Effects of Abusing Pain Meds

Find out about the very real and dangerous effects of abusing pain meds. Become familiar with the warning signs associated with pain pill use, as well as the long-term problems that can result from abusing pain medication.

Painkiller abuse has serious short and long term effects. Though painkiller abuse can bring a temporary good feeling, it can also have negative consequences such as addiction, brain damage, or death.

Painkillers work by blocking messages of pain to the brain. They also cause a feeling of happiness and drowsiness, which can be very addictive.

Because painkillers may cause drowsiness and a decreased ability to react to danger, taking painkillers and driving or operating machinery can lead to fatal accidents. It is important for people taking prescription painkillers to know if they should avoid driving while using the painkillers. Abusing painkillers by taking too many, taking them in ways not recommended on the bottle, or mixing them with other drugs or alcohol can increase the dangerous effects while driving.

Some of the other potential short-term effects of abusing pain meds include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering or becoming clumsy
  • Unusual sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Numbness in extremities, including hands and feet
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation

Painkillers are easy to overdose on, even the first time they are abused. Overdose is a danger when taking too many painkillers, when mixing them with alcohol or other drugs, or when taking painkillers the wrong way, such as by crushing or dissolving them. An overdose can be fatal, causing a person to stop breathing.

Some of the effects of an overdose of pain meds can include:

  • Slow or difficult breathing, or not breathing at all
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Death

In addition to their short-term effects, pain meds can have serious long-term consequences for those who abuse them:

  • Tolerance for painkillers, meaning a normal, safe dose no longer controls pain
  • A greater risk for abusing or becoming addicted to other drugs, especially in young people
  • Damage to a personís brain and his or her ability to learn, especially if the person abusing painkillers is young
  • Addiction to painkillers

People who have to take painkillers over a long period of time may become physically dependant on a painkiller, which means that their body is used to the painkiller and they canít just stop taking it all at once or they will suffer from withdrawal. Instead, they must slowly take less and less of the painkiller under a doctorís guidance.

The effects of pain med withdrawal can include:

  • Psychological pain
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes

Physical dependence is not the same as addiction or psychological dependence. In addiction, a person feels that they need painkillers, and become obsessed with getting them. Physical dependence and psychological addiction often occur together, but not always.

Teen drug addiction is particularly troubling because young peopleís brains are still developing, and drug use can interfere with this normal brain development. The last part of the brain to develop is the part that affects judgement and making choices, so teens are prone to making risky decisions and may not be able to develop good judgement if they abuse drugs. Also, young peopleís brains are particularly prone to addiction.

Because abuse of painkillers can have serious consequences for both young and older people, anyone who is abusing painkillers needs help from a medical professional to overcome their problem.


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Parents: The Anti-Drug, Painkillers [online]
Michelle Meadows, Prescription Drug Use and Abuse, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, September-October 2001 [online]
National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Prescription Drug Abuse Chart [online]
Statement by Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director National Institute on Drug Abuse National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Scientific Research on Prescription Drug Abuse before Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Wednesday, March 12, 2008 [online]

Related Article: Treatment for Painkiller Abuse >>