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Am I Addicted to Painkillers? How Can I Quit Safely?

If you’ve been taking painkillers for an extended time, particularly after the pain that originally prompted their use has subsided, you might well wonder whether you’re addicted to painkillers. Though many people take painkillers following a surgery or injury, it can be easy to develop a dependency to the more powerful of these drugs. Having an understanding of whether you’re addicted can help you determine the right way to get the help you need.

Even if you take drugs as recommended, you can build up a dependency, and this can be physical or psychological. With a psychological drug or alcohol addiction, you just think you need the drug to function properly. With a physical addiction, your body has adapted to expect the drug and now believes it needs the drug to work properly.

Over time, you can become addicted to opioid-based painkillers such as Vicodin, morphine, or OxyContin. Opioids, which come from the opium plant, are also the basis for certain illegal drugs, such as heroin. Painkillers of this type, when taken properly, normally will not cause many side effects and are usually manageable. However, long-term use or high doses taken in the short term can cause dependency and tolerances to build.

First you need to determine whether you’re addicted to your painkillers. Ask yourself a few questions:

“Do I need to take the painkiller because I am in pain, or am I only taking it because I feel like I might need it?”
“Am I experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shakes, chills, headaches, or nausea when I haven’t taken the medication at the normal time?”
“Am I using more of the medication over time to feel the same effects?”

If you take painkillers even when you aren’t in pain, this is a psychological (in most cases) response to the fact that your body feels you might be in pain soon. You are subconsciously preparing for pain that might not actually occur.

If you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try not to take the drug, you might have developed a physical dependency. When a person has a physical dependency, it is important to take the drug and to speak to a medical provider about the best way to stop. Some drugs will need to be tapered, or you may need to take a secondary drug to phase out your side effects.

If you are in pain and have to keep increasing your dosage to treat the pain, you should speak with a medical provider. The increase in medication means you’re developing a tolerance. This can make it harder to stop the drug use in the future. Another drug might help you treat your pain better. If you have increased your dosage when you are no longer in pain because of potential withdrawal symptoms or difficulties stopping the drug, you should contact a doctor as soon as possible. Using the drug longer or in higher doses than recommended can cause other problems, so it is important to follow the prescription as written.

If you have determined you have a problem, there are a few ways to get off a prescription pain medication:

  • Contact a medical provider to discuss your options for inpatient or outpatient therapy for drug abuse or misuse.
  • Taper the medication until the body no longer requires it to function correctly.
  • Use drugs to help manage withdrawal, such as buprenorphine, which can help you take less of the drug and experience fewer side effects.

If you feel you will have a hard time stopping the drug without medical help, an outpatient treatment center will allow you to see a medical provider every day and also to continue school, work, and other activities. A 24-hour rehab center with inpatient services will be helpful for those with serious withdrawal problems.

If you feel able to quit at home, a doctor might help you determine a tapering plan for the painkillers. This will require you to take less of the drug each time you take it until your body no longer needs it. This can take weeks or months, but many patients can successfully stop a drug with this method. It will also allow a patient to face fewer side effects.

How to Help Someone With Painkiller Misuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription painkiller misuse, help is available and recovery is possible. Professional addiction treatment can help anyone battling a substance use problem start on the path to a happier and healthier life. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options, contact a caring admissions navigator with American Addiction Centers (AAC) for free at .

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