Painkiller Abuse Overview

This painkiller abuse overview offers basic information on prescription painkiller abuse, addiction, prevention, statistics, treatment and more...Keep reading for more information on the abuse and addiction of legal and illegal pain killer and how to get help or drug treatment.

The abuse of prescription painkillers has become a serious concern in the U.S. The number of people both young and old abusing painkillers has been rising over the past two decades, and many of these people donít realize the potential danger of misusing or abusing painkillers.

Illegal street drug use has declined in the U.S., but abuse of prescription medications, and especially painkillers, has been increasing. Abusing prescription painkillers can mean using them without a prescription, using them in ways other than specified on the bottle, or using them to get high instead of to relieve pain. Painkillers are sometimes abused by snorting, smoking, injecting, or chewing the pills, by swallowing too many, or by taking them as a suppository, all of which can lead to a deadly overdose.

Over 30 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. For these people, prescription painkillers improve their quality of life and allow them to function more normally. Also, following surgery painkillers help people recover faster and get back to their regular lives. When used correctly and under a doctorís supervision, painkillers are an important part of modern medicine. When painkillers are misused or abused, however, they can lead to health problems, addiction, and death.

Painkillers are widely misunderstood, which increases their risk of being misused or abused.

Painkillers are the most commonly abused type of prescription drug.

  • Many people think painkillers must be safe because they can be obtained from a doctor.
  • Painkiller abuse is more common today in part because painkillers are more widely available and advertised, and the danger of abuse is not well understood. 
  • Parents will sometimes give their children their own prescription painkillers to ease pain, which can easily lead to a deadly overdose. 
  • Most painkiller abusers get their drugs from a friend or family member who got the painkillers legally. 
  • Most people who abuse painkillers do so to get relief from pain. This increases the risk of overdose and addiction.
  • Teens abuse prescription drugs because it gives them a temporary good feeling. Teens may seek this feeling because they feel stress about school, home life, relationships, sports, their appearance, or other aspects of their life.
  • A large dose of painkillers can lead to trouble breathing and death. 
  • Even in small doses painkillers can have negative impacts on a personís motor skills and judgement. 
  • Painkillers are especially dangerous when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.
  • The abuse of painkillers is addictive and can lead to long-term, ongoing problems with drug abuse if not treated.

A person may become physically dependant on painkillers, which means they go through withdrawals if they stop taking them, or they may become addicted, which means they feel like they need painkillers to get through the day. A person may be dependent on painkillers if they are taking more than prescribed, taking them without a prescription, or taking them in ways other than recommended on the bottle. Dependence on painkillers needs to be treated by medical professionals. Educating people about the dangers of painkiller abuse or misuse helps to reduce the incidents of painkiller abuse among most people.


Michelle Meadows, Prescription Drug Use and Abuse, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, September-October 2001 [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Prescription Drug Abuse, Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Conversations for Parents [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: Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse >>