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5 signs someone has a painkiller addiction

Posted by Martin Preston
on 17 Aug 2023

What’s included?

  1. Introduction
  2. Increased drug seeking behaviour
  3. Changes in personality and emotions
  4. Displaying obvious physical symptoms
  5. Changes in work, home and social life
  6. Continued use despite negative consequences
  7. How can Delamere help with painkiller addiction?

Popping painkillers is incredibly common. They’re easy to obtain, well tolerated and, when taken as intended, safe and effective. But for some people who rely on them long term, the relief they provide can become a habit that’s hard to break.

Opioids, such as hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®), oxymorphone, morphine (MS-Contin®), codeine and fentanyl, are some of the most commonly prescribed painkillers. They also happen to be the most addictive. 

The US opioid crisis has been well covered in the press leading to similar concerns of an epidemic in the UK. Public Health England recently stated that 13% of the UK population are taking one or more opioid pain medication. It’s believed one third of people who regularly take painkillers misuse them and around 10% get addicted. 

If you’re concerned that someone you know is addicted to painkillers, it’s important you can spot the signs to make sure they get help. To guide you, the experts at Delamere residential rehab have complied this list of the top five signs someone has a painkiller addiction.

5 signs of painkiller addiction

Get support for painkiller addiction. Speak to Delamere

Increased drug seeking behaviour 

This may be one of the first signs of a painkiller addiction. If you notice someone is frequently taking more medication than prescribed or taking meds as a preventive measure without experiencing pain, they may have a problem.

Perhaps they borrow pain medication from other people or pretend to run out of painkillers so they can top up their dose. Shopping around for different doctors is another red flag. Any behaviour that shows someone’s desperation to get hold of a supply of painkillers could indicate an addiction. 

A worrying development is the increased number of opioids available to buy online. The opportunity to obtain pain medication without prescription can be incredibly dangerous for someone with an addiction. Often, opioids are also cut with other harmful substances or are supplied in a much more potent form. 

Earlier this year, the Home Office announced it would be banning 11 synthetic opioids in the UK to prevent these highly addictive drugs, which can be more powerful than fentanyl, claiming more lives.

Changes in personality and emotions

It may be obvious someone has a painkiller addiction due to their behaviour. Erratic mood swings are one of the first signs of a dependence. This is due to the way opioids affect the pleasure centre of the brain. 

With continued use of painkillers, essential neurotransmitters become altered and no longer function as they should. A person may experience irritability, anxiety or depression when the drugs wear off. 

Other psychological signs of painkiller addiction include:

  • Poor decision making such as engaging in risky situations
  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks
  • Memory problems and inability to think clearly
  • Withdrawing from social situations and not being themselves
  • Becoming more nervous or paranoid
  • Constantly fidgeting or being unable to sit still
  • Lying and becoming deceitful while trying to hide their behaviour

Look out for addiction signs in young people who may have access to painkillers. 15-25 year-olds are in the group most likely to abuse prescription drugs and those who already suffer with anxiety may be prone to developing a dependence.

Need help for prescription drug addiction? Speak to Delamere

Displaying physical symptoms

Along with the mental toll of long-term opioid use, you may notice physical symptoms in someone suspected of having a painkiller addiction. The first noticeable sign might be their general appearance. People who are abusing opioids often neglect their personal hygiene and worry less about how they look. There are also some marked physical signs of painkiller addiction:

  • Pupils that are smaller than usual
  • Droopy eyes or general drowsiness
  • Slurred speech and slowed reaction times
  • An unsteady gait or coordination difficulties
  • Nausea or vomiting with reduced appetite
  • Itching or skin problems
  • Low immune system leading to frequent illness

When someone develops an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking their painkillers. Are they looking feverish? Having muscle cramps? Trembling or confused? This is another sure sign that they’ve become reliant on painkillers to function.

Changes in work, home or social life

It may be obvious that someone is suffering if you live or work with them. Often these are the areas that see the most dramatic impact from painkiller addiction. You may find your partner starts neglecting their home duties, such as parenting responsibilities, or financial commitments. Whilst a previously reliable colleague may start taking time off or letting standards slip at work.

Here are some other common signs of painkiller addiction:

  • Conflicts with friends, family members and work colleagues
  • Spending money on painkillers leading to debt
  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Having accidents or getting in fights at home or at work
  • Neglecting children or creating a dangerous place to live
  • Having angry outbursts or being unable to control emotions
  • Allowing relationships to break down

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) can be the reason someone might struggle at work but it can also be the cause of painkiller addiction in the first place. Studies suggest that a period of unemployment can pave the way to addiction as people have more time on their hands and fewer restrictions. (2) 

Continued use despite negative consequences 

Usually when things start to go wrong in someone’s home and work life it’s a wake-up call. They redress the balance and get themselves back on track. But addiction isn’t a choice, and it certainly isn’t something you have control over. If someone you love has developed a painkiller addiction, you’ll notice they will go to great lengths to continue their destructive behaviour despite how bad things get. 

Many people who have a painkiller problem are in denial. Prescription drugs are seen as harmless due to their widespread use and so it’s easy for them to explain away their addiction. They may become defensive when you challenge them or make excuses for why they need to keep using. If you’re worried about someone, give them every opportunity to get the support they need. 

How can Delamere help with painkiller addiction? 

We help people combat painkiller addiction at our forest retreat in Cheshire. Our purpose-built wellness centre has been specifically designed to provide a calm and safe sanctuary to begin your journey of recovery. 

If you are a concerned friend or family member, we can help you stage an intervention to get your loved one the help they need. We have a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals who can provide everything from a clinical detox to one-to-one psychotherapy, along with a range of somatic healing therapies.

We believe that every addiction has a root cause, and we will help your loved one find theirs, develop tools to combat their addiction, and discover how to live a meaningful life without relying on painkillers. Every guest leaves with a future proof plan and 12-months’ aftercare to help them break the cycle and grow beyond addiction.  

If you are concerned about painkiller addiction, call us confidentially to speak to a member of the team today. Contact Delamere


1. Sherry H. Stewart et.al. Personality to Prescription Drug Misuse in Adolescents: Testing Affect Regulation, Psychological Dysregulation, and Deviance Proneness Pathways. Front. Psychiatry, 27 April 2021. Sec. Addictive Disorders. Volume 12 – 2021.

2. Azagba, S., Shan, L., Qeadan, F. et al. Unemployment rate, opioids misuse and other substance abuse: quasi-experimental evidence from treatment admissions data. BMC Psychiatry 21, 22 (2021). 

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About the author: Martin Preston

Martin created Delamere in order to provide exemplary care in first class facilities. Find out more about Martin on our team page.

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