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Prescription Pain Medication (Opioid) Info, Effects, Addiction, Treatment


Sober Recovery Expert Author

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Prescription pain medications (opioids) have several forms. Some of the medications best known for their addictive properties are widely prescribed for management of chronic, short-term, or terminal pain. Common names of these prescription opioids or pain medications include:

  • Vicodin, (along with its generic form) is the most widely prescribed drug of any kind
  • Norco
  • Oxycontin
  • Fentanyl
  • Dilaudid
  • Percocet
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

These are some of the most often prescribed and most abused prescription drugs. A focus on the pain management area of medical care has risen to new levels in the last ten years. As medication prescriptions increase, so does the number of those who become addicted to the prescribed medications.

Prescription painkillers (opioids) are highly addictive, and abuse of these drugs is on the rise. This article is a must-read if you want to learn more about how this addiction forms, its effects, and its treatment.

Abuse of prescription drugs is also on the rise among teens, with opioid use being second only to marijuana use among this age group. The increase in the use and abuse of prescription drugs is escalating in every age group, though. The elderly are highly susceptible to addiction to pain medication, due to their increased issues with chronic pain. Addiction to prescription pain medications is high in the older population that experiences terminal illness, as well.

Prescription Pain Medicine Effects

Opioid pain medication works by binding to receptors in the body of the user to decrease signals of pain traveling through their central nervous system. Long-term treatment for chronic pain will require the user to take these drugs at regular intervals around the clock. Any strong increases in pain levels require an additional dose of pain medication. This is called “breakthrough” pain. Abuse of prescription pain medications is common, because drug tolerance develops very quickly with them. This means that the user must take increased doses to get the same degree of pain relief.

Some immediate effects of pain medications may include:

  • slowed heart rate
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • some nausea and possible vomiting
  • constipation

Long-term use and addiction may include these symptoms, as well as incidents of overdose, efforts to buy more doses of the drug than the amount prescribed, and inability to function due to being in an over-medicated state. Users frequently are unable to work, operate machinery, drive a vehicle or do any other function that requires them to be alert and awake. They may sleep a great deal and appear groggy, or doped up. With long-term use, the liver and kidneys may become damaged, and there will be increased risk of other health problems.

How Addictive Are Pain Medications?

Addiction can occur with opioid medication within just a few days. Larger doses are needed to prevent pain, increasing the risk of addiction and abuse. The user will experience additional pain when they stop using these medications, because the central nervous system has become used to the binding action of the medications on the pain receptors. Without this binding, all sensations appear to be painful to the user. This lasts only a short period of time, until the CNS of the user can be re-stabilized without medication being present.

Opioid Overdose

Overdose is common in long-term use, due to the cumulative effects of these drugs. Opioid medications cause more deaths than all other drugs combined. Users are most often already high and taking increased doses to withstand pain or withdrawal symptoms. This is a recipe for disaster--namely, overdose. Depression of heart rate can cause cardiac failure when too many opioids are in the user’s system.

When combined with other medications, which may mask the effects of opioids, users can overdose easily. This might occur with combined use of amphetamines, cocaine or benzodiazepine.

Prescription Medicine Withdrawal

Opioid medications cause severe withdrawal symptoms, beginning with use of even a few days. Once dependence on these drugs is recognized in the receptors of the central nervous system (CNS) of the user, stopping use of them increases pain sensations for the user. All nerve stimulation is experienced as painful.

When stopping the drugs completely, withdrawal symptoms are very difficult to withstand. They begin as flulike symptoms, such as runny nose, sweating, yawning, diarrhea, nausea and irritability. They increase, depending on the amount and length of time the user has taken the medications. As they increase, the symptoms can become more violent and painful.

The long-term use of prescription pain medications will produce symptoms that include:

  • strong muscle cramping
  • severe nausea and vomiting
  • general body discomfort
  • chills and gooseflesh

These symptoms may last for three days or more. There is little health risk present with opioid withdrawal. the primary risk is vomiting and inhaling or choking on the vomit.

The highest deterrent to opioid withdrawal is a return to use in an effort to stop symptoms of withdrawal. Monitored, medical detox from opioids is needed in order to provide support and encouragement to the user. Because withdrawal symptoms can be severe, it is recommended that medical supervision be given. There are specific drugs used to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal that can assure the user of safe and effective detox.

Treatment for Addiction to Prescription Pain Pills

Some treatment programs will address the issue of the pain/opioid receptors’ need for medication by substituting drugs that are designed to mimic opioids without addiction. The treatment drugs have become problematic for many addicts, who report their addiction to prescription painkillers has switched to the treatment or substitute drugs. Some agencies will use the drugs short-term, for detox purposes only.

Additional support treatment is a good idea, to prevent return to use of these drugs. Post treatment support groups can assist with ongoing abstinence. Behavior modification and alternative treatment options may help chronic pain patients to choose a path without opioid medication.

Pain management may be necessary for some addicts, who contend with pain from another health issue. Weighing the option to remain on pain medications is a personal issue. Although these drugs are highly addictive and can be dangerous, management of pain may be necessary. If this is the case with you, consult with medical experts when choosing the best course of action to take to manage your pain.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from prescription opioid addiction, please visit our directory of opiate and detox treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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