If I Take Too Much Pain Medicine, Will It Stop Being Effective?

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Question: If I Take Too Much Pain Medicine, Will It Stop Being Effective?

Answer: This is a complex question, and generally refers to a phenomenon we call tolerance. Usually we're talking about the opioids or narcotic medications, in this case. The idea is that the body becomes resistant to this medication over time, thus requiring larger and larger doses. Although scientists talk about this, we know that this can happen pharmacologically, clinically we don't see this that often. Often times, patients remain on the same dose of opioids for long periods of time without requiring increasing doses.

In some ways, tolerance can be a good thing, particularly when we're talking about tolerance to some of the side effects to narcotics. As you know, opioids can cause drowsiness, can cause itching. Generally, those side effects go away within two weeks of long-term opioid treatment likely due to tolerance.

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