Can I Become Addicted to My Prescribed Opioid Pain Relievers?

6 answers | Last updated: Oct 18, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

Should I worry about becoming addicted to the opioid pain relievers my doctor prescribed to treat my chronic pain?

Expert Answers

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

If your doctor prescribed you an opioid pain reliever for pain, it's unlikely you need to worry unless you have a history of addiction issues. It's extremely rare for people who don't already have substance-abuse issues to become addicted to pain medication.

Many pain experts think opioid pain relievers have gotten a bad rap because of media attention to addiction issues. The research shows that 2 to 6 percent of people without a history of substance abuse who are prescribed opiates for chronic pain still develop problem behaviors. However, this statistic includes people of all ages, and young people are much more likely to develop addiction issues because they're more likely to be on the medications for many years.

This misplaced suspicion of opiates is too bad, since opioid pain relievers can be very effective at relieving pain with minimal side effects or risk of organ damage, even with long-term use.

Studies of the neurobiology of pain have shown that pain relievers work differently in the brains of those in chronic pain versus those who are not actually in pain but take them to get high. And of course terminally ill patients are a different case entirely; there's no reason at all not to give opiates to relieve pain in those who are terminally ill.

When you're in pain and take opiates, the body usually experiences much less "buzz" or "high" than a person not in pain would experience. You may feel drowsy or sleepy, but you'll get used to that, and the feeling will probably go away after your body gets used to the medication.

Medically speaking, the definition of addiction is that you start experiencing cravings for the drug and begin engaging in behaviors that are counterproductive to happiness and success in order to get it. Researchers are still trying to figure out how to predict who will fall into the small category of patients who will become addicted to opioid pain relievers when taking them specifically for pain -- so the best plan is to discuss this issue with your doctor. If your family has a history of vulnerability to addiction, be sure to mention this concern. But in general, since older folks are much less likely to develop these kinds of issues, you don't need to fear addiction when taking a drug to control physical symptoms of pain.

Community Answers

Beauxpatrick answered...

I am a chronic pain patient and my biggest problem is not addiction but building up tolerance to the medication... then my script needs increasing and this scares most doctors... then I have a problem with finding doctors who will write the prescriptions at all. Most are afraid of the DEA or other authorities.

Chronic pain is no fun and neither is trying to get treatment every month because the medication is nonrefillable and must be written in an office visit on a monthly basis.This cost the insurance companies and patients a lot of extra money. The drugs are actually cheap. I take a combination of Methadone and Oxycodone.

A am still in pain with the meds, but they at least make it tolerable.


Newby1961 answered...

Well your talking to someone here who was addicted to pain pills for a number of years. I have been off of them for 6 1/2 years now. I think all you have to watch out for is when and if you start taking them and your not in pain, but you try to talk yourself into needing them. Lying to a Dr to get more would be another warning sign. And the biggest one at least I think is, when you start taking them to deal with emotioal pain. All these would be warning signs that you may indeed be developing an addiction to them. Check out and praying is always a good tool. Happy Holidays All. Peace & Blessings

Jesuschick answered...

Hello, I am a chronic pain paitient going on 11 years now and I am only 38 years old. I have pain in my neck all the way down to my LS1 for those who don't know "the tailbone" because of the narrowing of the spine the pain and burning numbness goes down my legs and into my feet. I am also in the beginning stages of RA and that kills my joints in my hands, elbows and shoulders. I see a pain management doctor every month in order to get my prescriptions refilled. For pain he has me on Kadien wich is a slow release opoid med, way better than those horrible pathes I am no longer a zombie, he just moved my imediet relief from Norco to perceset, and a muscle relaxer soma. I do agree somewhat with the expert, because I am an ex drug addict, (downers were not my thing) I have been clean for almost 20 years. Anyway, Your mind might not get addicted unless theres issues like newby1961 discussed. However your body WILL get addicted. I know this from experience. They had me on that Fentenal 100 patch about 5 years ago when i was at my worst, I was kinda like a zombie, but it did help control the pain, When I wanted to come back to work and get off those things, I was like a heroin addict kicking it. It was horrible!!! almost 2 weeks of chills, pain, sweets, kicking, ect.... Now that I am on the kadien.. I love it, it keeps my pain to where it dont skike and I am not all drowsy and doped up. I take 1 pill every 12 hours. but there has been times that I will forget to take them and afer a day -day & 1/2 my body will start getting achey and I will start getting chills. So, see- I am not addicted.. they dont make me "Hi" but the body DOES get addicted. I hope this helps. And I agree with newby1961...prayer works!

Ouija answered...

Agree with what people are saying, there is a difference in addiction and dependence. I too have a chronic pain disorder, RSD/CRPS, and am going into my 11th year. I have been able to go back to working, buying a small business almost a year and a half ago. Without meds like OxyContin I would be on disability sucking up tax dollars. It is unfortunate that most people think that chronic pain patients are just "druggies", when in reality many I've known are some of the strongest people I've ever met! Good to read an article that actually looks at the facts and current medical research when writing about this issue.

Ceeque7 answered...

Waiting for an answer to my original post, an 81-year-old woman with chronic pain due to spinal damage and age-related diseases. Doctor prescribed 10/325 Norco and 50mg Tramadol, four times a day for my pain, which gave me enough comfort to function fairly well. The pain management doctor now wants to take away the Tramadol, citing that it is too much medicine. Now I have even more pain and suffering the withdrawal of the Tramadol. How can this happen to someone my age?