Are you addicted to painkillers?

woman holding pills and a glass of water (PHOTO:GETTY IMAGES)
woman holding pills and a glass of water (PHOTO:GETTY IMAGES)
Grace Cary

How many times have you had a minor headache and ran to the medicine cabinet or took painkillers just before you start your period so that you won’t feel the expected pain? Have you ever tried to convince your doctor to prescribe something much more stronger than what he had previously prescribed for you? Well, these are signs that you could be addicted to painkillers.  

What are painkillers?

Painkillers are pills that are used to relieve or reduce pain. They have different functions and they may be given for a specific purpose, for example, for a toothache or post-surgery pain. There are two types of painkillers – over-the-counter painkillers and prescription painkillers. Over the-counter painkillers can be bought without a prescription, while prescription painkillers are those that need a prescription from an authorised prescriber to be legally bought. When used appropriately, they can alleviate minor pain for a one-time user or improve the quality of life for someone who’s suffering from a chronic pain. Painkillers are easily available over the counter so they’re more vulnerable to being abused.

How an addiction develops

The addiction usually starts with getting painkillers with the hope of easing the pain.  This may lead to dependence on the pills, which may be physical or psychological. When the physical pain has been healed, the individual may still feel the need to take more painkillers because they fear that the pain may reoccur. They start thinking that they need painkillers to survive. Psychological trauma, like abuse, depression and anxiety, can also lead to the abuse of painkillers. 


The most blatant sign of addiction is to use painkillers for a very long time. The people who are addicted start by taking the pills because something hurts, but now they’re just taking them because they like how they make them feel. Another potential sign that a person may be addicted to painkillers is being drowsy and tired all the time, having poor memory, having joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, insomnia and headaches.

Signs to watch out for

Once the person becomes dependent on painkillers, they will have some lifestyle and behavioural changes. They will spend less time with friends and family and miss out on activities. They will also start being absent at work or perform poorly. They seem to be preoccupied by when they will take their next dose. They will also deliberately take more pills than what the doctor has prescribed. Some even go to the extent of buying more painkillers on the street or stealing prescription pads from doctor’s offices and illegally writing their own prescriptions. The consistent abuse alters the normal functioning of the body and this can result in more serious complications such as a compromised immune system, heart disease, kidney failure, gastrointestinal malfunctions or even death. Tell your doctor if you think you have painkiller addiction and never be ashamed to ask for help.