Painkiller addiction is an epidemic in the U.S. Opioids, drugs that help to alleviate pain, can be highly addictive. Some are illegal, like heroin and fentanyl. Others are legal prescription medications. These include drugs like oxycodone (OxyContin\u00ae, Percocet\u00ae), hydrocodone (Vicodin\u00ae), and codeine. Prescription painkillers help millions of people live with less pain, but if they are abused, addiction can set in. And the consequences can be severe. In 2017, opioid painkillers resulted in over 49,000 overdoses. But how does someone become addicted to painkillers? How Painkiller Addiction Starts Painkiller abuse usually starts when someone is prescribed opioid medication. If you have something like a mild headache, then over-the-counter medication can be effective. For more severe pain, a doctor is likely to recommend an opioid painkiller. \u00a0This type of pain can be caused by different conditions, including: \tInjury \tSurgery \tArthritis \tLow back pain \tMultiple sclerosis \tNerve damage \tFibromyalgia \tHeadaches Chronic pain can interfere with a person\u2019s daily functioning and be a source of stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, isolation, and anger. When no other treatment alleviates the pain, opioids can help. For this reason, someone with chronic pain may find it difficult to stop using opioids. Even though the pain might be managed without the opioids, they work very effectively. And when someone is hooked on them, they experience compulsions and withdrawal symptoms. What Makes Opioid Painkillers Addictive? Opioids treat the kind of pain that doesn\u2019t respond well to other medication by binding to opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord and disrupting pain signals. Opioids tell your brain you\u2019re not in pain. They can also give you a high, resulting in feelings of: \tEuphoria \tCalm \tRelaxation This is another reason people develop painkiller addiction. You may suffer an injury and experience intense pain that requires an opioid, but you come to enjoy the drug\u2019s effects. When the injury heals and the pain fades, you may still crave the drug, despite it having no medical use. Doctors prescribe opioid medication to be taken at certain doses and particular times. Careful prescription helps treat pain while reducing the risk of addiction. But people may take the drug more often than recommended\u2014and at higher doses\u2014to get high. This is known as prescription drug abuse. It can result in increased tolerance to the drug and eventually addiction. Soon, you start taking painkillers just to feel normal. People at Risk of Painkiller Addiction There\u2019s no exact way to tell who will become addicted to painkillers. The causes of addiction are complex. Your genes, upbringing, environment, and lifestyle may all make a difference. But there are certain people who have a higher risk of becoming addicted. Risk factors include: \tPrevious history with addiction to alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs \tFamily history of addiction \u2013 You may have inherited specific genes that increase your risk of addiction. \tYour age \u2013 Prescription drug abuse is most common in young people. This is because they may experiment with a painkiller in order to get high. \tMental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) \u2013 Painkillers don\u2019t only suppress physical pain. They can numb emotional pain and ease feelings of worry or sadness. If you suffer from depression and get prescribed opioids for a broken leg, you may continue to take them after your leg has healed because you\u2019ve come to rely on the painkillers to deal with emotional distress. This is known as a dual diagnosis. \tEasy access to prescription drugs \u2013 Someone in your house may use or abuse them. This makes it easy to access opioids when you don\u2019t need them. Or perhaps you live in an area where prescription drug abuse is common, and you feel pressure to join friends in experimenting. The Signs of Painkiller Addiction\u00a0 If you feel your opioid use is getting out of control, or fear this for someone else, there are some warning signs you should look out for. Physical Symptoms\u00a0 \tPinpoint or dilated pupils \tTrouble with coordination \tInsomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness) \tItchiness \tConstipation \tIrregular heartbeat \tExcessive sweating Behavioral Symptoms\u00a0 \tSlurred or impaired speech \tBorrowing or stealing medication \tSpending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from painkiller abuse \t\u2018Doctor shopping\u2019 (visiting multiple doctors for prescriptions) \tGetting prescription pain medications from other sources, such as the internet or the street, or by illegally writing your own prescriptions Cognitive Symptoms\u00a0 \tTrouble focusing or concentrating \tImpaired judgment \tDisorientation \tConfusion Psychological Symptoms\u00a0 \tMood swings \tIrritability \tAnxiety \tDepression \tIsolation There are other signs of painkiller addiction, such as: \tLong-term use of prescription pain medications \tFeeling angry or defensive when someone talks to you about it \tNot feeling like your normal self \u2013 You may have noticed you\u2019ve become more reclusive, jittery, and agitated. You might start neglecting areas of your life, such as: \tPersonal hygiene \tDiet \tExercise \tSocial life \tRelationships \tWork \tChores \tBills How Painkiller Addiction Can Be Stopped If you\u2019ve been prescribed painkillers and feel worried about your use, tell your doctor straight away. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action, especially new ways to deal with your pain. It\u2019s important to be honest with friends and family, as well as yourself. The first step in recovering from painkiller addiction is recognizing the problem for what it is. There are a number of treatment options for addiction to painkillers: \tAlternative forms of pain management, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBD), exercise, yoga, and physiotherapy \tSupport groups, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) \tMedical painkiller detox (if your drug addiction is advanced) \tInpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, or intensive outpatient program \tCounseling or therapy Drawing on your support network is crucial. Reach out to family or friends for help if you need it. Often, having a conversation about painkiller addiction with a loved one is the first step to recovery. If you\u2019re worried someone you care about is addicted to painkillers, look out for the telltale signs listed above, and reach out to a treatment center for guidance. With the right kind of support and treatment, anyone can recover from painkiller addiction and lead a healthy and happy life.