Skip to content

    Pain Management Health Center

    Font Size

    Painkillers: 7 Warning Signs of Addiction

    By Kara Mayer Robinson
    WebMD Feature

    "Pain medication is ... not really meant to be a way to maintain or manage chronic pain.” -- Joe Schrank, MSW

    Many people worry that taking narcotic painkillers will lead to addiction. If your doctor prescribed medication to treat your pain and you take it as directed, you shouldn't have a problem.

    But some people do get addicted, and there are usually warning signs along the way, like these:

    1. You think about your medication a lot.

    One of the first signs of addiction is becoming preoccupied with two things: when you can take your next dose and whether your supply is enough, says Debra Jay, co-author of Love First: A Family’s Guide to Intervention.

    Watching the clock so you can take your next dose may be a concern, notes Joe Schrank, MSW, co-founder of Rebound Brooklyn recovery center in New York.

    “If it’s fresh dental work and you’re in pain, it makes sense," he says. But if it’s gone on for a while, it’s possible you’ve become dependent on the medication.

    Dependency and addiction are not the same thing. You can be physically dependent on a drug but not addicted.

    Confused? Here's the difference. When you're physically dependent on a drug, your body has built up a tolerance to it, and you need higher doses of the medication to get the same effect.

    When you're addicted to a drug, it's more than physical. You keep using the drug, even though it's causing you serious problems at work or school, in your family, or in your social life.

    2. You take different amounts than your doctor prescribed.

    Maybe you take more than you should or take it more often than your doctor prescribed. If you think your doctor doesn’t understand your level of pain or that he meant you should take it whenever you need to, even if that’s not what he ordered, it may be a warning sign.

    Do you stretch out the time between doses or shrink some doses you take so you can take more later? If you're trying to control how you take your painkillers instead of following your doctor's instructions, you may have a problem.

    “Whenever we are trying to control things, it can be a really good indication of how out of control we are,” Schrank says.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    pain in brain and nerves
    Top causes and how to find relief.
    knee exercise
    8 exercises for less knee pain.
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
    chronic pain
    Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
    illustration of nerves in hand
    lumbar spine
    Woman opening window
    Man holding handful of pills
    Woman shopping for vegetables
    Sore feet with high heel shoes
    acupuncture needles in woman's back
    man with a migraine