Jambo Africa Online’s Senior Health Correspondent, Boitumelo Ntsoane, looks one of the dangerous health condition: addiction to pain killers

How many times have you had a minor headache and ran to the medicine cabinet or took painkillers just before you start with your periods, so you won’t feel the expected pain, or maybe trying to convince your doctor to prescribe something more stronger than what he prescribed previously? Well those are signs of painkillers addiction that most people are unaware of. 

Painkiller are drugs that are used to relive or reduce pain. They have different functions and they may be given for specific purpose, for example for tooth ache or post-operative pain. Painkillers can be categorized in two ways. Over the counter painkillers (OTC) –  those that can be bought over the counter without a prescription or Prescription painkillers – those that needs a prescription from an authorized prescriber to be legally bought or dispensed. There are a variety of forms that are available, they come in tablets, capsules, syrups, injections and so on. 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. Because they are available over the counter, they’re more vulnerable to being abused and it’s easy to develop a painkiller addiction. 

Painkiller addiction may develop because of different reasons depending on an individual. The addiction usually starts with getting painkillers with the hope of easing the disturbing pain. This may lead to dependence on the drug which may be physical or psychological. When the physical pain has been healed an individual may still feel the need to take more painkillers because they fear that the pain may reoccur, creating a psychological need. This is when one starts to think that they need painkillers to survive in a daily life. Psychological trauma, like abuse, depression and anxiety, can also lead to painkiller abuse. Exposure to the drugs from peers, family or coworkers are social factors that are associated with painkiller abuse. 

The signs and symptoms of addiction will start to be evident as time goes by. The most blatant sign of addiction is to use painkillers for a very long time. They start by taking the medication because something hurts, but now they’re just taking it because they like how it makes them feel. Another potential sign that a person may be addicted to painkillers is being drowsy and tired all the time. They have poor memory and concentration, because the drugs impairs their thinking ability. They complain of physical symptoms, such as joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, etc. 

Once the person becomes dependent on painkillers, there will start to be lifestyle and behavioral changes. Spending less time with friends and family, missing out on activities because they just don’t have the energy.This usually results in taking the rest of the day 

off at work or poor performance in class. They seem to be preoccupied by when they will take their next dose and whether they still have enough of the tablets in their pack. They deliberately take more or take it more often than what the doctor has prescribed. 

They don’t follow instructions rather they take them in a way that they think it suits them. 

Their addiction pushes them to lie to their doctors about losing a prescription or moving from one doctor to another in order to quench their thirst. They always feel like they don’t have enough medication to relieve their pain, so they opt for dodgy ways like buying drugs on the streets or stealing prescription pads from doctor’s offices and illegally writing their own prescriptions, or even worse, stealing drugs from a sick relative. They can even use a very large amount of money on painkillers unwittingly. 

Well, addiction can have unpleasant long term and short term effects on the addict. These consequences can impact the user physically, psychologically/mentally, and socially. The consistent abuse alters with the normal functioning of the body, this can result in more serious complications like compromised immunity, heart diseases, kidney failures, gastrointestinal malfunctions or even death due to overdose or toxicity. The mental or psychological health of the abuser is also affected where the person will have mood swings, anger issues, paranoia or confusion. They may be less interested in activities that they used to enjoy, have damaged relationships and remain isolated from family and friends 

Addicts may try to withdraw from using the drugs which may result in withdrawal symptoms like tremors, irregular heartbeat, and respiration problem, depression etc. 

Withdrawal symptoms can be complicated and one needs to be under supervision of a professional or a rehabilitation center. It’s always better to tell your doctor if you think you have painkiller addiction or contact a drug rehabilitation center. Never be ashamed to ask for help, you’re never alone.