Pain Pill Addiction or Pain killer abuse is a very common occurrence among orthopedic patients. These patients generally belong to the elderly age group and have chronic diseases, like arthritis, back pain, and so on; for which they cannot find a permanent cure. They tend to assume that taking painkiller pills is the only way they can lead a pain free life. This is the central process in all addictions, like ecstacy addiction, alcohol addiction, and so on.

This type of addiction is not specific to any particular drug and can occur with any medication which gives the person freedom from the chronic pain for some time. Sometimes it may also happen that the medication taken by the patient may not have any analgesic properties. However, by placebo effect it gives the patient a sense of relief from pain or just the secure feeling that it will prevent pain.

Causes of Pain Pill Addiction

Several orthopedic diseases have a treatment duration of months to years. Certain chronic painful conditions like low back ache, arthritis, etc., need a combination of physical therapy along with pain pills for improvement. However, due to the ease of pill treatment and the dramatic symptomatic relief given by them, the other modalities of treatment are ignored. This leads to incomplete recovery and dependence on the pain pills. Some individuals run into repeated cycles of painful and non-painful periods because of their disease condition and so are tempted to self medication with pain pills, which gives them continued relief. Though, on a short term basis this gives them satisfying results, it has several disastrous consequences in the longer term.

Side Effects of Pain Pill Addiction

The pain pills normally used for chronic painful conditions, like neck spasm, back pain, knee cap pain, and so on, are acetaminophen, diclofenac, ibuprofen, and so on. These belong to the category known as NSAID (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs). These medications are meant to be taken along with antacids as they increase the acids secreted in the stomach. Prolonged use of these pills is known to cause stomach ulcers and even cancer. The analgesic (pain killer) effect of these medications also decreases with prolonged use. Thus, higher does are needed to achieve the same effect in a pain killer addict. The ulcers near the entrance of the stomach are particularly dangerous as they are near important blood vessels. If these blood vessels are exposed to the stomach acid they erupt into the stomach causing a major blood loss, which is expelled through vomiting. This vomiting of blood is called hematemesis and is an emergency. If not treated it can cause death within an hours time !

Pain pills normally affect the nervous system of the body and decrease the substances involved in transmission of pain. Thus, the basic disease process remains unaffected and pain is felt the moment the action of the last taken tablet is over. Hence, people taking pain pills for back pain of prolonged duration can end with leg weakness, and later full blown paralysis. Apart from this pain pills are known to affect the kidneys and the liver if taken on a long term basis. Elderly people, who have an already worn out kidney because of aging, are more prone to develop kidney diseases after taking pain pills for more than 6 months. Liver damage is another danger which has to be borne in mind. Liver failure and kidney failure may not be immediately life-threatening but they can effectively start a cascade of events, which gradually causes malfunctioning of several other systems in the body. It is only after repeated damage over the years to these organs that the body starts showing changes related to the failure of organs. Hence, at the time liver failure or kidney failure are discovered, its too late for any treatment to restore it back to normal.

Psychological dependence on pain pills is also another spectrum of this addiction. In this category are the people who do not have any reason for taking the pain pill. They are mostly people who have recovered from an orthopedic disease, but continue to feel that their disease persists. So they continue to take the pain pills under the belief that it gives them protection against painful episodes. The over the counter availability of pain killers favors this attitude, as they do not need any kind of prescription. These people are highly resistant simple treatment and frequently need the combined treatment of a psychiatrist and orthopedist.

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Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on September 2, 2010