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Painkiller Addiction: History, Types, Uses And Symptoms

Painkillers are a class of drug that falls into the opiate category which means that they are derived from the poppy plant that works in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain.

Painkiller addiction is a type of drug addiction where one’s body develops an increased tolerance to painkillers. This leads to the need for higher doses. It can also lead to overdose due to increased dosages or mixing with other drugs.

Painkiller abuse refers not only to take them without a prescription but also to misusing them and/or combining them with alcohol or other drugs. It is common for people who are addicted to painkillers to develop tolerance and withdrawal symptoms upon stopping or severely reducing their use.

Those who are addicted to painkillers may go through withdrawal symptoms as soon as one hour after taking the last dose of a painkiller.

Painkiller addiction is not limited to adults only; there is growing concern over youth abusing these drugs at an early age and with a greater number of pills per dosage that increases the risk for overdose and death.

If you know anyone using opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine for nonmedical purposes or in higher quantities than prescribed by a doctor then they should be assessed immediately for possible problems due to drug abuse.

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Painkiller Addiction Explained

Painkiller addiction originates from the substance of certain painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine which are opioids.

Opiates or opioid analgesics refer to a drug derived from opium. It can produce euphoria along with pain relief and other therapeutic effects. Opiates bind to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord called opioid receptors while some types of opiate medications also target other areas in our bodies like the digestive system.

These include both naturally occurring substances (ie: morphine), semisynthetic drugs (ie: heroin), and synthetic drugs (ie: fentanyl). All of which have similar effects but are stronger than natural opioids found in our bodies. The most common form of prescription opioid is OxyContin which is an extended-release version of oxycodone, a semisynthetic opioid.

Oxycodone is the chemical name for this painkiller which is an ingredient in drugs such as Percocet, Roxicodone, and OxyContin. These are narcotic analgesics that act on the central nervous system to alter the perception of pain, along with other effects like drowsiness or mood changes. They are generally known by their brand names these days because pharmaceutical companies claim them to be safe and effective once brought out under specific conditions.

The chemical makeup of painkillers comes from poppy seed plans which are different from cocaine which comes from cocoa plans and has an opposite effect. Opiates are a suppressant while cocaine is a stimulant.

Painkiller Addiction

Brand Names For Painkillers

Prescriptions that contain opioids are one of the most abused drugs in America. These include:

  • Oxycodone (brand names: OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Brand name: Vicodin)
  • Morphine (Brand names: Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin)
  • Oxymorphone (brand name: Opana)
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen
  • Hydrocodone bitartrate
  • Hydrocodone-Homatropine
  • Hyrdocodone-Ibuprofen
  • Pseudoephedrine-Hydrocodone
  • Hydrocodone-Clorpheniramine
  • Hydrocodone-Cpm-Pseudoephed
  • Morphine
  • Morphine-Naltrexone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Fentanyl Citrate
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine Poli-Chlorphenir Poli
  • Acetaminophen with codeine phosphate/Acetaminophen-Codeine
  • Methadone
  • Methadone Hydrochloride
  • Morphine Sulfate
  • Meperidine
  • Tramadol
  • Carfentanil
  • Buprenorphine

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Different Types Of Painkillers

  • Opioids: Opioids are a type of painkiller that includes drugs like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Opioids work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to block pain signals. Opioids can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled. Opioids are the most abused painkiller.
  • NSAIDs: NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a type of painkiller that includes drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs work by reducing inflammation and swelling. NSAIDs can be taken orally or applied topically.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are a type of painkiller that includes drugs like amitriptyline and fluoxetine which are used for depression treatment. Antidepressants work by blocking pain signals. Antidepressants can be taken orally or injected.
  • Steroids: Steroids are a type of painkiller that includes drugs like prednisone and methylprednisolone. Steroids work by reducing inflammation and swelling. Steroids can be taken orally, injected, or inhaled.

How Painkiller Addiction Starts

Repetitive use of prescription painkillers can cause them to become addictive. Some people may abuse these drugs, but other people could develop an addiction without having any previous history of drug abuse. The history of painkiller abuse otherwise termed the “opiate” epidemic started in the 1980s.

The groundwork for painkiller abuse and the opioid epidemic started when pain increasingly became recognized as a problem that required adequate treatment and doctors started prescribing opiates to patients at an increasing rate.

The painkiller addiction problem grew without slowing down over the next 30 years, culminating in 2017 when more people in the United States died from overdoses involving opioids than from HIV- or AIDS-related illnesses.

The problem was compounded by doctors who aggressively prescribed prescription opioids and pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma that sometimes fraudulently marketed the drugs.

There are many reasons why someone might have a painkiller addiction but it’s important to know the number one reason has been the overprescribing of opioids. If you are taking an opiod prescription painkiller there may be other options that are nonaddictive that can be extremely effective.

When painkillers first came on the market, the companies told everyone how safe and effective they were but sadly, the world is now seeing the effects of overprescribing by watching many people suffer from opioid dependency.

Misuse of prescriptions happens frequently, even by people who have not previously had addiction issues. Maybe they forgot a dose and doubled up later on without talking to their doctor. Or maybe they forgot they took it and took it again. A misjudgment of pain can also lead to improper use that ends up in dependency.


Injuries are one of the most common causes of painkiller addiction. Many times an individual would never develop a painkiller addiction if it weren’t for an injury leading to a prescription for painkillers. Once dependency occurs, which happens quite quickly, it is difficult to stop due to withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping opiates.

Biological Predispations

Many people that believed they weren’t going to get addicted still have problems after taking painkillers for a period of time. It can feel like it’s easier to continue taking the prescription than stop and go through withdrawal.

Some genetic predispositions may play a role in an individual being more susceptible to having a painkiller addiction. Genetic factors can play a role in the development of painkiller addiction. Certain genetic variations can cause an individual to be more susceptible to the risk of developing the addiction than other people.

Childhood Neglect

Childhood abuse or neglect puts individuals at risk of developing painkiller addiction problems as adults. This is because they are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and developmental health issues, which put them at risk for substance abuse.

Mental Health Disorders

People with mental health disorders are more likely to develop an addiction because these conditions put them at risk for developing addictive behaviors. People with mental health issues can also have a chemical imbalance that makes it difficult for them to stop using the drug once they are exposed to it.

If this is not treated, then the painkiller addiction will continue to be a chronic problem that causes serious health problems.

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Signs of Painkiller Abuse Or Misuse

Some people with painkiller abuse may become:

  • irritable
  • anxious
  • moody
  • depressed
  • confused

Painkillers interfere with the way that our body produces endorphins; these substances block the effects of pain (physical stress) at receptor sites in our brain.

We can become dependent on them by having opioid receptors desensitized over time. Then we need higher doses to get the same effect or a larger dose for the first time if we haven’t taken opioids before.

The sensitivity of opioid receptors to other bodily functions can decrease.  A couple of examples are decreased level of breathing rate or constipation.

The risk for overdose is higher if someone mixes painkillers with alcohol as it affects our breathing. It will also interact poorly with certain other medications people take regularly such as antidepressants. In recent years, there has been an increase in prescription painkiller use among teens which puts them at greater risk of addiction. Their brains are still developing and they may not be able to handle drugs as well as adults can.

Symptoms of Painkiller Addiction May Include:

  • – Taking more pills than prescribed
  • – Isolating from friends and family
  • – Neglecting work or school
  • – Engaging in illegal activities to get pills
  • – Losing interest in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyed
  • – Experiencing financial problems

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out for help. Opiate addiction is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about two million people suffer from opiate addiction.

Opiate addiction can lead to a number of problems, including health problems, financial problems, and social problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with opiate addiction, it is important to seek help from a professional treatment provider. Opiate addiction is a serious disease that requires professional help to overcome.

This concludes our blog post on Opiate Addiction And Abuse: The Different Types, Effects, and How They Are Treated. We hope that this information has been helpful in better understanding this topic. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to opiates, please reach out for help. Opiate addiction is a serious issue, but there is hope for recovery.

History of Painkiller Addiction

Opiate abuse has a long and torrid history that dates back almost 8,000 years. It is believed that Sumerian clay tablets are the earliest prescriptions painkiller of opium. The ancient Greeks, Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Romans, Arabs, people in the middle ages, Europeans from the renaissance and other civilizations used opioids as medicine for pain and some cultures also utilized them for religious ceremonies.

In fact, there are even references in the Odyssey and the Bible, and used by known leaders and minds like Homer, Franklin, Napoleon, Coleridge, Poe, Shelly, Quincy. It is widely accepted that Hitler became dependent upon morphine during world war 2 as it was prescribed by his personal doctor along with doses of cocaine.  The history of opiates being utilized by the medical community and distributed started with a few key events.

In 1803 morphine, was extracted from opium by Friedrich Serturner of Germany; Dr. Charles Wood, a Scottish physician, invented the hypodermic needle and used it to facilitate morphine directly into the bloodstream for pain relief. Dr. Eduard Livenstein, a German physician, produced the first accurate and comprehensive description of addiction to morphine, including the withdrawal syndrome and relapse, and argued that craving for morphine was a physiological response.

Diacetylmorphine was synthesized and briefly promoted as more effective and less addictive than morphine. Diacetylmorphine is the first brand name for heroin and it was studied to be more addictive not less addictive than morphine. In the early 20th century, heroin was legally marketed in pill form, for a brief time. In 1830, 1/3rd of lethal poisoning was a result of opium overdoses.

All of these events culminated in the opioid epidemic which has been labeled a national epidemic due to the extreme rates of addiction and death from opiates which continued to increase as more medications utilizing opiates have been developed.

According to the CDC, the number of drug overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999.  Over 70% of the 70,630 deaths in 2019 involved an opioid.

The Role Of Painkillers In The Opioid Epidemic

In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured doctors that patients would not become addicted to opioids and began prescribing them at higher rates.

  • Increased prescription of opioid medications led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids before it became clear that these medications could indeed be highly addictive.
  • Purdue offered nearly $10 billion to settle all opioid claims as a result of misleading marketing tactics and their role in facilitating widespread use of their prescription painkillers which accelerated the opioid epidemic.

In 2017 the Trump administration announced a 5-point strategy to combat the opioid crisis. This includes discussions on how healthcare providers can help users recover from addiction, increasing access to opiate and prescription painkiller treatment programs in different parts of America, and creating new proposals that would restrict who is allowed into our country due to their high risk behavior or mental health condition.

In 2017 Secretary Sebelius declared this public health emergency because too many people were dying as a result of overusing these drugs.

FAQs: Painkiller Addiction

What are the most common signs of painkiller addiction?

  • Painkiller Addiction Tends to Involve Mood Swings
  • Denial Is a Frequent Symptom of Addiction
  • Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Changes in Appearance and Personality
  • Participating in Dangerous Behavior

How long does it take to become addicted to Opioid Painkillers?

Pinkiller dependence can happen after just five days because the drugs are some of the strongest on the planet. Opiates all have a similar addiction range which is different from stimulant addiction which is much more mental in nature rather than physical.

What are the most commonly abused painkillers?

The most commonly used opioids are:
  • prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin
  • fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine
  • heroin, an illegal drug

What States have Been Hit The Hardest With Painkiller Addiction?

Advances in modern medicine have allowed the manufacturing of truly powerful medications that have exceptional medical usefulness. Patients suffering from chronic pain, sleep disorders, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder all benefit considerably from the progress that prescription medications have made in recent years. Most people who need these drugs use them responsibly, but when these drugs are abused, serious health risks and addiction can occur, especially in Florida (FL). Prescription Drug abuse has been on the rise in the Florida (FL) area and it is important to confront the addiction problem, and Magnified Health Systems is here to help. Specifically in Florida (FL) California and Ohio, prescription drug addiction has led to a severe increase in crime. Addicts are stealing valuables to trade or sell for prescription pills, or breaking into homes to raid medicine cabinets.

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Medical Advice Disclaimer

Magnified Health Systems aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

Picture of This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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