The Hidden Dangers of Painkiller Addiction

It is a common misconception that abusing prescription and over the counter medication is safer than taking illegal street drugs. However, abusing prescription and over the counter medication is very dangerous, and is as fatal as abusing street drugs. The potential to become addicted to prescription medication, or to overdose is very real.

Abuse or misuse of medication can lead to tolerance, which refers to the body’s adaptation to the long-term use of abuse to the point where it no longer produces the desired effect.

The result is that a person needs a higher dose of the substance to achieve the same response produced previously by the prescribed dose. As with street drugs, withdrawal from these types of medications is similar and begins after stopping or reducing the dose of medication that has been used for some time.

Withdrawal symptoms from medication can range from mild to life threatening, and unfortunately many are unaware of the dangerous of addiction to medications such as painkillers or anti-anxiety medication.

This kind of addiction can disrupt a person’s life just as much as addiction to street drugs and the consequences to their state of mental and physical health are just as severe. Addiction to medications such as codeine and benzodiazepines, and their withdrawal symptoms can result in seizures, liver and kidney damage, depression, anxiety, strokes heart-rhythm abnormalities and even death.

It is important to keep in mind that pain medication that such as codeine is derived from the opioid family, just like heroin and morphine.

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 Some of the most dangerous over the counter and prescription medications include:


This medication is commonly used to treat panic attacks and anxiety disorders. Benzodiazepines are extremely addictive and fatal overdose can occur, and people who tend to become more reliant on this type of drug, who become progressively more incapable of tolerating their emotions and life stressors are especially vulnerable.

On of the greater dangers are using benzodiazepines in conjunction with alcohol, which at first makes the user more at ease, but later serves to only cause more anxiety. This is a dangerous cycle, as it leads one to take more than the prescribed dose, as the anxiety becomes more and more unmanageable.


Codeine is one of the most abused over the counter drugs in South Africa, this became apparent after a study was done by the Medicines Control Council. This substance is often found in a variety of pain medications as well as cough syrups. Unfortunately, in South Africa, this is an easy medication to get hold off, as it is sold over the counter, and most pharmacies do not keep track of how often a person may be buying more. It is incredibly addictive and has severe dangers when it comes to withdrawal. Codeine is often used in conjunction with benzodiazepines and alcohol, which makes it even more dangerous. Codeine addiction should be treated with the utmost care as going cold turkey can bring on suicidal thoughts and tendencies, hallucinations, or even psychosis.


Oxycodone is an opioid often prescribed for relief of moderate to severe pain. It is highly addictive and a patient can easily become addicted after a legitimate prescription was issued to them.


Valium is used to treat a range of conditions such as anxiety, seizures and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Long-term tranquilizer use can cause brain damage and the detoxification can lead to seizures.


Like oxycodone Demerol is prescription pain medication, this is another drug in which the user can develop tolerance and become addicted leading to an increase in dosage and painful withdrawal symptoms.


Ritalin is used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system. This drug is often abused by students, who use it as a stimulant. Heavy use can lead to physical dependence, and withdrawal symptoms include exhaustion and severe depression.


This opiate-based painkiller is highly addictive and is often used for a euphoric feeling. Bone pain, anxiety, aches, cramps, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea and nausea are associated with long-term abuse.

When your dealer wears a white coat. Opioid addiction is a very common problem amongst many South African, especially because codeine is so readily available on the market and one does not need a prescription to buy it.

Twin Rivers Rehabilitation Centre had helped individuals from all walks of life, from executives to housewives, through very difficult rehabilitation, which included medically supervised detoxification.

The human brain has opiate receptors, which are usually reserved for the body’s natural pain relief hormones. All pain is located in the brain and the body produces hormones called Endorphins to help the brain block out certain kinds of pain. Without Endorphins, a person would not be able to exercise, perform physical labour, or even be able to sit down for long periods without experiencing severe pain. When the body releases Endorphins into the brain, an individual not only experiences pain relief but also a sense of wellbeing.

Opioids like codeine are extremely effective because they also attach directly to the opiate receptors. The result of opioids entering the brain is immediate pain relief as well as a sense of euphoria in the patient. Unfortunately, prolonged use of opioids creates a dependency in the patient. In addition to the body’s craving for the euphoric feeling, it reduces the amount of Endorphins that the body produces, making the patient even more sensitive to pain. In response to this the individual starts using more and more medication, leading to side effects such as nightmares, insomnia, liver damage, seizures and other potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Recovery from this type of overuse is a difficult process. Recovering from overuse of opioids can be likened to recovering from a heroin addiction. It is painful; it takes time and a multi-disciplinary team of professionals.

Addiction to pain medication, over the counter and prescribed medication, and the recovery of such addictions should not be taken lightly. Withdrawals can be fatal, and individuals who find themselves addicted to these kinds of substances should seek out professional help from treatments centres that are legitimately qualified to deal with the recovery process. In all such cases medically supervised detoxifications should be implemented as a first step, and just as with any other addiction, therapy and a 12-step program should be in place for the addict to successfully overcome this kind of addiction.

Twin Rivers employs the help of professionally trained staff members who are equipped to deal with every step of the recovery process from pain killer addiction. The danger of becoming addicted to these types of substances cannot be overstated enough.

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The Hidden Dangers of Painkiller Addiction. (2021, Feb 05). Retrieved from

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