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Most of us take prescription painkillers as prescribed and stop taking them when we feel better. However, long term use or abuse of addictive painkilling drugs can result in drug dependence and addiction, a chronic and often life threatening condition.

Painkiller opiate based drugs are particularly problematic. Those with chronic long term pain conditions can find themselves taking more and more painkillers just to feel any relief from their pain. If they take any less than their body has become accustomed to, they develop extremely unpleasant opiate withdrawal symptoms.

There are also those who abuse painkillers purely for their euphoric effects. Painkillers containing codeine can be purchased over the counter, so a doctor doesn’t even need to be part of the equation. Addiction to codeine is a very common problem due to ease of availability, analgesic effectiveness and its addictive properties. Codeine addiction and dependence can develop within as little as 3 to 5 days of continuous use.

Ketamine is another commonly abused painkiller and a class III scheduled drug. It is generally only approved for use in hospitals, but it can be prescribed to patients who have become opioid tolerant and suffer from long term chronic pain conditions.

Ketamines powerful analgesic, hallucinogenic, amnesic and dissociative properties have lead it to being abused by recreational drug users. In the wrong hands this is a very dangerous drug and abuse of it can lead to life-threatening consequences and addiction. Find out more about ketamine addiction today.

Valium is another drug that can also be prescribed as a painkiller for the treatment of acute muscle spasms. Valium, also known as diazepam, is a benzodiazepine with strong muscle relaxant properties. It is also extremely addictive both in terms of its euphoric and calming effects and its ability to create a physical drug dependence very quickly.

There are many ways and reasons as to how and why an individual develops a painkiller addiction. The ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ are very individual to each person. Regardless of how an addiction to painkillers develops, whether it be through a genuine prescription or abuse of these drugs, the treatment pathway needs to focus on treating all aspects of the person. More often than not, painkiller addiction treatment will involve traditional medical care combined with personalised therapy.

At Delamere rehab Cheshire we have developed specific treatment pathways designed around our patients individual needs. Just as no two people’s addictive habits follow the exact same pattern, no two of our treatment programmes are exactly the same.

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What is painkiller addiction?

Just because a drug is prescribed or purchased over the counter does not necessarily mean it is safe. Painkillers have a valid place in the medical world but sadly are also commonly abused for their effects.

Through repeated exposure to an addictive painkiller, drug dependence can develop, this can lead to addiction. Repeated abuse of a painkiller puts you at high risk of addiction, a life-threatening chronic condition that requires specialist treatment in order to manage.

Painkiller addiction affects a person in numerous ways. As a disorder of the brain characterised by compulsive drug seeking and taking despite adverse and negative consequences, addiction has a habit of infiltrating all areas of the sufferers life. This is why it is so important that professional help is sought without delay

Physical symptoms of painkiller addiction include:

  • Changes in weight and appearance
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Tolerance to painkillers (having to take increasing amounts to gain the desired effects)
  • Dependence on painkillers (suffering withdrawal symptoms if a dose is missed or the individual tries to reduce painkiller consumption)
  • Physical side effects associated with the specific painkiller, such as drowsiness, constipation, lethargy, slurred speech, pinpoint pupils)
  • Evidence of large quantities of painkillers in possession (multiple empty packs or bottles)
  • Frequent intoxication
  • Frequent painkiller abuse, ie changing route of administration, taking more than prescribed or mixing with alcohol or other drugs
  • Accidental or intentional overdosing

Behavioural symptoms of painkiller addiction include:

  • Compulsive drug seeking and taking
  • Increased risk taking (drug driving)
  • Increasing isolation from family and friends
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and family time
  • Repeatedly buying large quantities of painkillers using various chemists, doctors or ordering from the internet
  • Manipulation, lying or stealing in order to get painkillers
  • Self destructive behaviours
  • Preoccupation with finding and taking painkillers
  • Mixing painkillers with alcohol or other drugs for increased effects

Emotional symptoms of painkiller addiction include:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Emotional unavailability
  • Panick attacks
  • Indifference
  • Disinterest in life
  • Dysphoria

Psychological symptoms of painkiller addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Memory impairment
  • Inability to stop taking painkillers
  • Poor impulse control
  • Suicidal ideation or self harm

Financial symptoms of painkiller addiction include:

  • Inability to hold down employment
  • Spending inordinate amounts of money purchasing painkillers from the internet or street dealers
  • Borrowing money and never repaying, begging for money, stealing, committing crime
  • Neglect of important financial responsibilities resulting in financial debt

Codeine addiction

Not many individuals appreciate just how addictive codeine is. Once ingested codeine is converted into morphine, a highly addictive opiate in pure form.

Codeine is commonly prescribed in a stronger form for post operative pain and long-term chronic pain conditions. A lower strength codeine can be purchased over the counter at pharmacy’s.

Nurofen Plus is commonly abused for its codeine content and can be purchased over the counter.

Codeine is commonly used to treat pain that doesn’t respond to less powerful analgesics such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen. It is often combined with these analgesics, both over the counter and on prescription, to increase its effectiveness.

What starts out as a genuine need for pain relief from common conditions such as toothache or back pain can easily turn into a codeine dependence and codeine addiction.

Codeine can also be used to treat diarrhea and acts as an effective cough suppressant. Due to its multipurpose functions, codeine can often be a hidden ingredient in many cough mixtures, medications and combined painkillers.

Codeine’s relaxing and calming effects are much sought after by those that abuse prescription drugs. It is always important to read the label and instructions accompanying any medication so that you safeguard yourself from becoming addicted.

If you do develop a dependence to codeine (which can occur within as little as 3-5 days of continuous use) you will experience codeine withdrawal symptoms on stopping the medication.

Codeine withdrawal symptoms are the same as opiate withdrawal symptoms. The more codeine you have been using and the longer the dependence, the more severe codeine withdrawal symptoms will be.

If you or a loved one have a codeine addiction or dependence and require help to successfully stop codeine, Delamere provides a full medical codeine detox within our purpose built detox facility. Here, you will receive medication to relieve the symptoms of codeine withdrawal whilst receiving high levels of care and support, delivered 24/7 by our qualified nursing team. Call us today to find out more.

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Signs and symptoms of a painkiller addict / abuser

  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Lying
  • Social isolation
  • Stealing
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Sedation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Painkiller Fact : Approximately 80% of all heroin addicts started out abusing opiate painkillers. Heroin has similar effects to that of strong opioid painkillers and in many parts of the world is a cheaper alternative 1

Delamere’s painkiller addiction treatment approach

Detox is often the first step in treating painkiller addiction, especially when it comes to addictive medicines such as codeine, methadone, morphine or tramadol. Once the individual has safely stopped the painkillers the next step is to address and heal the underlying reasons as to why they became addicted in the first place. Following on from this, the individual will then have to learn new ways in which to manage their emotional and physical pain without resorting to addictive pharmaceuticals.

At Delamere we have a track record of delivering positive outcomes in the treatment of prescription drug addiction. Our leading team of clinicians, therapists and experts by experience will ensure that they take the time to become fully acquainted with your personal addiction story before putting in place plans and protocols to ensure your comfort and safety. In helping patients to move beyond their current difficulties we realise that a lot of hard work, honesty and humility is called for on the patient’s part, which is why we do our utmost to make the journey as enjoyable as possible. We achieve this through enhancing our treatment programmes with activities such as movie nights, art therapy, music and dance.

If you are worried that prescription drug addiction has become a problem in your life, or in the life of someone you care about we are here to help.

Struggling with addiction to painkillers? Get in touch


  1. NIDA



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