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How Can I Tell If My Loved One Is Addicted to Painkillers? 

Painkillers, although prescribed with pain management in mind, are highly addictive in nature. If a loved one has been prescribed painkillers, it is easy to wonder about some changes being seen. It can be difficult to tell if a loved one has become addicted to painkillers or if they truly need them for managing acute or chronic pain.


The most common types of addictive painkillers are opioids. Opioids are a class of drugs made from the opium poppy plant. Some opioids are made directly from the plant, while others are synthesized in a lab. Opioids are used in painkillers because they contain ingredients that work to relax the body and relieve pain. When taken, opioids have hallucinogenic and euphoric properties that can cause a person to chase that high repeatedly and become addicted. Common prescription opioids include Oxycodon, Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Codeine, Morphine, Fentanyl, and others. 

Heroin is the strongest opioid and is never used for prescription medicine due to its highly addictive properties. Heroin is created similarly to prescription opioids, but is produced illegally and is sold much cheaper. Heroin produces a similar euphoric and pain-numbing effect as prescription opioids, although heroin can be more intense. Some people who no longer have access to prescription opioids may switch to using heroin as a way to continue using opioids. Others may start with heroin and switch to prescription opioids if able to.

Warning Signs

Opioid painkillers can be misused, even when they are prescribed. Painkillers can be misused by taking the medicine not as prescribed (taking too much or in a way that is not prescribed), taking someone else’s medication, and taking the medicine for its euphoric effects rather than its painkilling effects. 

Short-term effects of opioid use include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Euphoria
  • Slowed breathing
    • A negative extension of slowed breathing is hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition in which too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia’s short and long-term effects are very damaging to the brain, sometimes resulting in cognitive delays, coma, and even death. 

If a loved one is downplaying their use of painkillers, this may be a warning sign that there is prescription drug abuse happening. If a loved one is lying, covering up their prescription drug use, using drugs that are not prescribed, feeling like the drug is doing less for their pain due to high tolerance, or more, it may be time to talk with them about the possibility of addiction. 

Older adults who may have multiple prescriptions are at a higher risk of developing an addiction to prescription drugs. Those who struggle with acute or chronic pain may be more inclined to take opioids, which could result in dependency and addiction. Long-term effects of opioid abuse include irritability, liver and kidney failure, and death by overdose. 

Opioids and the Brain

Opioids affect the brain in a lot of ways. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids will bind to and activate receptors in the brain and spine, as well as other organs of the body. When opioids attach to the receptors, they block pain signals from those parts of the body from going to the brain, numbing the pain that a person is experiencing. The brain will also release large amounts of dopamine in the body, creating a happy and euphoric effect. 

When opioid addiction begins, the brain will change due to a series of abnormalities that come with substance use and addiction. During active substance use, the brain rewires itself to need the drug. The brain will excuse odd or different behaviors because the addiction fuels all actions. 

To combat the misuse of opioids, doctors now screen patients for pain management inconsistencies and may deny renewals of certain prescriptions based on a patient’s history with painkillers and the state of their internal organs (painkillers will slowly deteriorate liver and kidney functions). If a doctor deems that a patient has developed a dependency or addiction to painkillers, the doctor will end the prescription and suggest treatment options. 


For those struggling with opioid addiction, there is treatment available. The first and most effective step to treatment is detoxing from opioids. The detox process will include withdrawal symptoms like muscle cramping, pain, nausea, and more. Withdrawal symptoms can be painful and scary to go through alone. Making a quitting plan with a loved one can be extremely helpful during this process. 

After detox, a loved one should be enrolled in therapy and support programs, like a 12-Step program. One of the most effective therapies for opioid addiction is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). By talking to a loved one and a doctor, finding options for opioid detox and therapy will become a reality. 

If you’re worried that you or your loved one is addicted to prescription painkillers, it’s time to get help. Opioid dependence and addiction can be hard to identify, especially if a person has been on painkillers for quite some time. If you or your loved one are having trouble or are ready for change, call us at RECO Intensive. At RECO Intensive, we understand that opioid addiction is a real struggle for many people and can be difficult to overcome alone. We want to help beat opioid addiction and make a plan for future pain management after treatment. Our professional staff and experienced alumni will guide you or your loved one through a personalized treatment plan. At RECO Intensive, we offer a myriad of therapies and programs to help you through treatment. We know that change can be scary, but recovery is worth it. Call us at (561) 464-6533 today. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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