Prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin, are medications that help people cope with pain. Many prescription analgesics are in the opioid family of substances and have a high potential for addiction due to their euphoric effects. Struggling with an addiction means that a person spends much of their efforts obtaining or using a drug, often to the detriment of their relationships and career. Addiction to painkillers can lead to extreme psychological and physical disruptions, so it is important to understand the following:
- Treatment options.
- Medications that can help.
- Cost of treatment.
- How to pay for treatment.
- Signs that someone may be addicted to painkillers.
- Causes of painkiller addiction.
- Potential long-term effects of painkiller abuse.
- How to get help today.
Painkiller Addiction Treatment
Prescription opioid painkillers come with careful prescription guidelines to help patients manage pain. Some people abuse these medications by using them without a prescription, taking higher doses than prescribed, or using them in a way other than intended (i.e. crushing pills and snorting them or dissolving and injecting them). Abusing prescription opioids greatly increases a person’s chance of falling into a pattern of addiction, as escalating doses can lead to tolerance, where the user needs more and more in order to achieve the same effects, and physical dependence, where the user needs to use in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Prescription painkillers mimic other opioids which humans produce in their own bodies (e.g. endorphins, enkephalins) 1. When opioid receptors are stimulated by opioid painkillers, a cascade of effects occurs in the brain, leading to a reduced sensation of pain, extreme drowsiness, and euphoria 2. The feeling of well-being that accompanies opioid abuse can lead the user to crave more painkillers in order to maintain the euphoric state, which is part of what makes these medications so addicting.
Painkiller addiction does not have to take over a person’s life. Treatment can help prescription painkiller abusers get clean and recover from addiction. While it is possible to detox and recover from painkiller addiction without professional treatment, formal addiction treatment programs can supply much-needed support, both psychological and medical.
Some major benefits of professional addiction treatment for painkiller addiction include:
- Therapy in both a group and individual setting.
- 24-hour sobriety support.
- Medications to ease detox and alleviate cravings.
- Medical care, if necessary.
- Crisis counseling.
- An escape from the drug-using environment.
Since every person is unique, not everyone will benefit from the same types of treatment. Since every person is unique, not everyone will benefit from the same types of treatment. It largely depends on your individual addiction and needs. Some programs cater to a particular population to ensure the comfort of all patients, such as gender-specific, age-specific, LGBTQ-only, and veteran-only programs. Some programs even offer holistic healing practices like yoga and acupuncture as a part of treatment.
Some common treatment offerings across many programs include:
- Outpatient treatment: Working on recovery while continuing to live at home, checking in to a facility for treatment sessions on a regular basis.
- Inpatient treatment: Living at a 100% sober treatment facility for a predetermined amount of time with 24-hour medical and psychological support.
- Luxury treatment: Inpatient treatment with a focus on luxury amenities and patient comfort.
- Executive treatment: Luxury treatment that allows patients to continue to do work from the facility.
- 12-step: Free recovery support that follows 12 predetermined steps that emphasize making amends with loved ones and oneself.
Medication for Painkiller Addiction
Someone who is recovering from a prescription painkiller addiction may experience cravings to use again. In a formal treatment program, medical professionals can prescribe and dose medications to help ease these opioid cravings and make recovery a little more comfortable. Medications used to help with painkiller addiction recovery act upon the same receptors that opioids do, but in a slightly different way 3:
- Methadone interacts with opioid receptors in the brain to satisfy cravings but is slow-acting so users do not get the same euphoric high or “rush”.
- Buprenorphine also interacts with opioid receptors in the brain, but does not provide a high or other dangerous side effects, unless abused.
- Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors so that users cannot get high from using opioids.
- Suboxone is a specially formulated combination of buprenorphine and naloxone designed to discourage abuse of the treatment drug itself (e.g., users cannot inject buprenorphine in order to get high).
Cost of Painkiller Addiction Treatment
If a person struggling with painkiller addiction does not have insurance, there are numerous ways to finance recovery costs. Painkiller addiction treatment costs vary. Treatment costs depend on many factors, and certain types of programs tend to cost more than others. Overall, outpatient treatment tends to cost less than inpatient treatment, and luxury and executive programs tend to cost the most. The length of the treatment plan and amenities offered will also affect the cost. Location of the program can also have a big impact on cost, with urban programs generally costing more than rural ones.
One of the biggest factors affecting price is the extent of insurance coverage that they have. Some plans will cover all costs, but most will only provide partial coverage. If you have insurance, make sure to call your insurance company to learn more about your coverage and treatment options.
Paying for Treatment
If a person struggling with painkiller addiction does not have insurance, there are numerous ways to finance recovery costs. Financing options include:
- Sliding scale: Some programs will adjust their costs to reflect an individual’s income and ability to pay.
- Payment plans: Treatment programs may offer the patient the ability to pay their total cost over monthly payments.
- Personal loan: Taking out a personal loan can allow the patient to pay all costs up front, then pay back the loan over time.
- Credit cards: Using a credit card to pay for treatment so that the bills can be spread out over monthly installments.
- SAMHSA grants: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) gives out grants to help cover treatment costs.
- Rehab scholarships: Facilities may have a pool of money set aside that they can use to help cover a person’s cost of treatment.
- Crowdfunding: Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe can allow anyone to help cover a person’s cost of treatment.
- Ask for help: When it comes down to it, a person may want to ask those close to them for help covering treatment costs.
Nothing is more important than recovering from addiction, and the cost of treatment is nothing compared to the costs incurred from substance abuse.
Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction
The signs and symptoms of prescription painkiller addiction can present as behavioral, physical, or even psychological changes. Every person struggling with painkiller addiction will have a different experience and undergo different changes.
Some behavioral manifestations of a painkiller addiction include 4:
- Taking painkillers for longer than intended.
- Using higher doses of painkillers than intended.
- Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from painkillers.
- Experience problems at work, school, or home as a result of use.
- Wanting to stop using or cut down, but being unsuccessful.
- Lying about painkiller use.
- Displaying secretive behavior.
- Exhibiting defensiveness when approached about painkiller use.
- Continuing to use painkillers despite interpersonal and social problems related to use.
- Taking painkillers in situations where it is physically dangerous, such as driving.
Changes in outward behaviors are only part of the painkiller addiction symptom array. In addition, a person suffering from an addiction to painkillers may have other physical or psychological indicators 4:
- Poor eating habits, including diet.
- Feeling generally dissatisfied with life.
- Neglected appearance.
- Poor hygiene.
- Severe drowsiness.
- Psychomotor slowing or agitation.
- Impaired memory.
- Decreased ability to pay attention.
- Changes in pupillary size and reaction to light.
- Impaired judgment.
- Physical signs of intravenous use, including track marks and collapsed veins.
- Physical signs of intranasal use, including nosebleeds and perforated nasal septum.
- Contraction of HIV or hepatitis due to injecting.
- Observable intoxication.
- Craving painkillers.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using.
Causes of Painkiller Addiction
Many different factors affect the development of an addiction. Every person working through an addiction to painkillers is unique, and no single factor will cause someone to get addicted. More often, addiction is the result of a multi-faceted risk profile.
Some factors that contribute to a person’s risk of developing an addiction include:
- Psychological disorders have a significant association with the development of a substance use disorder 5.
- Stress, anxiety, and depression can prompt individuals to self-medicate with painkillers 6.
- Adverse childhood experiences like abusive home life or a single traumatic event can have a big influence on the risk for developing a substance addiction7,8.
- Genetics may play a role in the development of a substance abuse disorder, but it is important to remember that genes are not destiny. Genes may interact with the environment and life experiences resulting in an increased risk, but genes alone do not account for the development of an addiction 9, 10.
Long-term Effects of Painkiller Addiction
Opioid painkiller addiction is a progressive condition. It does not develop after a single use; it arises due to long-term abuse of the medications that can lead to physical or psychological dependence and compulsive drug-seeking behaviors.
Long-term abuse of painkillers can have many negative consequences for the user 4, 11, 12, 13:
- Severe respiratory depression, leading to hypoxia and potential organ damage because of the resulting oxygen deficiency.
- Permanent brain damage.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome.
- Progression to heroin abuse.
- Overdose, particularly when combined with other depressants.
- The emergence of withdrawal symptoms with cessation of use. These may include vomiting, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, goose bumps, fever, depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
In addition to the above complications, there are some general consequences of substance addiction that can interfere with a user’s life. Long-term effects may include:
- Relationship or social problems.
- Neglected health and diet.
- Job loss or poor school performance.
- Financial problems.
- Legal issues.
- Low self-esteem.
- Child or family neglect.
Get Help for Painkiller Addiction Today
Prescription painkiller addiction can have a lasting negative impact on the user’s life if they don’t get help. Recovery can begin today. Just call our treatment hotline at 1-888-439-3435 to learn more about addiction treatment options.
- Holden, J. E., Jeong, Y., & Forrest, J. M. (2005). The endogenous opioid system and clinical pain management. AACN Clinical Issues, 16(3). 291-301.
- Benyamin, R., Trescot, A. M., Datta, S., Buenaventura, R., Adlaka, R., Sehgal, N., Glaser, S. E., & Vallejo, R. (2008). Opioid complications and side effects. Pain Physician, 11. S105-S120.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are the treatments for heroin addiction?
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Comorbidity: Addiction and other mental illnesses. Research Report Series.
- Goeders, N. E. (2003). The impact of stress on addiction. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 13. 435-441.
- Dube, S. R., Felitti, V. J., Dong, M., Chapman, D. P., Giles, W. H., & Anda, R. F. (2003). Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: The adverse childhood experiences study. Pediatrics, 111(3).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences.
- Bevilacqua, L. & Goldman, D. (2009). Genes and addictions. Clinical Pharmacological Therapy, 85(4). 359-361.
- University of Utah. Genes and Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Research report series: Prescription drug abuse.
- Patrick, S. W., Davis, M. M., Lehman, C. U., & Cooper, W. O. (2015). Increasing incidence and geographic distribution of neonatal abstinence syndrome: United States 2009 to 2012. Journal of Perinatology, 35(8). 667.
- Compton, W. M., Jones, C. M., & Baldwin, G. T. (2016). Relationship between nonmedical prescription-opioid use and heroin use. New England Journal of Medicine, 374. 154-163.
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