible sign of pain-pill addiction. Not everyone who gets high on pain pills is addicted, but people who misuse the drugs on a regular basis may not be capable of controlling their desire to get high.
Some people use drugs so often that they’re unable to get high. They become dependent on the drugs to feel normal and experience opioid withdrawal when they stop taking them. Using opioids to avoid withdrawal is a red flag for painkiller addiction.
People use prescription pain pills without a doctor’s orders for multiple reasons. They may be in pain but are unable to find a doctor who will prescribe pain medication. Or they may think borrowing painkillers from a friend or buying pills on the street is easier than going to a doctor’s office.
Some people use opioids to treat feelings of sadness or anxiety. Over time, the drugs actually worsen the symptoms they’re supposed to treat. Repeatedly using painkillers for any of these reasons may be a sign of addiction.
Tolerance is caused by regular, repeated use of opioids. The body adapts to the drugs and requires higher doses to relieve pain or achieve euphoric effects. This is a natural adaptation that can be caused by therapeutic use or misuse of pain pills.
If your tolerance is increasing and you keep chasing a pleasurable experience caused by opioids, you may be addicted. If you’re able to stop using the drugs before tolerance develops, you probably aren’t addicted.
Manipulating pain pills so they can be smoked or injected is a sign of escalating opioid abuse. People usually smoke or inject drugs to feel more powerful highs. They may also self-medicate with injections when swallowing pills no longer brings effective pain relief.
When you swallow a pill, the drug travels through the body and slowly reaches the brain. When you smoke or inject the same dose of the drug, the full dose reaches the brain quickly. When a drug reaches the brain quickly, it’s more likely to cause addiction, according to the Genetic Science Learning Center.
People who experience addiction tend to hide their drug use from friends and family. Their brains change to prioritize drug use over personal relationships. They feel less happiness from social interaction because of the disease.
Pain-pill addiction is a stigmatized disease. People who can’t control their drug use often feel ashamed or embarrassed. They often hide from people they’re close to because they don’t want to feel guilty for using drugs.
Individuals addicted to opioids are incapable of performing at school or work. They’re often late, absent and distracted. Eventually, they lose jobs and have trouble finding work. Some people rely on friends or family for support. Others become homeless.
They also tend to experience legal problems because they have to steal to fund their addiction. They may do things to get drugs that they wouldn’t have done before they became addicted. Or they may end up in jail for drug possession or dealing.
The primary symptom of painkiller addiction is an inability to quit using the drugs. If you try to quit but are unable to, you’re probably addicted. Opioid addiction treatment can help you overcome withdrawal and learn methods for avoiding relapse.
If someone you know is exhibiting multiple symptoms of opioid addiction, encourage them to talk to a doctor or rehab facility about treatment. Opioid addiction is a deadly disease. Convincing someone to go to rehab can save their life.
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