Why are Painkillers Addictive?

Why are painkillers addictive?

Painkillers are placed with a category referred to as medication that is a natural and semisynthetic substance derived from the opium poppy plant. The word ‘painkiller’ medically refers to various substances, including legal prescribed medication and heroin, a Class A illegal drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription painkillers and heroin are chemically similar and produce a matching high. 

It is well known that within the US, in some states, heroin is a lot cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids. Therefore some people switch to using heroin instead. Data has shown that an estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription painkillers switch to heroin—about 80 percent of people who used heroin first misused prescription painkillers at one point in their lives.

Identifying the addiction 

Painkiller addiction can often be entirely hidden in plain sight, making it challenging to identify suffering individuals. Understanding and recognizing the symptoms, risks, and signs are the ultimate step to beginning your road to recovery. 

Chronic pain affects over one-third of all American citizens; many of these people use prescription medication to help manage their pain and continue with daily life. The majority of individuals believe that they are entirely safe because the painkillers they are taking have been prescribed to them by a medical professional. Like many prescription and street drugs, when used, they create a sense of euphoria, a feeling that many people crave if they have:

  • Mental health disorder(s)
  • A traumatic past 
  • Live with chronic pain
  • Aren’t happy with their lives
  • Become overwhelmed easily

If individuals follow the directions of usage, which their doctor would have stated, the likelihood of becoming addicted is extremely low. However, if the individual disregards the instructions, the risks can be as dangerous as many street drugs. Many people who become addicted to painkillers will do at least one of the following:

  • Takes too many painkillers within a specific time frame
  • Take medication that was not originally prescribed to them
  • Combine the medicine with other drugs, whether prescribed or illegal

Understanding painkillers addiction 

No one decides to start taking prescribed painkillers to become addicted to them. Painkillers are known to stimulate regions within the brain that is associated with pleasure emotion. Continuous usage of painkillers will create an at peace, happy feeling with the world; however, this feeling will be short-lived and will often require the individual to begin taking a larger, more frequent dosage to receive the same feelings. 

The emotional and physical feeling that is felt by an individual who abuses prescription painkillers can be a similar feeling to having sex. The act stimulates the reward system within the brain, which results in a heavy release of neurotransmitters, medically referred to as dopamine.  

Co-Occurring disorders and painkillers 

Many individuals who develop a severe addiction to prescription painkillers will often be medically undiagnosed with a mental health disorder which can include the following:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Alcoholism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar
  • Further drug abuse
  • Eating disorder

Causes for painkiller addiction 

There is yet to be one leading identifiable cause for an individual to develop an addiction to painkillers. Medically there is a general belief that there are numerous factors involved as to why someone may end up on a road that leads to becoming addicted to painkillers. The common causes can include:

Brain chemistry: The primary job of prescription painkillers is to stimulate the brain’s reward system by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps ease an individual’s mental and physical pain. There is a theory that a rare case of individuals are born with dopamine deficiency levels. Resulting in these individuals abusing prescription painkillers and other drugs as a way to correct this deficiency. 

Genetics: Genetics will forever play a part in each one of our lives; there is an understanding that genetics plays a rather significant role in addiction. Suppose a biological parent or biologically close family member such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent has a long-standing battle with addiction throughout their life. In that case, there is an increased likelihood that the offspring will be more prone to develop a form of addiction later on in life. 

Psychological: The primary job of a prescription painkiller is to reduce either mental or physical pain for the individual and boost their serotonin levels. Individuals who experience low moods from an undiagnosed mental health disorder such as bipolar are at significant risk of developing a dependency upon painkillers.

Environmental: If an individual is born into a life of chaos with no stability within their home life, centered around the drugs. The individuals are at significant risk of developing an addiction later on due to the situation being ‘normal’ to them. Additionally, individuals who develop an addiction within their preteen age are incredibly likely to develop a severe dependency problem with many drugs later in life. 

Effects of painkiller addiction 

The effects of individuals suffering from a prescription painkiller addiction can be devastating for them and their loved ones. Depending on the individual’s physical state, mental state, and general happiness can determine the severity of their addiction from mild to severe. Further factors that will need to be considered to determine the severity of the individual’s addiction can include but is not limited to:

  • Frequency of use
  • Length of abuse
  • Type on the environment they are in 
  • Genetics 
  • Mental state before becoming addicted

Individuals who are stuck within the endless cycle of addiction to painkillers can see the following situations play out within their lives:

  • Financial ruin
  • Legal issues
  • Homelessness
  • Social isolation 
  • Significantly decreased mental state
  • Joblessness
  • Overdose 
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts 
  • Physical consequences of their addiction
  • Incarceration
  • Minimal interpersonal relationships 
  • Inability to quit painkillers 
  • Seizures
  • Be placed in dangerous situations 
  • Long-term illness
  • Death 

Get professional help for your addiction 

If you recognize either yourself or someone you may love displaying any of the signs and symptoms mentioned, even if you aren’t quite 100% sure. Your next step is to ask for help and to receive more information. 

It can be very easy to abuse painkillers mistakenly, so do not ever be afraid to be honest with your medical professional. At Shoreline Recovery Center San Diego, our drug rehab includes behavioral and pharmacological approaches to various drug addictions, including prescription drug abuse. Our approach to drug addiction and is safe and effective for individuals with co-occurring disorders. Communication is critical when developing a roadmap to success; therefore, we work closely with you to define measurable, achievable objectives to produce and attain sustainable results.

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