Do I have a Painkiller Addiction? Guide & Self-Assessment
Many times, people struggle to understand the decisions of opioid addicts, but understanding the symptoms and brain chemistry behind these decisions is vital to addressing addiction. Addiction, especially to powerful opioid painkillers, can significantly alter the way that a person’s brain functions.
Learn more about the dangers of opioid painkiller addiction by reading below.
Painkiller Addiction Self-Test
Try this interactive self-test to assess whether you may be struggling with an opioid use disorder (OUD) due to painkiller usage.
This self-assessment is based on official DSM-5 criteria for opioid use disorder. Please use is as an educational tool and not for diagnostic purposes. Mental health conditions such as OUD should be evaluated and diagnosed by a professional.
Risks Associated with Painkiller Overuse
Addiction can cause people to engage in risky behavior that is out of character and neglect hobbies they were once passionate about. It may take hold of someone’s life until they no longer take care of themselves and put themselves in the way of danger in order to obtain more opioids. In extreme cases, people may resort to riskier and riskier tactics that may result in them taking opioids that are unregulated, laced, or stronger than they realize.
Risky opioid painkiller use may lead to overdose that can cause lasting brain damage, coma or death.
Factors That Increase Risk of Addiction
While it is important to remember that anyone can become addicted to painkillers, there are plenty of risk factors that include genetics and personality as well as the type of painkiller abused.
Commonly Abused Painkillers
Some pain killers are much more addictive and therefore more likely to be abused than others.
Listed below are some of the most addictive painkillers:
- Oxycodone, also known as OxyContin®
- Hydrocodone, also known as Vicodin®
- Hydromorphone, also known as Dilaudid
- Oxymorphone, also known as Opana or Numorphan
While all of the substances listed above are highly addictive, some are more lethal than others.
Fentanyl, for example, is an opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and carries an extremely high risk of overdose. Street opioids such as heroin and fentanyl are also particularly dangerous due impurities caused by lack of regulation.
For example, fentanyl is frequently added to heroin to make it stronger and more addictive. However, even the less potent painkillers listed still possess serious addictive properties and can be dangerous too.
Individual Risk Factors
When it comes to highly addictive painkillers, anyone is at risk of addiction. However, some people are more predisposed to addiction than others. Understanding your own risk of addiction can be vital to making the best decision for your overall health. The following individual qualities can put people at higher risk for developing substance abuse problems.
If these qualities resonate with you, and you are taking or considering taking opioid painkillers, talk to your doctor about your concerns:
- Heredity: Having a family history of addiction could mean that at a genetic level, you are more likely to become addicted to substances. Many doctors believe this is due to differences in brain chemistry. Notably, the type of addiction does not matter very much. In other words, children of alcoholics, for example, are at higher risk of developing all types of addiction, not just alcoholism.
- Environment: People who experience abuse or neglect during their childhood are at a higher risk for developing addiction. Part of this could be lack of oversight on behalf of the parents, but many people also use substances as a coping mechanism for negative emotions that arise as a result of abuse or neglect.
- Other Mental Health Conditions: Underlying mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other disorders are likely to accompany addiction. Those battling mental health problems should exercise caution with addictive substances.
- Personality: Some people have an “addictive personality” that makes them more likely to become addicted to substances. It is not so much a personality as it is a set of traits that tend to accompany addiction. These traits may include obsessive tendencies, inability to self-regulate and risk-taking tendencies.
- Age of First Use: The younger people are when they begin using the substance in question, the more likely they are to develop an addiction to that substance later on. This is due to the fact that people are more susceptible to addiction to substances introduced during brain development.
- Method of Use: Drugs that enter the bloodstream more quickly are more addictive. This means that drugs that are either injected or smoked are more addictive than drugs that are swallowed. However, drugs that are swallowed can still be quite addictive.
Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction
There is a multitude of symptoms, both physical and psychological, that accompany addiction. If the following symptoms sound familiar to you, do not hesitate to seek help from a doctor or medical professional because you may be at risk of addiction. Addiction is not strictly a physical or psychological problem; it is both. Therefore, there are both physical and psychological symptoms of addiction.
Committing acts of self-harm in order to obtain a prescription for painkillers from a doctor or hospital
- Weight loss: Opioid use can cause loss of appetite, and the overuse of opioids can drastically reduce appetite. Those experiencing addiction may also neglect taking care of themselves as addiction sets in, and this includes feeding themselves properly.
- Flu-like symptoms: Withdrawal from opioids may cause a person to feel physically ill with symptoms such as chills, headache, feeling feverish and more.
- Decreased libido: Addiction interferes with the body’s natural reward system that involves the release of dopamine and other brain chemicals. This can lead to people not pursuing activities that ordinarily would bring them pleasure.
- Constipation: Most opioids cause constipation, but overuse of painkillers may increase these effects.
- Shaking or sweating, usually due to withdrawal from opioids
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive tiredness or exhaustion
- Slowed breathing: Slow breathing is both a sign of opioid addiction and a sign of overdose. Anyone who has taken opioids recently and is experiencing abnormally slow or shallow breathing should seek medical attention immediately.
- Slurred speech
Mental and Psychological Symptoms
- Thinking excessively about medication: Preoccupation with your next dose of painkillers is one of the first signs of addiction. People who have become addicted tend to dwell a lot on whether their prescription is sufficient, when they will get their next supply or when they can take the next pill.
- Strong, uncontrollable cravings for the pain killer in question
- Taking more than prescribed: People addicted to painkillers begin to take them more frequently to ease any symptoms of withdrawal.
- Going to multiple doctors: taking more painkillers than prescribed means that people use up their prescription before it is supposed to be renewed. This can lead to a phenomenon called “doctor shopping” in which people addicted to opioids go from doctor to doctor until someone prescribes them more opioids.
- Depression and anxiety
- Mood swings and irritability usually tied to accessibility of the painkillers
- Anger towards loved ones: Those close to an addict may try to bring up painkiller overuse out of concern. Feeling anger, defensiveness or resentment when the topic comes up is a sign of addiction.
- Changes in sleep patterns: Addiction can disrupt the body’s natural rhythm and routine.
- Changes in exercise habits
- Poor hygiene: Addiction can make it difficult to concentrate on anything unrelated to obtaining the next dose of a pain killer. Self care may stop being a priority.
- Financial difficulties
- Isolation from friends and family
- Stealing from family
- Shirking responsibilities
- Lack of motivation: Opioids change brain chemistry, reducing “feel-good” chemicals like endorphins and dopamine or making the brain more resistant to those chemicals. Pursuing activities that would ordinarily cause joy starts to feel pointless.
Addiction looks different for everyone, so people may have any combination of the symptoms listed above. If you or someone you know uses opioids and is experiencing any of those symptoms, it is vital that they get professional help. It is important to remember that people addicted to substances frequently have negative reactions to the suggestion that they seek help. However, addiction to opioids is incredibly dangerous and can lead people to damage their relationships and careers. If left untreated, opioid addiction may lead people to use unregulated street opioids, where they may quickly overdose. What starts out as a simple pill problem can quickly devolve into a matter of life or death.
Alternatives to Opioids
With all of the inherent risks that accompany addictive painkillers, many people want to avoid them entirely. Others may have struggled with addiction in the past and need opioids for that reason. Some people simply do not like the side effects of prescription painkillers. Regardless of the reasoning behind peoples’ desire to avoid opioids, there are plenty of other options. Below is a list of options that effectively reduce pain and are much less risky when it comes to addiction.
- Physical therapy
- Over the counter anti-inflammatories (Advil and Motrin)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol and Ibuprofen)
- Non-opioid prescription drugs
- Electrical signals (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Nerve blocks
- Radio frequency ablation (RFA)
- Spinal cord stimulation (SCS)
There is hope for anyone struggling with addiction to opioids. There are plenty of professionals who can help and drugs that can lessen the worse effects of withdrawal. While the risks of addiction are frightening, there are countless ways to treat addiction, especially with modern medicine and strategies. The first and hardest step to recovery is seeking help.
- Dydyk AM, Jain NK, Gupta M. Opioid Use Disorder. [Updated 2021 Jul 12]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553166/
- MedlinePlus. (2021, August 02). Opioid Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html
- MedlinePlus. (2021, August 10). Non-Drug Pain Management. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/nondrugpainmanagement.html
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2011, October). Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/rx_drugs_placemat_508c_10052011.pdf
- Webster LR. Risk Factors for Opioid-Use Disorder and Overdose. Anesth Analg. 2017 Nov;125(5):1741-1748. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000002496. PMID: 29049118.
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What is an agonist/ antagonist?
- An agonist is a drug that activates receptors in the brain creating a biological response.
- An antagonist drug blocks opioids by attaching itself to the brain receptors without activating them.
What drugs are considered opioids?
Can I become addicted to Suboxone?
It is possible to become addicted to suboxone. It is a medication that uses an agonist opioid (buprenorphine) and can cause the user to become dependent on it. However, if it is taken as prescribed by a doctor then it is a safe and effective drug.
How long will I be on Suboxone?
There is no set time period for how long someone stays on suboxone. It is something that will be decided between you and your doctor. Some people take it for long periods, while others will only use it for a short time before being weaned off.
Should I take Suboxone if I am on other medications?
Like any prescribed medication suboxone can cause an interaction with certain drugs. Be sure to tell your doctor what other medication you are on before starting treatment with suboxone. Those who are taking suboxone should not take sleeping pills, narcotic painkillers, sedatives, or drink alcohol.