Countless individuals in the United States use prescription medication to relieve pain stemming from a variety of ailments, including headaches, menstrual cramps, and injuries.
While these medications are incredibly effective in treating these ailments, they may cause adverse effects that can turn into dependency and addiction. Even when taken as prescribed, an individual may begin to develop a tolerance to the effects of painkillers and may need a higher dosage in order to achieve the same pain-relieving effects. Increased tolerance quickly turns to dependency as the body begins to “need” the drug in order to feel normal.
Although painkillers are prescribed out of medical necessity, about 12 million people in the United States reported using them for non-medical purposes in the past year. This is due to both dependency issues and to the fact that prescription painkillers are widely available in most homes. It is not uncommon to find painkillers, along with other types of prescription medications, in medicine cabinets. The ease of access to prescription drugs makes it easier for anyone in the household to acquire and abuse them, further contributing to the rise of prescription drug abuse in the United States.
For some, painkiller abuse is a way to escape uncomfortable feelings, pain, and other aspects of reality that they wish to avoid. Psychological trauma such as depression, anxiety, or tragedy is often a major factor in a person’s decision to abuse drugs. In some cases, a genetic predisposition or a family history of substance abuse may exist, making an individual more inclined towards addictive behaviors. In other cases, prescription drug abuse can develop as a co-occurring disorder. Whether an individual struggles with a debilitating mental health condition or another form of addiction, substance abuse is often influenced by multiple factors, and it is not uncommon for an individual to struggle with more than one type of addiction.
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Side Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse
Painkillers are available in a variety of forms including tablets, liquids, injections, gel capsules, and topical creams. When taken in any way other than how they are prescribed, painkillers can cause a variety of symptoms and can affect an individual physically and psychologically.
Physical effects include:
- Liver/kidney disease or failure
- Cardiovascular problems
- Impaired mental functioning
- Compromised immunity
- Respiratory collapse
- Death due to overdose
Psychological effects include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of anger, rage, and hostility
- Changes in personality or character
- Extreme behavior changes
- Negative body image
In addition to these symptoms, painkiller abuse can have negative side effects on relationships. Those who abuse painkillers may begin to withdraw from family and friends and lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. In addition they may begin to isolate themselves and alienate those around them. This often results in damaged relationships or divisions within the family.
Identifying Addiction in Loved Ones
In addition to the above-mentioned signs and symptoms, those who struggle with painkiller addiction may exhibit other warning signs. This includes:
- Usage increase: If you notice your loved one taking more than the recommended dosage of their medication, this may indicate increased tolerance. This can quickly lead to dependency as their body adjusts to higher doses and needs more of the drug in order to feel the same effects.
- Personality changes: An individual may have a shift in energy levels, mood, and concentration. They may begin to withdraw socially from those around them and may forgo daily responsibilities in order to self-medicate.
- Change in appearance: An individual may begin to neglect personal hygiene or become sick more often due to painkiller abuse. Their sleeping patterns and eating habits may change. Often those who struggle with addiction may develop a constant cough, runny nose, or red eyes.
- Increased sensitivity: Painkillers can cause an individual to be more sensitive to their senses. Normal sights, sounds, and emotions can be over-stimulating, and they may begin to experience hallucinations.
- Time spent obtaining prescriptions: An individual who is addicted to painkillers may begin to engage in “doctor-shopping”. They may drive great distances to visit multiple doctors and obtain more medication. If an individual is preoccupied with obtaining prescription medication, it is a sign of a developing dependency and addiction.
- Demonstrated secrecy and defensiveness: When an individual struggles with abuse, they may go to great lengths to hide their addiction. They can become defensive when questioned and may react drastically when an individual makes simple requests of them.
- Continued use after improvement: Even if an individual is showing improvement in their condition, they may continue to use the drug for an extended period of time. They may attempt to cover dependency by describing feeling continued pain or may describe needing the medication “for just a little while longer”. This is more apparent when an individual begins complaining about doctors who will not continue writing prescriptions for one reason or another.