How to Overcome Addiction to Painkillers

The purpose of painkillers is to relieve pain however, many stronger painkillers have calming effects which make them addictive to some people. There are illegal painkillers such as heroin, and legal painkillers such as codeine which are prescribed by a doctor.

People often begin to take illegal painkillers as a way of coping with difficulties in life, or due to curiosity or peer pressure. Legal painkillers are often prescribed after an injury or surgery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to painkillers, it can be difficult to reach out and ask for help or know where to begin to get help.

How painkiller addiction starts

Whether a person is addicted to legal or illegal painkillers, an addiction can crop up suddenly or unexpectedly. Many strong painkillers do much more than just numb physical pain, they can also cause several other effects which may be pleasant for the user.

Some effects of painkillers include:

  • Ability to fall asleep quickly
  • Intense relaxation and tranquillity
  • Heightened pleasure or feelings of euphoria

Sometimes people are prescribed painkillers to minimise pain after surgery, and instead of allowing themselves to be weaned off the painkillers, they become addicted to the feelings that the painkillers induce and make up excuses to stay on them.

Similarly, someone may try illegal painkillers for a number of reasons and quickly become addicted to the euphoric feelings they bring and continue searching for more.

Many times, people take painkillers to numb physical pain and enjoy the euphoric feeling so intensely that they end up chasing that feeling.

Signs and symptoms of painkiller addiction

There are many different tell-tale signs that someone may be addicted to painkillers. If you suspect someone you know might be addicted, some of the common signs are:

  • Trying to buy prescription painkillers online
  • Visiting several doctors to get painkillers prescribed
  • Taking painkillers from other people, can include feigning Illness so that friends or family will share their painkillers
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and avoiding social interactions, often resulting in relationship breakdowns
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased anxiety or depression

If you suspect that you have an addiction to painkillers but are not quite sure, some things to look out for in yourself are:

  • Taking painkillers even if you have no physical pain
  • Continuously thinking about taking or obtaining more painkillers
  • Feeling anxiety when you think about stopping painkillers
  • Associating with your family less, and more with other addicts
  • Feeling guilt or shame when you take painkillers
  • Lying to your loved ones about how often you take painkillers
  • Taking painkillers even when you know you shouldn’t, for example, before driving
  • Having withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them
  • Developing a tolerance to painkillers, meaning you have to up your dosage to feel the effects
  • Experiencing financial difficulties as a result of your dependency
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms

How to beat addiction to painkillers

If you fear that someone you know might have an addiction to painkillers, it is incredibly difficult to make that person get the help they need until they admit to themselves that they have a problem. It can be difficult to make someone admit that they have an addiction, but there are some ways to encourage them.

These include:

  • Encourage them to visit a doctor for a routine check-up and inform the doctor beforehand of your concerns. A doctor will be able to spot the signs of an addict and will offer to help.
  • Don’t give them money. No matter what they tell you it is for, if you suspect someone is an addict, the chances are that they are asking for money to buy drugs. Giving in will not help the situation.
  • Offer non-confrontational support. It is unlikely to help if you aggressively approach an addict and demand that they admit to it and get help. This only increases their anxiety and pushes them further towards drugs. Instead, calmly approach them and tell them that you are there should they ever need your support. Having emotional and non-judgemental understanding is important.
  • Stage an intervention. This is not something that should be done lightly, and great care needs to be taken to let the addict know that they are not being ganged upon. Have their closest friends and family members tell them that they are worried for them, they love them, and want to help them get better.

If you are addicted to painkillers and want to overcome your addiction, some ways of doing this are:

  • Admit you have a problem. The first step in overcoming an addiction is admitting that you have a problem. Once you have done this, you can begin the healing process.
  • Be kind to yourself. You may be disappointed in yourself for developing an addiction but remember that it takes a lot of courage to admit that you have a problem and seek help. Take it one day at a time and go easy on yourself. Being kind to yourself also means making sure you get enough sleep at night, get adequate exercise, make healthy food choices, and drink plenty of water.
  • Talk to someone. It is likely that those closest to you have already spotted that something is wrong and will want to help you. Talking openly and honestly will help you organise your own thoughts and get advice on where to go from here. They may offer their moral support and also come with you to see a doctor. Just knowing that you have someone there to support you will help your recovery.

Depending on how far along you are in your addiction, you may need medications to help you overcome your addiction, such as methadone. Methadone is a synthetic opiate primarily used in the detoxification and maintenance of patients who are dependent on opiates (1). Drugs such as methadone can help ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings, which can help reduce the chances of relapsing.

Along with certain medications, you may also be referred for Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to aid in your recovery. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counselling and behavioural therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders (2).

Medication-Assisted Treatment programmes are often tailored to suit each individual’s needs and research suggests that a combination of medication and therapy can not only treat the addiction but also help to sustain their recovery, allowing the patient to go and live a drug-free and self-directed life.

A combination of medication and therapy can not only help a patient overcome their addiction, but as the goal of this type of therapy is to allow the patient to live a full life, the outcomes of these types of programmes also include increased employability, improved birth outcomes for women, increased survival rates and decreased criminal activity (3).

Don’t be afraid to get help

The important thing to know is that whether you or someone you know, is struggling with an addiction, help is available. It is never too late to seek help.

Speak to your GP, or alternatively, you can visit one of the many charities set up to help people deal with addictions. Adfam (4) have a list of helpful organisations on their website that you can contact if you feel you need help.