Prescription Painkiller Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of prescription painkiller addiction can be an important first step on the path toward successful long-term recovery. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of prescription painkiller addiction.

Understanding Prescription Painkiller Addiction

Learn about prescription painkiller addiction

Prescription painkiller addiction is a substance use disorder characterized by a misuse of medications that are prescribed by a doctor for pain associated with injuries, illnesses, post-surgery, or other medical conditions.

Prescription painkillers are generally safe to take when a doctor prescribes them and a person takes them as directed. But people can become addicted to prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, when they misuse these medications by taking more than their doctor prescribes or by taking them for longer than their doctor prescribes.

People who suffer from prescription painkiller addiction experience powerful cravings for these drugs and struggle to stop taking them, even if their behaviors damage their closest relationships or their jobs or get them in trouble with the law.

An addiction to prescription painkillers can have serious negative effects on an individual’s life if left untreated. But if you or your loved one seeks care at the first signs of an addiction to prescription painkillers, you can lower your risk of experiencing any long-term damage.


Statistics about prescription painkiller use and addiction

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Safety Council, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have reported the following statistics about prescription painkiller addiction in the United States:

Causes & Risk Factors for Prescription Painkiller Addiction

Potential causes of prescription painkiller addiction

You cannot pinpoint a single determining factor for why a person may develop an addiction to prescription painkillers. Many influences can contribute to a person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder. These are just some of the most common causes and risk factors associated with prescription painkiller addiction:

  • Having a family member who has struggled with a substance use disorder
  • Access to prescription painkillers
  • Having friends who misuse prescription painkillers or prescription drugs
  • Having a propensity for impulsive behavior

Signs & Symptoms of Prescription Painkiller Addiction

Symptoms of prescription painkiller addiction

When an individual is battling an addiction to prescription painkillers, the effects can make it challenging to function in their daily life if they don’t seek help. Without proper support, these are just some of the signs and symptoms that someone who is coping with a prescription painkiller addiction may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Engages in risky behaviors
  • Inability to stop taking prescription painkillers
  • Sudden financial difficulties
  • Stops fulfilling obligations at home or work

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Slurred speech
  • Lowered sex drive

Mental symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Elation or euphoria
  • Disinterest in social or recreational activities
  • Lack of desire to cut down or stop taking prescription painkillers

Effects of Prescription Painkiller Addiction

The negative impact of prescription painkiller addiction

The effects of prescription painkiller addiction can be just as harmful as the effects of an addiction to illicit drugs. But if you or your loved one seeks care at the first signs of an addiction to prescription painkillers, you can heal from any damage you may have experienced from living with a substance use disorder.

These are just some of the effects a prescription painkiller addiction can have on an individual’s life if left untreated:

  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Financial problems and bankruptcy
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Damaged relationships with close friends and family
  • Violence associated with seeking drugs
  • Injury or death while intoxicated
  • Accidental overdose

While these effects might seem like inevitable consequences of an addiction to prescription painkillers, there is hope. By seeking help for a prescription painkiller addiction, you can start to heal from any damage caused by living with a substance use disorder. Healing and recovery are possible when you find support for yourself or your loved one.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who are addicted to prescription painkillers

An individual who is struggling with a prescription painkiller addiction is at an increased risk for developing other mental health challenges, or co-occurring disorders. Mental health concerns that commonly co-occur with prescription painkiller addiction include:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Prescription Painkiller Withdrawal & Overdose

Withdrawing from prescription painkillers and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: An individual who is suffering from a prescription painkiller addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking prescription painkillers without professional support. Some of the effects of withdrawal from prescription painkillers include:

  • Irritable mood
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle aches, usually in the back and legs
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Fever
  • Inability to fall or stay asleep

Effects of overdose: People who are addicted to prescription painkillers are at a high risk for accidental overdose because these medications can slow a person’s breathing and heart rate until they stop completely. These are just some of the signs of prescription painkiller overdose:

  • Pupils become very small
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Vomiting or making gurgling sounds
  • Fingernails, lips, or skin turns purple or blue
  • Skin is cold
  • Heartbeat is very slow

An overdose from prescription painkillers can be fatal, so if you think someone is exhibiting the signs of an overdose, please get them immediate medical attention. With quick action, you can ensure that a person who is experiencing an overdose gets the help they need.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous