Understanding the Long-Term Side Effects of Painkillers
Painkillers are drugs that are frequently recommended to treat the pain brought on by a range of medical problems, such as injuries, operations, and chronic pain. While taking prescription painkillers regularly can have some negative side effects, prolonged use can have serious negative consequences.
Below we’ll take a closer look at the long-term side effects of painkillers, the risks that come with their prolonged use, and alternative methods available for managing pain. Making decisions regarding your health and wellness requires having a thorough understanding of the potential dangers and problems linked to painkillers as well as the many pain treatment solutions available.
What are Painkillers?
Painkillers are medications that work by blocking pain signals in the brain. Painkillers come in a variety of forms, from opioids to acetaminophen. Opioids are the most powerful type of painkiller and are often used to manage severe pain, while NSAIDs and acetaminophen are typically used for milder pain.1
Common Types of Painkillers
The most common pain medication is opioid painkillers. Opioids include drugs including oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl. To help lessen pain, these medications act by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain.
Even when taken as directed, opioid medications can cause physical dependence due to their high level of addiction.
Drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are examples of NSAIDs. These drugs are used to reduce inflammation and pain, but they can also result in stomach ulcers and bleeding.
Acetaminophen is another type of pain medicine and is the active ingredient in drugs like Tylenol. While it’s generally considered safe, long-term use can cause liver damage, especially when taken in large doses.
Remember: it’s always best to consult with your doctor about the best type of pain management for your specific situation.
Short-term Effects of Painkillers
So what are the side effects of taking too many painkillers? In the short term, painkillers can be effective in managing pain. However, even when used correctly, they can still cause a range of side effects, including:2
- Slowed breathing
Long-term Effects of Painkillers
Long-term use of prescription painkillers can affect the body in a number of ways, including addiction, liver damage, and hormonal abnormalities. We will examine some of the long-term effects of painkillers in the sections below, as well as any potential risks connected to their prolonged usage.
- Addiction: Opioids are highly addictive and can lead to physical dependence even when used as prescribed.
- Liver damage: Long-term use of acetaminophen can cause liver damage, especially when taken in large doses.
- Respiratory problems: Opioid medication can cause respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening.
- Increased risk of heart problems: NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially when used for long durations.
- Hormonal imbalances: Opioids can disrupt the body’s hormonal balance, leading to problems such as infertility and sexual dysfunction.
It’s important to understand these effects to make informed decisions about pain management and to seek alternative treatments when appropriate.
Risks of Long-Term Painkiller Use
Long-term use of painkillers can not only result in side effects but also other risks. These can include:
- Tolerance: Over time, the body can become tolerant to painkillers, meaning that higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of pain relief.
- Dependence: Long-term use of opioids can lead to physical dependence, which means the body becomes reliant on the drug to function normally.
- Withdrawal: When someone who is physically dependent on opioids stops taking them, they can experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and uncomfortable.
It’s important to understand the signs of prescription drug abuse. If these signs begin to take place, then these risks may follow soon after.
Alternative Methods for Pain Management
Although painkillers are effective, alternative approaches can be explored for long-term pain management. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acupuncture, massage therapy, and physical therapy. Physical therapy can help improve strength and mobility, while acupuncture and massage therapy can reduce pain and inflammation. CBT can also be effective in managing chronic pain by helping individuals change their thought patterns and behaviors related to pain.
It’s important to note that alternative methods for pain management may not be effective for everyone and should always be discussed with a healthcare provider. However, exploring these options can be an effective way to reduce reliance on pain medication and promote overall well-being.
Find Healing with Elevate Rehab
Although painkillers can be effective in managing pain, using them comes with a range of potential long-term side effects and risks. It’s critical to be aware of and take steps to manage these, including monitoring use, seeking help for painkiller addiction, and exploring alternative methods for pain management.
If you or someone you love is struggling with painkiller addiction, Elevate Rehab can help. We offer individualized treatment plans that include drug and alcohol detox, painkiller rehab, and research-proven therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). By addressing the root causes of addiction and providing ongoing, holistic support, Elevate Rehab can help you achieve lasting recovery.
- Queremel Milani DA, Davis DD. Pain Management Medications. [Updated 2023 Feb 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560692/
- NIDA. 2021, June 1. Prescription Opioids DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-opioids on 2023, April 26
Scott Friend, MSW, M.S.
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