Nobody starts taking painkillers with the intention to become addicted, and for many people, painkiller addiction starts innocently – with a legitimate prescription meant to alleviate real pain.
Nevertheless, the addiction rates for certain types of painkillers, especially opioids, are skyrocketing in the United States. These medications carry a very real risk of addiction, even for people who think that they’re using them responsibly.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs of addiction – in yourself or someone else – so that you can seek help to break a dependency.
There are therapies and pain management techniques that can help you manage addiction and live without pain, and the sooner you seek help, the easier it will be to adjust to life without the painkillers.
Take a look at some of the painkiller addiction warning signs.
You Watch the Clock Until Your Next Dose
Do you find yourself preoccupied with the thought of taking your next dose of pain medication? Do you watch the clock or check the time often because you’re waiting for it to be time to take more? Do you check on the remaining medication and calculate how many doses you have left before you run out?
This preoccupation with your next dose, and the one after that, and the one after that can be a sign that you’re becoming dependent on the drug, even if you’re still taking it exactly as prescribed.
It’s normal to be mindful of when you can take a painkiller again when the pain is fresh – right after an injury or a painful root canal, for example.
But if some time goes by and you’re still fixated on your next dose and how long your prescription will last, this is a cause for concern.
You’ve Stopped Following Your Prescribed Regimen
Taking painkillers as your doctor prescribes isn’t risk-free, but it does carry less risk than deviating from your doctor’s prescription.
When you start taking a larger dose or waiting a shorter amount of time between doses, it’s a sign that you’ve developed a higher tolerance for the drug and you need more of it more often to achieve the same effect. This significantly increases your risk of becoming addicted.
It can even be a problem if you sometimes take less than the amount prescribed.
Although it’s often fine to skip a dose of pain medication if you don’t need it, if you’re taking less than the prescribed amount so that you can take more later – for example, skipping a pill at noon so that you can take two instead of one at night – that’s a problem.
If your current dosage and schedule isn’t doing a good job of alleviating your pain – or if you’re taking more at some times to deal with other problems, like saving extra pills for the nighttime so that you can sleep better – it’s important to talk to your doctor about it, instead of changing your prescribed routine yourself.
You may need an alternative method of pain relief or new strategies to improve your sleep.
Discussing Your Painkiller Addiction Use Makes You Angry
Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly easy to develop an addiction to painkillers without anybody noticing until you’re already in very deep, especially if your doctor is prescribing the medication for you.
But friends, family, or your doctor may pick up on signs that you’re developing a dependency and try to talk to you about it.
A few examples of things that you may hear from loved ones or your medical professional include:
- “Are you still taking those? It’s been a long time.”
- “Do you need another dose already?”
- “It’s time to talk about weaning you off of this prescription,”
If these questions make you angry or if you feel a knee-jerk urge to defend yourself when someone expresses a concern, there’s a good chance that you may be displaying addictive behaviors.
It’s easy to feel like those around you just don’t understand your pain, but the reality is that they’re probably concerned for your health and well-being. If people you normally trust are starting to worry that you’re showing signs of a problem, there’s a good chance that you do have a problem.
You Aren’t Acting Like Yourself
Painkiller addiction can cause mood and behavioral changes that you might notice in yourself:
- Are you feeling nervous and jittery?
- Are you angry when you have no reason to be?
- Do you find that you don’t care about things that you used to care about – even important things like personal hygiene, your job, or your family responsibilities?
- Do you spend much more time sleeping than you used to?
These can all be signs of a problem, and if they’ve manifested since you began taking painkillers, then they’re very likely signs that you have a problem with painkillers.
These changes may have happened gradually, so you may not have realized that it was happening. But if you look around and discover that you don’t feel like yourself and that your life seems very different than it did before you began taking painkillers, talk to your doctor.
You Go Out of Your Way to Get More Painkillers
Although there have been cases of doctors who are irresponsible with their prescription pads, most doctors realize that addiction is a risk and won’t keep you on painkillers forever, especially not for an injury that should be temporary.
If your doctor feels that you’ve been taking the painkillers for too long or that you’re displaying disturbing signs, they may cut off your prescription or reduce it to try to wean you off. And if you’ve already become addicted, you may take drastic measures to obtain more medication.
This can include “doctor shopping” – that is, seeking out the same prescription from more than one doctor.
You may even intentionally look for doctors who have a reputation for overprescribing. You might also try ordering drugs online, stealing medications from family members or friends – either old leftover medications or medications that they’re currently taking, stealing prescription pads from doctors’ offices, or buying other people’s prescriptions from them.
In some cases, you might move from buying medications to buying street drugs or intentionally harming yourself so you can get a prescription from an emergency room doctor.
The signs of painkiller addiction can range from subtle to alarming. It’s important to recognize the risk and watch yourself for signs of addictive behavior, and also to listen to loved ones and medical professionals who express concern.
You don’t have to live with pain or with addiction – with the right help it’s possible to overcome both.