Pain pill addiction: Top 10 signs and symptoms

Some people, even doctors, confuse prescription drug dependency with addiction. Dr. Burson describes pain pill addiction signs and symptoms here. Plus, 10 questions to ask yourself about pain pill use (and possible addiction) here.

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By definition, addiction is psychological

There’s still much misunderstanding about what it means to have the disease of addiction. Some people, even doctors, still believe that physical dependency to a drug is the same thing as addiction. It’s not. You don’t have to be physically dependent to have addiction. On the other hand, you can have physical dependency without having the disease of addiction. This is because addiction is more about the psychological processes that go on in the mind of the addict. There’s an obsession to think about the drug, worry about running out of it, and a compulsion to take the drug, even if it causes problems.

You might be a pain pill addict if…

Many people taking opioid pain pills prescribed by their doctors wonder if they are addicted. Here are a few questions that anyone who is taking prescription medications that are potentially addictive can ask themselves.

10 signs of pain pill addiction

1. Do I take more medication than prescribed? Do I take early doses, or extra doses?

2. Do I take medication in ways it’s not intended? For example, do I snort it, or chew it for faster onset? Do I inject it?

3. Do I get medication from friends, family, or acquaintances because I run out of my prescription pills early?

4. Do I become intoxicated, or high, from my medication? Without telling my doctor?

5 Do I get prescriptions from more than one doctor, without telling them about each other?

6. Do I look forward to my next dose of medication?

7. Do I get impaired from my medication, to the point I’m unable to function normally?

8. Do I take pain medication to treat bad moods, anxiety, or to get to sleep?

9. Do I spend a great deal of time worrying about running out of medication?

10. Do I spend a great deal of time thinking about my medication, and how it makes me feel?

3 more prescription pain med questions

* Do I drink alcohol with medication, even though the pharmacist advised against this?

* Do I use street drugs like cocaine, marijuana, or others?

* Have I driven when under the influence of pills, when I know I shouldn’t be driving?

How do I know if I’m addicted to pain pills?

One “yes” answer to any of these questions is worrisome, though not necessarily diagnostic of addiction. Addiction is easier to diagnose with multiple “yes” answers. Sometimes addiction only becomes apparent over time. This is why doctors need to see patients frequently who are prescribed potentially addicting medication, like pain pill, stimulant, and benzodiazepines.

I think of addiction as a continuum. Some people taking prescriptions may have a few worrisome symptoms, like taking an extra pill occasionally. Perhaps they did this because of a transient increase in pain. Without any other symptoms, I probably wouldn’t diagnose addiction. At the other end of the spectrum, if a patient is crushing pills to inject or snort, I feel confident making the diagnosis of addiction. The in-between patients need careful, in-depth evaluation to decide if addiction is present.

Struggling with painkiller addiction?

You can give an end to your opioid pain pill abuse and addiction problem, and learn more about what happens when you seek help in this Painkiller Addiction Treatment Program and Help GUIDE…and get rid of opioids once and for all.


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About the author
Jana Burson M.D. is board-certified in Internal medicine, and certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. After practicing primary care for many years, she became interested in the treatment of addiction. For the last six years, her practice has focused exclusively on Addiction Medicine. She has written a book about prescription pain pill addiction: "Pain Pill Addiction: Prescription for Hope." Also see Dr. Burson's blog here.
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