How To Quit Using Prescription Painkillers

drugs affecting the brain

The use of prescription painkillers for pain management has seen a dramatic increase over the last 15 to 20 years. While the use of prescription painkillers has seen great medical benefits for the management of chronic pain—especially for those afflicted with cancer—the dramatic increase in the use of prescription drugs has also led to an increase in the abuse of these drugs. Prescription painkiller abuse has quadrupled from 1999 to 2010 and the rates of overdose deaths have risen sharply in both women and teens.

With the use and abuse of prescription painkillers reaching epidemic proportions, it is important to understand the importance of knowing signs of addiction are present. It is also important to note the importance of medical detoxification in order to withdraw safely from prescription drugs as well as alternative options to deal with chronic pain.


Why Opioid Abuse Leads to Heroin Use

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “health care providers wrote 295 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.” With 295 million narcotic prescriptions in circulation in one year, many of those pills end up in the wrong hands. When a doctor prescribes pain medication, he is typically operating in good faith that you are not going to abuse or distribute the medication elsewhere. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Also, instead of going to a pain management specialist, it is often the case that people just go to their general practitioner over and over again, who is not specialized in opioid use or long-term pain management. For this reason, many people are on a long-term program of use for an intended short-term use medication. And, the longer you use an opioid, the more of a dependence you could develop, and the higher likelihood of developing the disease of addiction.

Aside from out-and-out doctor shopping, another way that pain medication is illegally obtained is through the family medicine cabinet. If anyone other than the person the medication was prescribed to has access to the medicine cabinet, or other location, there is a potential for abuse and distribution. With these increasing overdose and death rates, lawmakers have created some obstacles to prescription drug abuse, like stiffer penalties, more comprehensive databases for pharmacies, and more safeguards in doctors’ offices.

All of these attempts at reducing the addiction and death rate to opiates have been effective, but we are still a long way from putting an end to opiate abuse, addiction, and distribution. Additionally, it has been found that because of the changes in narcotic pain pill manufacturing and distribution, many are using heroin because it is cheaper.

OxyContin, for instance, is not manufactured in generic form. You have to buy the brand name, so it can be expensive for someone to support a habit solely on OxyContin. Unfortunately, an indirect consequence of the stiffer prescription laws and monitoring is the proportional rise in heroin use. Additionally, heroin is more readily available than OxyContin.

The Use of Medical Detoxification

If an individual is looking to quit the use of prescription painkillers, the safest way to do so is through medical detoxification. The importance of medical detoxification in regards to quitting the use of prescription painkillers is that it allows someone to manage withdrawal symptoms safely in a controlled environment as well as aid in the reduction of both the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal.

Some of the symptoms associated with withdrawal from prescription painkillers include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Difficulty Breathing

The use of medical detox in the process of recovering from prescription painkiller abuse also includes the diagnosis of any co-occurring disorders that may be tied to prescription painkiller abuse which can include the following:

  • Chronic pain conditions
  • Poor mental and physical health
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder


Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Painkiller Addiction

There are several signs that you or a loved one is becoming or has become addicted to prescription painkillers. By recognizing these symptoms, options centering on the cease of use of prescription painkillers can be implemented. Some common symptoms seen with prescription painkiller abuse can include:

  • Drowsiness or lack of energy
  • The inability to concentrate or a lack of focus
  • Noticeable changes in behavior and social interactions
  • Changes in physical appearance (significant weight loss, dilated pupils, lack of sleep, etc.)
  • Noticeable increases in secretive behavior

Getting Off Prescription Painkillers

Opiate Detox

Attempting to suddenly stop using prescription painkillers can be extremely dangerous. Both the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms have the potential to be extremely uncomfortable. Detoxification in a controlled and closely monitored inpatient setting can help ease the withdrawal symptoms. Detox programs aim to reduce the amount of discomfort until the patient is stable enough to transition into a formal inpatient treatment program. Detox programs for prescription drug abuse can take place in a variety of settings: hospitals, clinics, drug treatment facilities, and psych wards.


Opioid withdrawal is difficult to endure, and is a contributing factor to relapse and continued abuse. Medications can be used to help with withdrawal symptoms. Using these types of medications eases the patient from physical dependence. Some examples of common medications used to help ease withdrawal and promote recovery are Methadone, Suboxone, and Clonidine. There are also “rapid detox” programs, which claim to accelerate the detox period. The use of medication in drug or alcohol treatment and detox settings should be closely monitored. These replacement-type drugs need to be prescribed and administered under close medical supervision.

There are also “rapid detox” programs, which claim to accelerate the detox period. The use of medication in drug or alcohol treatment and detox settings should be closely monitored. These replacement-type drugs need to be prescribed and administered under close medical supervision.

Finding Alternative Options to Deal With Pain Without Prescription Painkillers

To avoid the potential pitfalls of the excessive and abusive use of prescription painkillers, there need to be viable alternatives available that can be utilized for pain management. These alternatives can be viewed as complementary and can be used in combination with other therapies. Some of these alternatives can include:

  • Exercise—in the long run, regular exercise can help minimize pain through the release of endorphins such as dopamine. Also, exercise can help keep muscles toned and keep joints from stiffening, and can keep off excess weight which can complicate pain symptoms.
  • Alternative Therapies—as a stand-alone treatment or as a supplement to painkillers, the use of alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, yoga, and biofeedback can be utilized for pain management and can act as a transition out of prescription-based pain relief.
  • Sleep—being able to get a great night’s rest on a consistent basis can make people less sensitive to pain. Ideally, people should get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
  • Supplements—the use of supplements such as fish oil, vitamin B, glucosamine, and chondroitin can help alleviate pain.
  • Heat and Ice—finding ways to utilize heat and ice treatments can help alleviate pain in the long run.

The Importance of Seeking Sound Medical Advice

If you’re living with chronic pain, considering alternative treatments can make a lot of sense in regard to quitting prescription painkillers. However, these alternatives need to be seen as being integrated within the framework of an overall pain management plan. Before trying any therapy option on your own you should seek sound medical advice. You and your doctor should talk about the pros and cons of different approaches to find what approaches will work the best for you.

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