Skip to Navigation

Addiction to Pain Medications
Share This:

Full Episode

Myth or Medicine

Second Opinion 5

Image of show panelists

Other Resources

Resource Description: 
ASAM is a professional society representing over 3,000 physicians and associated professionals dedicated to increasing access and improving the quality of addiction treatment; educating physicians, other medical professionals and the public; supporting research and prevention; and promoting the appropriate role of physicians in the care of patients with addictions.
CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.
It’s difficult to face up to addiction. Many people are turning to the internet for support and education. This site is a place where people who think they might have “a problem” can come for current news and research about addiction and recovery, as well as reviews of books and media about addiction, recovery, and practices that support recovery.
NIDA's mission is to lead the Nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction.
Episode number: 

What usually starts innocently enough as taking pain medication appropriately prescribed by a doctor, can turn into a deadly addiction for some. Jennifer Matesa shares her story of the darkest days of her addiction to her recovery.

(Source: Mayo Clinic) Prescription drug abuse is the use of a prescription medication in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor, such as for the feelings you get from the drug. Prescription drug abuse or problematic use includes everything from taking a friend's prescription painkiller for your backache to snorting or injecting ground-up pills to get high. Drug abuse may become ongoing and compulsive, despite the negative consequences.

An increasing problem, prescription drug abuse can affect all age groups, but it's more common in young people. The prescription drugs most often abused include painkillers, sedatives, anti-anxiety medications and stimulants.

Early identification of prescription drug abuse and early intervention may prevent the problem from turning into an addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction to Pain Medications

Signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse depend on the particular drug. Because of their mind-altering properties, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

  • Opioids, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) and those containing hydrocodone (Vicodin), used to treat pain
  • Anti-anxiety medications and sedatives, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), and hypnotics, such as zolpidem (Ambien), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
  • Stimulants, such as methylphenidate (Ritalin), used to treat ADHD and certain sleep disorders

Signs of Addiction to Pain Medications include:

  • Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive mood swings or hostility
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Poor decision making
  • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
  • Continually "losing" prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor

Treatment of Addiction to Pain Medications

Treatment options for prescription drug abuse vary, but counseling, also called talk therapy or psychotherapy, is typically a key part of treatment.


Counseling — whether it's individual, group or family counseling — can help determine what factors may have led to the prescription drug abuse, such as an underlying mental health problem or relationship problems. Counseling can also help you learn the skills needed to resist cravings, avoid abuse of drugs and help prevent recurrence of prescription drug problems.

Through counseling, you can learn strategies for developing positive relationships and identify ways to become involved in healthy activities that aren't related to drugs.


Depending on the drug and usage, detoxification may be needed as part of treatment. Withdrawal can be dangerous and should be done under a doctor's care.

  • Opioid withdrawal. Buprenorphine, buprenorphine with naloxone (Suboxone) or methadone may be used by doctors under specific and regulated conditions to ease the symptoms of withdrawal from opioid painkillers. Other drugs — including clonidine (Catapres), a medication primarily used for high blood pressure — can be used to help manage opioid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Withdrawal from sedatives or anti-anxiety medications (anxiolytics). If you've used prescription sedatives or anti-anxiety medications for a long time, it may take weeks or even months to slowly taper off them. Because of lengthy withdrawal syndrome symptoms, it can take that long for your body to adjust to low doses of the medication and then get used to taking no medication at all. You may need other types of medications to stabilize your mood or help with anxiety, and you'll need to work closely with your doctor.
  • Stimulant withdrawal. There are no approved drugs used for treating stimulant withdrawal. Treatment typically focuses on tapering off the medication and relieving withdrawal symptoms — such as sleep, appetite and mood disturbances.

Overcoming prescription drug abuse can be challenging and stressful, often requiring the support of family, friends or organizations. Here's where to look for help:

  • Trusted family members or friends
  • Twelve-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous
  • Your church or religious organization, which may have a Celebrate Recovery program
  • School counselor or nurse
  • Support groups, either in person or on a trustworthy website

Your employee assistance program, which may offer counseling services for substance abuse problems.

Medline Plus

Medline Description: 

Interactive Medical Search logoConduct an off-site search from MedlinePlus.  These up-to-date search results are based on search terms specific to Second Opinion Key Points.

Have a comment?

If you'd like to send a comment to the producers of the show, please use our contact form, or feel free to post a comment on the wall of our Facebook Page.