Addiction to Pain Medication – Finding Alternatives

Learn the more about pain medication and how do it work.

Addiction to Pain Medication

Table of Contents

Pain medication substance use disorder is prevalent within and outside the United States of America. Individuals tend to misuse prescription drugs like opioids by taking the drug without following the doctor’s prescription. In certain cases, individuals may also use the drugs for the effects that they produce. There are various ways addiction to pain medication influences the body.

 According to a study in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,1 medical experts wrote over 200 million prescriptions of opioids. The prescriptions were enough for each adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills. From the rates of painkiller prescribing in the US, it is evident that a significant percentage of individuals are unaware of the appropriate usage of such medications.

What is Addiction to Pain Medication?

Addiction to pain medication describes the inability to control the use of analgesics due to their effects on the brain and body system. Doctors typically diagnose a painkiller substance use disorder when certain symptoms are evident. Significant symptoms of addiction may include problems cutting down the medication, a high urge to administer the drug, and more.   

Types/Classes of Pain Medication

There are different types of pain medications, and each one varies based on the degree of the individual’s pain. Most drugs for pain fall into one of the following groups:

  1. Anti-inflammatory drugs
  2. Opioid pain meds 
  3. Non-opioid pain meds
  4. Compound pain meds  

OTC Pain Medication and Prescription Pain Medication

OTC pain relief medication includes acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Doctors prescribe stronger medicines or prescription pain relief medication like opioids when OTC pain relief drugs are ineffective. The different opioid types include:2
  • Codeine
  • Propoxyphene 
  • Meperidine 
  • Oxycodone 
  • Hydrocodone 
  • Diphenoxylate 
  • Morphine 
  • Methadone 
  • Hydromorphone     

Compound Painkillers

Compound pain medicine falls under the general categorization of the different types of painkillers. These substances are from a mixture of two different drugs. Examples of these drugs include a combination of standard painkillers like acetylsalicylic acid and paracetamol with opioid pain meds in low doses. 

How do Pain Relievers Work?

Pain relievers work with the body cells and the nervous system, including the brain and the central nervous system. Pain medication functions by getting in between the nerve cells to avoid transmission of the pain message. Hence, the message does not get to the brain, thereby preventing the individual from experiencing pain in a specific body part.

What Conditions are Pain Medications Used for?

Pain relief medication is useful for different medical conditions, especially those that involve severe pain. Here are some of the significant conditions that a pain killer may be necessary:

  • Low back pain 
  • Headache 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Shingles 
  • Menstrual Pain 
  • Sprains 

Benefits of Pain Medications

Appropriate use of pain medication benefits the overall living of an individual experiencing a medical condition involving pain. Pain relief medication is essential for treating general pain like headachesstrains, and more severe conditions. Examples include drugs for chronic pain after surgery or trauma. Here are the benefits of drugs for pain: 

  • Better control of pain: Painkillers like NSAIDs reduce the production of a hormone-like substance responsible for inflammation and pain. Note that the hormone-like substance is prostaglandins, and they deal with injury and illness.
  • Better personal and professional relationship: Less pain improves the body’s reaction and the individual’s wellbeing. A pain reliever may help ensure an individual does not experience pain that may affect productivity and relationships at home or work.
  • Improved sense of overall wellbeing: Pain may induce stress, which negatively affects the human body. It may result in increased blood pressure, breathing rate, heart rateand cause muscle tension. Hence, individuals may feel fatigued during the day. 

Is Pain Medication Safe?

Pain relievers are safe when an individual uses them according to the doctor’s prescription. Scenarios, where an individual uses these drugs inappropriately for their euphoric effect, may make them unsafe. Most people may develop a noticeable physical dependence on these medications. This dependence occurs due to factors that include a decrease in dosage or abrupt cessation of use. 

Tolerance for Pain Medication

Tolerance to pain medication also occurs in certain individuals that develop dependency. Note that tolerance is a state of adaptation that describes the diminishing of drug effects due to exposure to a substance. Medical experts ascertain that a high percentage of pain patients undergoing long-term treatments with opioid drugs may develop dependency.3

Risk of Pain Medications

A pain reliever like NSAIDs is usually safe, but taking more than the recommended dosage may result in certain side effects. Major examples of these effects include stomach pain, nausea, stomach bleeding nausea, or ulcers. Large dosages may also result in high blood pressure, kidney problems, and fluid retention. Apart from NSAIDs, other medications for mild and severe pain also have visible side effects.

Prescription medications like opioids also have side effects like dizziness, nausea, sedation, constipation, and respiratory depression. It is imperative to consult a doctor for alternative pain medication if any of those side effects of the drugs are observable.   

Side Effects of Pain Medications

Side effects of pain medication are rare, but individuals develop them depending on factors like frequency of use. Most individuals tend to develop a rash from the usage of pain medication amidst other significant side effects. Note that the side effects of the drugs may range from mild to severe. Here are the common aftereffects of certain painkillers:   

  • Nausea: Nausea is an uneasy feeling in the stomach that also describes feelings of vomiting. According to a review  mechanisms producing nausea in the body involve the central and peripheral sites, including the cerebral cortex, GI tract, chemoreceptor trigger zones, vesicular apparatus of the brain, and more.4 
  • Low Blood Pressure: Hypotension or low blood pressure is evident when an individual has a reading lower than 90 mmHg systolic and 600 mmHg diastolic. In certain cases, low blood pressure may be life-threatening. For this reason, individuals should consult a licensed doctor for alternative pain medication. 
  • HallucinationsPrescription medications like opioids may induce hallucinations. Morphine is one of the major substances that result in these hallucinations. According to a review, the reason for this side effect may be due to its use history and high availability.       

Mixing Pain Medication with Other Drugs

Substances, including pain meds, have a high tendency to interact with other drugs. It’s imperative to review all the drugs you take with a doctor, including the OTC medications. Certain OTC medications can cause a significant drug interaction with a pain reliever like opioids. For example, cold and allergy medications containing diphenhydramine may result in sedative effects, which is dangerous.

Some other substances that may react negatively with a pain relief medication like opioids include:  

  • Alcohol
  • Certain antidepressants 
  • Benzodiazepines 
  • Anti-seizure drugs 
  • Muscle relaxers 

Common Addictive Pain Relievers

Pain relievers can be addictive when an individual develops physical dependence and tolerance to the drugs. Some of the common addictive pain relievers include: 

  • Fentanyl
  • Extended-release oxycodone 
  • Morphine 
  • Codeine 
  • Methadone 

Alternatives to Pain Medication

There are trusted alternatives for individuals who want to avoid addiction to pain medication and other significant side effects of pain pills. Each of these methods may provide the same healing effect as typical drugs for pain. Here are the alternatives to using pain meds: 

  • Physical Therapy: This technique focuses on providing pain therapy treatments involving prevention and management of injuries. It is a process that requires a trained physical therapist who decreases pain with either active or passive therapy.
  • Yoga and Meditation: Continuous research proves that yoga may help relieve conditions like low back pain. According to a study a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) course helped deal with the perception in individuals.5
  • Injections: Different types of injections are categorized as alternatives for pain medsExamples of these medications include facet joint injections, sacroiliac joint injections, and epidural steroid injections. 
  • Acupuncture: This procedure involves inserting tiny needles through the skin at specific points of the body. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), certain studies establish that acupuncture helps reduce chronic pain, including back and neck pain.6

Other Techniques to Relieve Chronic Pain

Doctors may suggest other techniques to relieve pain apart from pain meds, physical therapy, injections, or acupuncture. Here are the significant techniques to note: 

  • Radio waves: Experts may use radiofrequency ablation as an alternative technique to relieving chronic joint or back pain. The procedure provides long-term relief to pain.
  • Electrical signals: This procedure involves using a small pulse generator to send electrical pulses to the nerves. It’s essential for treating severe pain without using medications. 
  • Nerve blocks: Doctors may inject nerve blocks like alcohol or phenol if an individual experiences pain relief from a local anesthetic. It’s usually used for treating acute pain.
  • Pain pumps: These devices are responsible for delivering medication directly to the individual’s spinal cord. It’s usually a last resort when conservative therapies fail.  
  • Spinal cord stimulation: Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is a safe technique for treating severe pain due to various conditions. In most cases, this technique is employed for chronic neck pain. 


Pain medications can be highly addictive due to their ability to activate reward centers in the brain. Some of these substances trigger the release of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. Finding an alternative pain medication may be safer for a lower tendency to develop an addiction.  



If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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