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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 21, 2024

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A painkiller addiction often develops after opioid medications are legitimately prescribed to alleviate the pain following an injury or an accident.

Although opioid dispensing rates are on the decline, doctors in the United States wrote more than 142 million prescriptions for opioids in 2020. Data from SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) shows that 2.2 million over-18s abused prescription painkillers in that same year.

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Many of those who become addicted to prescription painkillers have no intention of misusing or abusing the medication. Regrettably, tolerance to opioids rapidly builds, causing the person to require more opioids to soothe pain. Tolerance is one of the diagnostic criteria for addiction, often triggering physical dependence as increasing amounts of opioids are used.

If you become physically dependent on opioid painkillers, you will need the medication to function normally. You will also experience powerful cravings for opioids and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will present when the effects of opioids wear off. Withdrawal symptoms are also a symptom of addiction to painkillers.

Addiction to painkillers is classified as a substance use disorder, specifically OUD (opioid use disorder). OUD is a chronic and relapsing brain condition. Central to opioid use disorder is the compulsive use of painkillers despite obviously negative outcomes. While there is no cure for painkiller addiction, opioid use disorders typically respond well to medication-assisted treatment and an inpatient or outpatient rehab center.

Are Painkillers Addictive?

The most prescribed painkillers include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)

Physicians have administered morphine and codeine for pain relief for centuries. Both substances are highly effective pain relievers, but both have a strong potential for abuse and addiction.

The same applies to modern semi-synthetic opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone, both heavily implicated in the U.S. opioid epidemic.

All opioids have a mechanism of action that weakens the pain signals transmitted between your body and brain. At the same time, opioids alter the way you respond to pain. Opioid painkillers interact with natural opioid receptors in the brain and in nerve cells throughout the body, blunting your perception of pain.

In addition to these proven pain-relieving properties, opioids also deliver rewarding and euphoric effects. These rewarding effects contribute to the powerful abuse potential of opioids.

Alongside pain relief and euphoria, opioid painkillers can also trigger severe nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. If you take high doses of opioid painkillers, this can dangerously depress breathing.

The primary danger of sustained painkiller abuse, though, is addiction in the form of opioid use disorder. How does the abuse of painkillers spiral into addiction, then?

How Painkiller Abuse Can Cause Addiction

Opioid use disorder, abbreviated to OUD, is a diagnosis that can be applied to both prescription painkillers and illicit narcotics like heroin or fentanyl.

OUD is diagnosed in line with the number of symptoms present from DSM5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). This is the fifth revision of the benchmark diagnostic tool published by APA (American Psychiatric Association).

The definition of opioid use disorder is the compulsive use of the substance in the face of clearly negative outcomes.

Although there is a close relationship between dependence on opioids and addiction to opioids, physical dependence does not unfailingly lead to opioid use disorder.

Most painkillers addiction begins with the medication being used as directed by the prescribing doctor. As tolerance to opioids quickly builds, the effects of the medication are diminished. This often initiates a vicious spiral of increased doses or increased frequency of doses.

If you continue to use opioid painkillers and develop a physical dependence, you will require painkillers just to feel normal. You will also experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings in the absence of opioids. Withdrawal and tolerance are both indicative of dependence and are also diagnostic criteria for painkiller addiction.

Long-term painkiller abuse will trigger changes to the function and structure of some areas of the brain.

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with painkiller detox means that supervised detoxification and medication-assisted treatment typically offers the smoothest route to sustained recovery.

An image of a woman holding painkillers | Painkiller Addiction

What Does an Addiction to Painkillers Do?

If you take opioids painkillers short-term, they can be highly effective. Any abuse of painkillers, though, is liable to bring about issues with dependence and addiction.

The aggravating consequences of painkiller addiction impact all areas of life. The effects may occur on a spectrum from mild to severe, depending on your genetic makeup, the duration and frequency of abuse, and other variables.

The most common adverse outcomes of painkiller addiction include:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation.
  • Financial stress.
  • Problems in closest relationships.
  • Trouble at work and potential job loss.
  • Legal issues stemming from painkiller abuse.
  • Inability to moderate or discontinue use.
  • Accidents resulting from dangerous behaviors.
  • Opioid overdose (this can be life-threatening).
  • Homelessness.
  • Incarceration.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Seizure.

How can you regain control if painkiller addiction has already set in?

What to Do if You’re Addicted to Painkillers

Opioid use disorder is a progressive disease of the brain. Left untreated, the addiction will become more severe.

Fortunately, while opioids are fiercely addictive, OUD responds positively to pharmacological and behavioral interventions. This means the first thing you should do if you are addicted to painkillers is to explore your treatment options. These include:

  • Medically supervised detox.
  • Inpatient treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment.
  • Virtual treatment.

Studies show that most mild or moderate painkiller addictions respond equally well to intensive outpatient treatment as residential rehab. Explore our Orange County IOP for a structured and supportive route to detox and recovery from painkiller addiction.

Painkiller addiction treatment can be streamlined with the following FDA-approved medications:

  • Naltrexone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine

We can help you break the cycle of dependence and addiction here at our luxury Orange County rehab.

Painkiller Rehab at Renaissance Recovery

However your painkiller addiction developed, we can help you kickstart your recovery at Renaissance Recovery Center. We specialize in the outpatient treatment of addictions and mental health conditions, providing you with a flexible and affordable solution to opioid use disorder.

Choose from one of the following treatment programs in line with the severity of your addiction:

  • OP: standard outpatient program delivering 2 to 3 hours of therapy sessions per week.
  • IOP: intensive outpatient program delivering up to 15 hours of therapy sessions per week.
  • PHP: partial hospitalization program delivering up to 35 hours of therapy sessions per week.
  • Virtual IOP: remote rehab for those unable to access our Orange County treatment center.

If you are suffering from a painkiller addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or PTSD, we offer integrated and coordinated dual diagnosis treatment here at Renaissance.

Whatever level of treatment intensity makes the right fit for you, you can access a personalized combination of holistic therapies and evidence-based interventions without the restrictions or the expense of residential rehab. These include:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Psychotherapy (CBT or DBT, both proven effective for treating opioid use disorder and mental health conditions).
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Family therapy
  • Experiential adventure therapy

Your treatment team will equip you with an aftercare plan and relapse prevention strategies to maximize your chances of sustained abstinence from opioid painkillers.Reclaim your life from painkiller addiction by calling 866.330.9449 today.

Virtual rehab | Renaissance Recovery



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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