Today’s opioid epidemic has been linked to the rise of painkiller prescriptions starting in the 1990s. The higher the dose of opioid medication used for pain and the greater the number of days the patient uses the medication, the greater the risk of dependence. More research is needed to determine the exact dose and number of days after which prescription opioid becomes addictive. Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend using the minimum dosage for the minimum amount of time.
Knowing the risks of opioid use can help patients use painkillers more mindfully and seek help when they need it. Learn more about prescription painkillers and why they are so addictive.
Why Are Opioids So Addictive?
Opioids, including prescription opioids given for acute pain, activate the parts of the brain that release endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that can mute the experience of pain and increase feelings of pleasure. When the opioid effects wear off, it is common to crave that pleasure. Any individual can become dependent on that feeling.
At the same time, continued use of opioids interferes with the body’s natural production of endorphins. This means individuals can become reliant on opioids to feel good. Over time, the brain needs more and more of the substance to achieve the same pleasure. This physical response contributes to addiction as well.
Why Are Pain Relief Pills So Addictive?
Researchers are helping us in understanding why painkillers become so addictive so fast. The nature of chronic pain may play a role. In many cases, it’s difficult to determine the underlying cause of pain or to treat it effectively. Patients may not be given treatment options besides pain management, which can include prescription painkillers.
The longer a patient is on the pain relief medication, the more reliant they become on it. Over time the medication may work less effectively, especially if it is not always taken exactly as directed. If patients feel their pain is increasing, they may seek additional medication from doctors, buy pain relief online, combine medications or engage in other behaviors that can increase the risk of addiction. Education about the dangers of misuse is essential, as is communication between doctors and patients taking pain relief pills.