How Do Painkillers Work?
Most commonly, painkillers contain opioids, a class of chemicals that act upon opioid receptors found throughout the brain and central nervous system. These receptors play important roles in regulating bodily functions, including pain perception and mood.
When activated, the cells associated with these receptors release substances called neurotransmitters that cause euphoric feelings and pain-relieving properties. Opioid analgesics (also known as opiates) mimic natural endorphins to relieve pain.
However, in some cases, they produce an overdose effect that causes nausea, drowsiness, and respiratory depression. This is why it’s important to never over-medicate or mix painkillers with other medications such as benzodiazepines.
Signs of Painkiller Addiction
Signs of painkiller addiction include uncontrollable craving, compulsive behavior, sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, depression, and isolation. Since dependence happens gradually over weeks or months, people experiencing these symptoms may not realize right away that they’re battling an issue.
However, early detection can help prevent long-term problems. Once you recognize the signs, contact your physician immediately and ask him/her to refer you to an expert on substance abuse recovery.
Remember that addictive tendencies develop when certain areas of the brain malfunction during reward processing. As such, there are unique patterns of physical changes that occur within addicts’ brains depending on which part of the process gets disrupted.
For example, studies show that the frontostriatal pathway plays a crucial role in mediating responses to rewards. Deficits along this pathway result in decreased motivation, whereas excess activation leads to excessive risk-taking behaviors. Brain scans have revealed distinct differences in the properties of these areas in addicted and nonaddicted individuals.
Do Painkillers Cause Withdrawal?
Long-term usage of moderate to high doses of painkillers can trigger physical and psychological reactions once individuals stop taking them. The most common are headaches, fatigue, nausea, and insomnia.
Even short stints off of prescribed meds can cause serious discomfort. While most withdrawals last only a few days, some patients report feeling sick for up to two weeks following cessation.
People dealing with these symptoms should weigh their options in regard to medically-assisted detox. It’s also possible that underlying mental health conditions are at the center of the abuse issue and can be treated in inpatient or outpatient rehab.
Symptoms of Painkiller Withdrawal
Distinct symptoms accompany painkiller abuse disorder. The symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable to downright painful. Some of the most common effects include:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Intense cravings
- Watery eyes
It’s important to be aware of the potential timeline for painkiller withdrawal to better prepare yourself for what lies ahead. The following section outlines an example of the potential painkiller withdrawal timeline.
Potential Painkiller Withdrawal Timeline
The painkiller withdrawal timeline is similar to other timelines involving opioid medications. This list provides an accurate example of the potential timeline after use is discontinued.
Normally individuals will begin feeling the effects of withdrawal anywhere from 12 to 24-hours after their last use. Initial symptoms include anxiety about the approaching symptoms and not having medication, watery eyes, frequent yawning, and restlessness. One of the most common side effects of withdrawal is insomnia, which eventually sets in during stage two. However, before this happens, users will be extremely fatigued, and may sleep throughout the duration of days one and two.
During the second and third days, individuals will enter a more intense period of withdrawal. Nausea, stomach aches, muscle and body pain, vomiting, sweating, and cold chills will become more prevalent. Individuals will also begin suffering from insomnia because of restless leg syndrome. This is one of the most demoralizing parts of withdrawal because the mind wants to rest, but the body won’t allow it.
Symptoms continue during this stage; however, nausea and vomiting may subside, and individuals will begin to keep food down regularly. Muscle aches may become less severe, and the heart rate will decrease slightly as well as blood pressure. Cold chills will persist, and there’s still no relief for insomnia.
Most of the symptoms will completely subside at this point. However, individuals will still be extremely sensitive to hot and cold as the body adjusts to life without painkillers. The process can be compared to learning how to do everything over again, which is essentially what is happening. Insomnia will still be an issue, with a couple of hours of sleep per night becoming possible.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Phase
Post-acute withdrawal is the period that extends weeks or months after detox that can lead to possible relapse. It’s the random return of some of the common symptoms of the detox period, but only for a brief period. This is most likely triggered by some type of mental stimulus when a situation arises that reminds the user of painkillers.
Luckily, effective treatments exist for painkiller abuse disorder for individuals going through the detoxification process. However, these medications are typically only available during medically-assisted detox.