A pain pill addiction often starts with a simple need for pain relief. Over time, however, your body may become dependent on the pills, making it difficult to stop taking them. The problem is becoming increasingly common, with almost 2 million people currently addicted to or abusing prescription pain pills.
By learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of an addiction to any of these drugs or the many other painkillers on the market, you may be able to intervene before the problem becomes serious.
Understanding the Addiction to Pain Pills
An addiction to pain pills often has innocuous beginnings. Over time, the person develops a dependency that causes intense physical cravings for the mental euphoria experienced after each dose. Eventually, the body becomes accustomed to the pills, and the person must take more and more of the drugs to feel normal. Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms may follow any period of abstinence. In some cases, an addiction develops.
It is important to understand that dependence and addiction are not the same thing. Dependence turns into addiction when someone compulsively takes the pain pills despite the social and personal problems it causes to that person.
Recognizing Addictive Drugs
In many cases, pill addictions begin with prescription drugs. The most frequently prescribed pain pills are opioids, which produce a pleasant high feeling and create a chemical dependency in the body.
Commonly abused prescription opioids include:
It is important to note that because opioids act on the same brain receptors as heroin, they are highly addictive, and some people do eventually make the move from prescription pain killers to heroin. Everyday painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin, paracetamol, and acetaminophen are not considered addictive or habit forming.
Common Symptoms of a Pain Pill Addiction
A person who is abusing or is addicted to opioids may experience these symptoms:
- Small pupils
- Euphoric feelings
- Shallow breathing or decreased respiration
- Extreme confusion and poor judgment
- Slurred speech
- Constipation, nausea, and vomiting
- Itchiness or flushed skin
Recognizing Behavioral Signs of Pain Pill Addiction
Those addicted to pain pills may start to exhibit behaviors that are unusual or out of character. These behaviors may include:
- Stealing, especially from friends, family, or employers, to buy more drugs
- Forging signatures on prescriptions
- Exhibiting poor judgment and decision making
- Experiencing extreme mood swings
- Drastic changes in sleeping patterns
In the case of a prescription drug addiction, you may notice that the person claims to lose prescriptions to get a refill order or starts seeing more than one doctor to increase the number of prescriptions. If you approach an addict about this behavior, be prepared for anger and denial.
Understanding the Risk Factors for Pain Medication Addiction
Many people can take pain pills safely without becoming addicted; others have a higher risk of addiction. If a loved one is exhibiting one or more signs of pain pill abuse, it is helpful to assess the risk factors to gauge the likelihood of addiction.
People who have a history of addiction have a higher risk of developing a pill addiction. Other high-risk groups include teens and young adults, people with psychiatric conditions, and people who have easy access to pain pills. Peer pressure and exposure to social drug use are also risk factors.
When to Seek Pain Pill Addiction Help
When you notice one or more of the warning signs of pain pill abuse or addiction, seek help immediately. Early detection helps prevent pain pill abuse from turning into a full-blown addiction.
Also read: 10 shocking prescription drug statistics
Where to Get Help
If you are concerned that you may have an addiction to pain pills, you should speak to your doctor first. A doctor will be able to help you determine whether you are dependent or addicted. After an initial evaluation, your doctor will be able to refer you to an addiction treatment professional or a drug rehab center.
Another resource is Narcotics Anonymous, which offers regular meetings and community support. As in any emergency situation, if you feel that you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911 or get to the nearest emergency room.
Pain Pill Addiction Treatment
Pain pill addiction treatment options vary from case to case, depending on the severity of the addiction and the drugs involved. The process can be difficult, so the Mayo Clinic recommends that you enlist your doctor or an addiction professional to guide you through. You may opt for an inpatient or outpatient treatment plan; the choice is usually determined by your finances, mental state, location, and doctor’s recommendation.
Detoxification and Withdrawal
In some cases, the first step in addiction treatment is detoxification—the purging of the drugs from your system. The detox process can take up to three weeks and often involves uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. To help, your doctor will usually prescribe medications to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal.
Medications Used in Addiction Treatment
Buprenorphine and methadone are commonly used to help people deal with the pain of opioid withdrawal. Your doctor might also prescribe clonidine, which is usually used to help people with high blood pressure.
New drugs are being tested to help withdrawal from prescription pain killers. Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, has showed great promise. In clinical trials, extended treatment with Suboxone resulted in roughly half of the study participants stopping or reducing their abuse of pain killers. Vivitrol is based on the existing drug naloxone, and its effects last for weeks as opposed to the hours or days of the current drugs.
Counseling for Pill Addiction
Many addictions are caused by underlying mental or emotional issues. Whether you opt for a stint in a rehab facility or an outpatient program, it is likely that counseling will be part of your doctor’s plan. Counseling can help you identify and work through the problems that contributed to your addiction. It can also help you find strategies to deal with the psychological dependence that remains even after the physical dependence is gone. As a result, you can alleviate addiction pain and help reduce the risk of relapse.
Since opioid addiction is both mental and physical, counseling is usually needed to battle the psychological addiction to pain killers, even if you have successfully completed detoxification to rid yourself of the physical addiction.
Coping with Addiction in the Long Term
For people who suffer from an addiction to pain medication, treatment is just the beginning of the recovery process. Chances are that you will need to enlist support to help you maintain a normal pill-free life. Your family and friends play a big part in long-term recovery, but you may find the need to seek out a more specialized group. Programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous can provide support as you deal with your pain pill addiction on an ongoing basis. Outpatient treatment centers also offer more intense counseling for those who do not have a strong support system at home.