Warning Signs You May Have Crossed the Line

Chronic pain affects more than a third of all Americans, and many manage this pain with prescription drugs. Some people worry that taking narcotic pain relievers will be addictive. While these medications are designed to reduce sensitivity to pain, they also create a feeling of euphoria – a feeling some people may crave. If your doctor has prescribed medicine to treat your pain and you take it as directed, you are less likely to have a problem.

But some people get addicted, and there are usually some warning signs along the way, like these:

1. You think about your medications a lot.

One of the first signs of addiction is becoming concerned about two things: when you can take your next dose and if you have enough supplies, says Debra Jay, co-author of Love first: a family’s intervention guide.

Watching the clock so you can take your next dose can be a problem, notes Joe Schrank, MSW, co-founder of Rebound Brooklyn Recovery Center in New York City.

“If it’s a new dental job and you’re in pain, it makes sense,” he says. But if it lasts for a while, it is possible that you have become dependent on the medicine.


Dependence and addiction are not the same thing. You can be physically addicted to a drug, but not addicted to it.

Confuses? Here is the difference. When you are physically dependent on a medicine your body has developed a tolerance to it and you need higher doses of the medicine to get the same effect.

When you’re addicted to a drug, it’s more than physical, it’s also emotional. Addiction can be associated with uncontrolled behavior. You continue to use drugs, even if it causes serious problems at work or school, in your family or in your social life.

2. You are taking different amounts than prescribed by your doctor.

You may be taking more than you should or more often than your doctor tells you to. If you think your doctor does not understand your pain level or has told you to take it whenever you need it, even if it is not what your doctor prescribed, it may be a problem. warning sign.


Do you lengthen the time between doses or reduce some of the doses you take so that you can take more later? If you try to control how you take your pain relievers instead of following your doctor’s instructions, you may have a problem.

“Anytime we try to control things it can be a really good indication of how out of control we are,” says Schrank.

3. You are a “shopping doctor”.

Are you going to see more than one doctor for the same prescription?

Once you stop working with your doctor and try to find someone else to write you another prescription, something might have changed.

Your goal may be to increase your supply of pain relievers so that you have as much as you need. But if it’s not what your doctor has prescribed, that’s cause for concern.

Are you looking for doctors known for overprescribing or “pill mills”? Have you lied and reported that you lost your prescription or that you were dishonest to a doctor about what you were previously prescribed?

“If we tell different doctors different things to get drugs, that’s a real red flag,” says Schrank.

4. You get pain relievers from other sources.

You feel like you don’t have enough medicine to relieve your pain, so you try to get more. These storage modes signal the possibility of a dependency:

  • Order medicines on the Internet.
  • Steal leftover or long forgotten prescription drugs from their medicine cabinets.
  • Stealing drugs from a sick relative or friend.
  • Buy prescription drugs from other people.
  • Steal prescription books from doctor’s offices and illegally write your own prescriptions.
  • Injury yourself so that you can go to a hospital emergency room and get a new prescription.
  • Buying drugs on the street.

5. You have been using pain relievers for a long time.

You probably started taking pain relievers because something was hurting you. If you’re still using narcotic pain relievers long after the pain is gone, Schrank says it’s time to seek help.

Maybe you take them because you like the way they make you feel, instead of relieving the pain. Or maybe you’ve started to have physical cravings. Both are signs of a problem.

“Pain relievers are meant to fill a gap or help you get through a rough time,” says Schrank. “It’s not really a way to maintain or manage chronic pain.”

6. You feel angry if someone tells you about it.

Have your friends or family tried to talk to you about how you use your medications? If you feel defensive or irritated when they approach you, you may be sinking too deep, says Schrank.

In fact, studies show that the degree of this anger isn’t just a sign that you might need treatment, but it can actually be an indicator of how well the treatment is working.

7. You are not quite yourself.

Maybe you aren’t taking care of yourself like you usually do. You are less concerned with your personal hygiene or your appearance.

Or you feel more sullen than usual. Do you feel more angry? Have your eating habits changed? Are you feeling nervous or nervous?

Another sign is changes in sleep. It is known that people who become addicted to drugs like morphine and codeine sleep their days, often in a dark, locked room, Jay says.

Have you strayed from your responsibilities? Maybe you haven’t paid your bills like before, neglected household chores, or called in sick at work. If you’re ignoring your kids, your responsibilities, or life in general, it’s time to ask for help, Jay says.

What to do

If you recognize yourself or someone you love in any of these signs, even though you are not sure if it is an addiction, the next step is to seek help and to get more information. Learn more about staging an intervention.

It can be easy to misuse pain relievers, even if you try not to. “The key is honesty – honesty with doctors, trusted friends, addiction professionals, but most of all with ourselves,” Schrank says.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. They can refer you to a treatment center or an addiction specialist.

You can also call a local drug treatment center, which has addiction experts trained to recognize the signs and give you the help you may need. Look for a center certified by the state in which you live.

You can also call 800-662-HELP (4357), the national helpline operated by the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It provides free and confidential information and referrals on addiction and mental health.

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