Painkiller Addiction

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Prescription Painkiller Addiction & Treatment

Prescription painkillers addiction is a type of substance use disorder that develops as a result of using prescription painkillers in a manner that is different from how they are prescribed. Prescription painkillers, or opioids, are medications typically used to manage moderate to severe pain. Painkillers can be highly addictive and potentially cause serious physical and psychological harm.

Misusing prescription painkillers can lead to physical dependence and addiction, which can be challenging to overcome. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain and alters how a person behaves, thinks, and feels. The terms’ drug addiction‘ and ‘drug abuse‘ have been used synonymously to describe the chronic disease affecting the brain due to excessive medicine consumption.

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Individuals who struggle with prescription painkillers addiction may experience a range of symptoms, including cravings for the drug as well as experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug is unavailable, and an inability to control their drug use despite negative consequences.

Painkiller addiction is an anomaly that has adverse impacts on every age group. However, with proper treatment and support, overcoming prescription painkillers addiction and living a healthy and fulfilling life is possible. At Smarmore, we provide treatment and rehabilitation for painkillers addiction to support individuals with medical tests and therapies.

What Are the Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction?

Signs of prescription drug addiction may vary depending on the type, amount, and frequency of the medication used. It also depends on the individual’s unique body circumstances, like disease state. However, some common signs include the following:

  • Taking prescription doses more frequently than prescribed
  • Taking higher doses of the drug than prescribed
  • Continuing to use the medication even after observing negative consequences like relationship issues, legal problems, and financial difficulties
  • Spending a lot of energy and time on getting a drug and recovering from its effect
  • Using medicine for a purpose other than pain, such as feeling euphoric or relaxing
  • Hiding drug use from other people, with a noticeable change in behaviours.
painkiller addiction

Physical Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

Prescription drug addiction is visible through a variety of physical symptoms. Individuals will present differently, depending on the type and severity of prescribed drug intake in a day. 

Some of the common physical signs of prescription drug abuse are:

  • Constipation and digestive problems
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Changes in the appetite, commonly extreme weight loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy or drowsiness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Tremors and sweating
  • Muscle pains
  • Severe headaches or dizziness
  • Impaired speech or slurred speech
  • Skin irritations from injection drugs.

Some signs of prescription drug abuse are specific to the type of medication being abused. 

  • Prescribed opioid medicines – slowed breathing rate, nausea, feeling high, confusion, drowsiness, worsening, and constipation.
  • Sedatives and anti-anxiety medicines – confusion, poor concentration, speech problems, slurred speech, and unsteady walking.
  • Stimulants – insomnia, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, increased alertness, reduced appetite.

It is critical to mention that these physical symptoms may not be a sign of addiction but occur due to underlying medical conditions that the prescription drug was initially prescribed to treat. 

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Psychological Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

Other than physical symptoms, prescription drug addiction can also cause trigger a range of psychological symptoms, which may include:

  • Frequent changes in mood, such as depression, irritability, or anxiety
  • Feeling distrust or paranoia
  • Hallucination or delusions
  • Increase risk-taking behaviour
  • Increase agitation or restlessness
  • Lack of interest in hobbies that the person previously enjoyed
  • Emotional distress, mood swings, and instability
  • Suicidal behaviour or thoughts.

Dealing with the psychological symptoms associated with prescription drug use is strenuous. It affects the individual’s relationships, school, college, work performance, and overall quality of life, especially social life. Overdoses and long-term addiction also harm the psychological health of the individual. Psychological symptoms in the shape of suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, and paranoia can lead to an overdose. However, effective treatments are available, and with the proper support and care, it is possible to achieve lasting recovery.

Dangerous Effects of Prescription Painkillers Addiction

Like all drug abuse, prescription painkiller abuse can severely affect an individual’s mental and physical health. Some common dangerous effects produced by painkillers for chronic pain are respiratory depression, risk of overdose, infection, development of or worsening of psychological illness, and significant social and financial issues.

Respiratory Depression

Prescription painkiller abuse produces respiratory depression, causing a slowdown of a person’s breathing. It is a condition in which breathing becomes dangerously slow or shallow, leading to fatal symptoms. Respiratory depression is common in prescribed opioid medications when the dose and strength increase or when it’s combined with sedatives.

painkiller addiction

Risk of Overdose

Prescription painkillers addiction also increases the risk of overdose, which can result in death or coma. An overdose occurs when a person takes more doses than a practitioner recommends or is written on a medicine label. 


A standard administration route for a high-dose painkiller is an injection. Therefore, prescription painkiller addiction results in serious and potentially fatal infectious diseases like HIV, blood-borne illnesses, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B.

Psychological Illness 

If the person already has a psychological illness, drug addiction to prescribed painkillers may worsen conditions such as severe depression and anxiety. Painkiller addiction can also lead to developing a new mental health problem, with those in addiction often experiencing symptoms such as despair, guilt, hopelessness, and emotional disturbances. Mental health issues like these typically lead to poor quality of life and can result in multiple diseases.

Social and Financial Issues

Drug addiction can cause significant social and financial issues. Addiction can restrain a person from forming an emotional relationship with a partner leading to family conflict, separations, divorce, and other issues. Financial problems commonly occur either as a result of being unable to hold down a job or due to the cost of maintaining a prescription painkiller addiction. Bankruptcy and extreme financial difficulties are real risks for someone in addiction. The person’s life may also be disturbed by additional legal issues, such as driving or drug charges, leading to fines and a criminal record. 

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drug Addiction?

Prescription drug addiction can have a range of long-term effects, depending on the specific drug actions and level of addiction. Some of the most common consequences of prescription drug addiction include:

  • Health problems – long-term intake of prescription drugs leads to a range of health problems, including heart disease, respiratory problems, liver damage, and kidney issues. It becomes difficult to diagnose whether health problems is because of medical condition or due to the effect of prescription drug addiction.
  • Tolerance and dependence – with regular and persistent drug use, the body can become accustomed to the presence of a drug, leading to a tolerance that requires larger doses to achieve the desired effect. Tolerance causes physical dependence, which may produce withdrawal symptoms if the drug is discontinued.
  • Mental health issues – long-term intake is linked with psychosis, depression, and anxiety.
  • Social and interpersonal problems – prescription drug addiction can cause interpersonal and social issues, such as financial difficulties, strained relationships, and legal problems.

Not everyone who uses prescription drugs will develop an addiction, and not everyone who develops an addiction will experience these long-term effects.

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Causes and Risk Factors for Painkiller Addiction

Multiple factors are associated with a person developing an addiction to painkillers. We describe some of them below.

  • Physical pain – persistent chronic pain can be a significant reason for developing prescription painkillers addiction, as individuals become dependent on opioids to manage their pain.
  • Genetics – some people may be more genetically predisposed to addiction than others, increasing their risk of developing painkiller addiction.
  • Mental health issues – people with a history of anxiety and depression are at greater risk of developing painkiller addiction, as they may use them to self-medicate.
  • Age – young adults are at greater risk of developing painkiller addiction due to their experimental nature. Adolescents prescribed pain medications for surgeries and injuries may be tempted to explore the ‘high’ that these medications can produce. 
  • History of drug abuse – people with a history of substance abuse are at risk of developing painkiller addiction, as they are more likely to seek the euphoric effects of medications.
  • Social factors – people with a history of trauma or stressful experiences may be at greater risk for painkiller addiction as a form of self-medication. 

Awareness of these risk factors can help prevent individuals from developing an addiction. 

Steps to Prevent Opioid Addiction

Prevention of opioid addiction requires a multifaceted approach involving healthcare providers, families, and communities working together to address the issue. Steps that can be followed to prevent opioid addiction are non-opioid pain management, patient education, early diagnosis, and safe storage.

Non-Opoid Pain Management

Healthcare providers should consider alternative, non-opioid pain medications as a management strategy whenever possible. For this approach to be successful, it should be supported with proper guidance, counselling and therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Patient Education

Patients should be educated about the risk and benefits of using prescribed opioids, such as long-term dose effects and safe dosage. Patients should also be made aware of the signs of opioid addiction so they may seek help if any symptoms appear. In addition, health providers should offer patients alternative medicines for pain management during the educational session. If patients present signs of opioid addiction, health providers should intervene early and support them.

Safe Storage of Medications

Opioids must be stored in secure places far away or out of reach from persons at risk of prescribed drug addiction. The unused or expired medication must be disposed of properly to reduce accidental diversion or ingestion.

Painkiller Addiction Treatment

Treatment for prescription painkiller addiction typically involves a combination of medications, therapy, and support from a treatment team. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.

Painkiller addiction treatment also involves behavioural therapies like cognitive-behavioural therapy and contingency management. These therapies can help the individual identify and address the underlying issues contributing to their addiction and develop healthy coping strategies for managing pain and stress.

Support from family and friends, as well as participation in support groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery, can also be helpful for individuals in recovery from painkiller addiction. It’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease. Recovery is a lifelong process that requires ongoing support and management.

Replacement Medications and Detox

Replacement medicines are prescribed to help treat the cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with painkiller addiction. The most commonly used medications are methadone and buprenorphine. Healthcare providers or rehabilitation centres also use naltrexone to prevent relapse from opioids. 

Apart from replacement medications, detoxification is also helpful for treating a person with a painkiller addiction. Detox is a strategy where a gradual dose of opioids is reduced to minimise the withdrawal symptoms and smooth the transition to replacement medications. Detoxification could be done as an inpatient or outpatient, depending on the needs of the individual. Detoxification and replacement form part of a comprehensive management plan for painkiller addiction; therefore, it requires behavioural therapies in parallel for long-term recovery. 

Withdrawal Effects of Painkiller Addiction

Withdrawal from painkiller addiction can be dangerous and uncomfortable, particularly in individuals abusing painkillers for an extended period or using high doses. Some common withdrawal symptoms are: 

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Dilated pupils. 

A person experiencing withdrawal may also endure emotional symptoms like mood swings and irritability. Withdrawal can provide long-term consequences on health and alters relationship. The person may become socially withdrawn, find it hard to communicate and disengage with activities they previously enjoyed. 

A person is far less likely to relapse and progress to long-term recovery if the withdrawal process is clinically supervised by addiction healthcare specialists and supported by behavioural and cognitive therapies and a long-term care plan.

What is Aftercare?

Aftercare is an essential aspect of treatment programmes. It maintains recovery and prevents relapse. Psychological aftercare is most commonly conducted in rehabilitation centres like Smarmore. 

Below are some of the most effective aftercare strategies that can support long-term recovery from painkiller addiction when used together.

  • Continued therapy – ongoing therapies can help people recover and deal with addictions. Evidence-based therapies and cognitive therapies are mostly practices to manage stress and craving.
  • Support groups – joining a support group encourages individuals, as many group members experience similar conditions. It motivates and enhances a person’s accountability to stick to a recovery plan.
  • Medical monitoring – some individuals require ongoing medical monitoring for chronic pain.
  • Healthy lifestyle – engaging a person in exercise, a healthy diet, and stress management techniques supports overall well-being.
  • Social support – maintaining a healthy relationship with family and friends acts as a holistic therapy that builds trust and improves communication.

Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. Therefore, aftercare is a continuous process until the person is stable in their recovery. Utilising the above techniques allows an individual to maintain sobriety.

Aftercare at Smarmore

A medical team and consultants supervise aftercare and rehabilitation therapies at Smarmore Castle. Our programme is tailored to suit the individual but will generally include the following:

  • Personal (1:1) therapytalking therapies that help the individual to overcome addiction, negative beliefs and other psychological difficulties and improve relationships and social skills.  
  • Group therapy sharing experiences with peers to enhance self-awareness and self-expression, and develop a deeper understanding of the nature of addiction and the recovery process.  
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) a talking therapy that changes negative thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that block recovery.
  • Family counselling a safe forum in which patients and families can share their feelings of anger, hurt and shame; to communicate and rebuild damaged relationships.

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Taking the first step in seeking help can be very difficult, our team is here to help you.

These core interventions take place alongside a range of complementary therapies, including:

  • Aquatherapya gentle form of exercise that allows the individual to strengthen their body and develop fitness gradually. 
  • Equine therapy a unique approach in which individuals learn more about themselves and explore their personalities by spending time with horses. Horses are expert non-verbal communicators. Being around them is relaxing and engaging. 
  • Mindfulness meditation helps the individual to become skilled in recognising and detaching from negative feelings rather than seeking a release via damaging behaviours, leading to a higher level of self-awareness.

Talk to Someone About Your Worries

We recommend you talk to someone about how you feel, what bothers you, and what you have been doing. It will facilitate timely diagnosis and help you relieve the burden you are most likely experiencing.

Smarmore Clinic is a safe environment where you can talk openly with our qualified and experienced team and share emotions without fear. We are ready to listen and support you whenever you choose to open up the conversation. 

At Smarmore Castle Clinic, we know that recovery is possible. Call us now to begin your journey to a better life. 

painkiller addiction


  1. Klimas, J., Gorfinkel, L., Fairbairn, N., Amato, L., Ahamad, K., Nolan, S., & Wood, E. (2019). Strategies to identify patient risks of prescription opioid addiction when initiating opioids for pain: a systematic review. JAMA network open, 2(5), e193365-e193365.
  1. Lalanne, L., Nicot, C., Lang, J. P., Bertschy, G., & Salvat, E. (2016). Experience of the use of Ketamine to manage opioid withdrawal in an addicted woman: a case report. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 1-5.
  1. Peele, S. (2016). People control their addictions: No matter how much the “chronic” brain disease model of addiction indicates otherwise, we know that people can quit addictions–with special reference to harm reduction and mindfulness. Addictive behaviors reports, 4, 97-101.
  1. Pickover, A. M., Messina, B. G., Correia, C. J., Garza, K. B., & Murphy, J. G. (2016). A behavioral economic analysis of the nonmedical use of prescription drugs among young adults. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 24(1), 38.
  1. Zullig, K. J., & Divin, A. L. (2012). The association between non-medical prescription drug use, depressive symptoms, and suicidality among college students. Addictive behaviors, 37(8), 890-899.
  • How to Access Rehab With Health Insurance

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  • My Loved One Doesn’t Want Help, What Do I Do?

    You can’t force someone to go to rehab. A person must be ready to commit to treatment if they want to get the most out of the programme. However, there are ways in which you can encourage someone to enter rehab, one of these ways is via an intervention with a trained interventionist, who facilitates an honest discussion between family members and the individual. This is something Smarmore Castle can arrange – contact us today.

  • Which Drugs Does Smarmore Castle Detox From?

    We offer detox from any drug, whether they are illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, ketamine; or prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines or zopiclone, oxycodone, zolpidem, klonopin, methadone, cannabis; and legal drugs such as alcohol.

  • How Long Is the Treatment Programme?

    Our treatment programme starts at 4 weeks and is flexible in length, giving you the opportunity to extend for a longer period if you need it.

  • Do You Treat Dual Diagnosis?

    Yes. All patients are reviewed by a consultant psychiatrist in the first week and we can diagnose and provide treatment for a number of co-occurring mental health conditions.

  • Do I Need to Be Abstinent Before Admission?

    Our medically managed detoxification with 24/7 medical cover means that we can perform complete and complex detoxes at Smarmore Castle. You don’t need to be abstinent before arrival.

  • How Do I Get To Rehab Safely?

    Smarmore Castle is one hour north of Dublin international airport, please speak to our advisors if you require collection from an airport.

    We can also arrange a ‘sober transport’ service with a trusted driver, from anywhere in Ireland or Northern Ireland, at an additional cost.

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