February 9, 2024

Side Effects of Painkillers

image representing side effects of painkillers

Painkillers (analgesics) are medications designed to alleviate various types of pain, ranging from headaches and injuries to arthritis discomfort. There are different classes of painkillers: NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which reduce inflammation, and opioids, which alter the brain’s perception of pain. While some painkillers are available over the counter, others require a doctor’s prescription.

Painkillers differ from anesthetics used in surgeries in that they don’t deactivate nerves, and neither do they affect consciousness or perception of the environment.

Generally, anti-inflammatory painkillers are considered safe, but their overuse, prolonged use, or consumption in high doses can trigger side effects and complications.

Opioid painkillers, sharing many of these side effects, are subject to strict regulations due to their potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Addiction (opioid use disorder) presents on a spectrum from mild to severe, and it is not always immediately recognizable. Addiction to opioids is a chronic brain disorder that requires careful monitoring and management.

Short-Term Painkillers Side Effects

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These are some of the most common side effects of painkillers in the short-term.

Anti-inflammatory painkillers

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Common NSAIDs painkillers side effects include nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Some people may experience heartburn or indigestion.
  • Headaches and dizziness: NSAIDs can sometimes cause headaches and dizziness, particularly when first starting the medication or adjusting the dose.
  • Allergic reactions: Skin rashes, itching, and other mild allergic reactions are possible side effects of this class of medication.

Opioid painkillers

  • Nausea and vomiting: Opioid painkiller side effects like nausea and vomiting are commonplace when initiating opioid therapy or increasing the dosage.
  • Drowsiness and sedation: Opioids often cause significant drowsiness and a feeling of sedation, especially in the opening stages of treatment.
  • Constipation: Constipation is a prevalent side effect of opioids that can sometimes be severe.
  • Respiratory depression: In higher doses, opioids can slow breathing. Respiratory depression is a potentially life-threatening side effect.
image representing long-term side effects of painkillers

Long-term side effects of painkillers

Long-term effects of painkillers can be even more damaging.

Anti-Inflammatory painkillers

  • Gastrointestinal damage: Long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and increased risk of heartburn and stomach pain.
  • Kidney damage: Prolonged use of these medications can adversely affect kidney function.
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke: Some anti-inflammatory painkillers have been linked to an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke when used for an extended period.

Opioid painkillers

  • Tolerance and dependence: The sustained use of opioids leads to the development of tolerance (requiring more opioids to deliver the same effects) and dependence (requiring opioids to function normally and experiencing withdrawal symptoms in their absence.
  • Risk of addiction: Long-term use of opioids increases the risk of developing an addiction, characterized by compulsive use despite adverse outcomes.
  • Cognitive impairment: Chronic opioid use can affect cognitive functions, leading to issues with memory, attention, and decision-making.
  • Hormonal imbalance: Long-term opioid use can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to issues such as reduced libido, infertility, and depression.
  • Weakened immune system: Prolonged opioid use may impair the immune system, rendering the body more susceptible to infections.

Painkiller Addiction Effects

The side effects painkillers addiction – especially with opioids –  can have far-reaching effects on an physical, mental, and social well-being. 

Physical health effects

  • Tolerance and dependence: The body becomes accustomed to the drug, requiring more to achieve the same effect, leading to physical dependence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Abrupt cessation or reduction in usage can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms like muscle pain, sweating, nausea, and agitation.
  • Risk of overdose: Increased usage raises the risk of accidental overdose, which can be fatal, particularly with opioids.
  • Organ damage: Chronic use of painkillers can lead to liver and kidney damage, gastrointestinal issues, and cardiovascular problems.

Mental and emotional health effects

  • Cognitive impairment: Long-term abuse can affect cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and decision-making.
  • Mood disorders: People may experience heightened anxiety, depression, and irritability, often inflaming co-occurring mental health conditions.
  • Behavioral changes: Addiction can lead to significant changes in behavior, such as increased secrecy, withdrawal from social activities, and neglect of responsibilities.

Social and lifestyle impacts

  • Relationship strain: Addiction can strain relationships with family, friends, and colleagues, often leading to isolation.
  • Employment issues: Decreased performance and increased absenteeism at work or school may occur, possibly leading to job loss or academic failure.
  • Financial problems: The cost of sustaining a painkiller addiction, along with potential job loss, may cause significant financial strain.
  • Legal issues: Possession and use of illegal painkillers, or obtaining prescription drugs through illegal means, can result in legal consequences.
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Call Addiction Hotline to Get Help for Painkiller Addiction

Across the United States, many people need opioid addiction treatment but have no idea how to connect with the professional help they need. Reach out to Addiction Hotline and speak in confidence with experienced professionals committed to helping you find evidence-based treatment.

If you are ready to begin detoxing from painkillers right away, we can refer you to medical detox centers throughout the state of California. FDA-approved medications can streamline withdrawal and may also be effective during ongoing treatment. When you call Addiction Hotline, you can also get referrals to inpatient or outpatient rehabs near you.

Call 855-701-0479 today and begin your recovery from opioid addiction tomorrow.

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