Becoming addicted to pain medication is a disease. This is because the painkillers (e.g. Vicodin, OxyContin,
Physical impact of pain killers
Doctor Clifford Bernstein, a pain management physician and author on Spine-health.com clearly outlines how these pain medications physically affect the body:
- The brain responds to the pain medicine by increasing the number of receptors for the drug, and the nerve cells in the brain stop functioning
- The body stops producing endorphins (the body's natural painkillers) because it is receiving opiates instead
- The degeneration of the nerve cells in the brain causes a physical dependency on an external supply of opiates, and reducing or not taking the pain killers causes a painful series of physical changes, known as withdrawal.
At this point many people (an estimated 7% who are prescribed narcotic analgesics) continue taking the pain medication to avoid the withdrawal symptoms rather than to treat the original pain. When this occurs the person is dependent on or addicted to the prescription pain medicine.
Pain killers may actually increase pain
Most people do not know that taking painkillers over a long period of time may in fact increase a patient’s sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia). This happens because long term use of opiate painkillers causes a decrease in your ability to tolerate pain, and an increased sensitivity to pain. When the pain increases, people are often led to believe they need to take higher doses of pain medication than they were on initially.
For those who are addicted to narcotic pain medications, a detoxification program is often needed. Pain killer addiction is a chemical, physical disease, one that requires expert medical treatment in a safe, humane environment.