Are All Prescription Pain Medicines Addictive?

Question: Are All Prescription Pain Medicines Addictive?

Answer: Whether or not a person becomes addicted to prescription pain medicines depends on the reason the individual's taking the drug, the type of pain they have and the duration of treatment. Many people can become physically dependent on a pain medicine but that doesn't mean that they're addicted.

It's important to make a distinction between addiction and physical dependence. Physical dependence is when someone develops tolerance to a substance or experiences withdrawal when they stop taking that substance abruptly. Addiction is when someone has problems in their life related to using the substance, yet they continue to use this substance despite these problems.

It's also important to remember that there are different kinds of pain and different types of medications. Anti-inflammatory medications such as prescription strength Advil or Motrin don't pose a risk of physical dependence or addiction. Another group of medications is for nerve pain, sometimes called neuropathic pain. These medications include anti-seizure medicines, some types of antidepressants and Imitrex for migraines. They don't typically cause physical dependence or addiction either.

However, a group of drugs called opioids such as Percocet and Oxycontin are used very commonly for pain and present the highest risk for physical dependence. A very small percentage of people whose doctor's prescribe opioids for pain go on to become addicted. So when people talk about pain medicines causing physical dependence they're usually talking about opioids.

How quickly a person may develop physical dependence depends on the formulation of the medication. For example, a drug given through an IV will cause physical dependence faster than pills taken by mouth. Altering the formulation of the drug and using it in a different way such as crushing an Oxycontin pill and injecting it may also lead to addiction.



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