Cliffside Malibu - Hazy Beach Cliffs

Painkiller Addiction

Painkiller addiction is one of the fastest growing forms of addiction in the nation. Americans are less than five percent of the world’s population, yet use 80% of the world’s painkillers. The rate of death from accidental prescription medication overdose has become so high that many state agencies and physicians are calling it a “plague” sweeping the nation.

While there are legitimate uses for prescription painkillers, the drugs that are now available are so potent that many become addicted before they are even aware of what is happening to them.

Painkiller addicts may face a special level of shame around their addiction.  Most were people who have initially prescribed medication for a valid medical condition. This could have been surgery, a chronic pain condition, or to alleviate pain after an accident, an anxiety disorder, or depression.

Those who become addicted in this way are not the “typical” addict that one thinks of – the dirty, homeless junkie who will do anything for a fix. Painkiller addicts are soccer moms and prom queens, grandfathers and business executives.


Accidental overdose of prescription medication is now a leading cause of death in the United States. It is estimated that one person dies from an accidental overdose every nineteen minutes. Between 1994 and 2002, emergency room visits for prescription pain killer related problems increased by 115%. That trend has continued to the point that accidental overdose caused by prescription medications is being called an “epidemic.”

There are approximately 315 million people in the United States, yet in 2008 alone, hydrocodone (the active ingredient in drugs like Vicodin) was prescribed 136 million times, and this is just one of more than 100 versions of prescription opioid pain killers available. Studies show opioid pain killers are much more addictive than other types of pain killers, such as NSAIDS. These drugs are readily available and can be deadly.

There are many different types of opioid and opiate pain killers. Opioids are synthetic or manmade drugs, though they act like morphine. Opiates are “natural” and include morphine and heroin. Most individuals have been prescribed opioids, synthetic painkillers. When individuals can no longer access synthetic painkillers, they often switch to the street drug heroin.

Prescription pain killers include:

  • Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab (hydrocodone)
  • Demerol (pethidine)
  • Duragesic (fentanyl)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Methadone
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Symptoms of opioid or opiate abuse may include:

  • Feeling no pain
  • Difficulty/slow breathing
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or poor decision making
  • Sedation
  • Feeling high


When a person has used or abused prescription pain killers for even a short length of time, they can develop a tolerance for the medication and physical dependence. This means that they need more of the drug to get high than they did at first and their body needs the drug to function “normally.” If a person has become physically dependent, they may suffer from uncomfortable symptoms when separating from the drug, a process called “detox.” These symptoms are collectively referred to as “withdrawal.”

Symptoms of withdrawal from prescription pain killers include:

  • Drug craving
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid breathing
  • General flu-like symptoms including runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, muscle aches, feeling cold while running a fever, vomiting, abdominal cramping, sweating, etc.
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion
  • Shaking
  • Loss of appetite

While these symptoms are not usually medically dangerous, they can be agonizing. When they are too much to bear, the addict will often give up and return to using to get the symptoms to abate. The severity of the symptoms and how long they last depend on many factors, from how long the individual has been abusing the drug and how much they have been taking, to the individual’s age, personal overall health, biochemistry, and other medical factors.

In order to make painkiller detox as comfortable as possible, we suggest a medical detox. In medical detox, our clients are seen by their own personal detox specialists. This doctor will use the latest medical interventions to help you to remain as comfortable as possible during the withdrawal process. There are medications that, when used on a short term basis, can help addicts step down their use more easily than going “cold turkey.” This process helps the client and his or her therapeutic team to work together to minimize the possibility of relapse.

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Many people incorrectly assume that the physical effects of prescription pain medication abuse will be minimal because the drugs are often provided by doctors and have been tested and approved for use by the FDA. This is far from true.

Health problems (physical effects) caused by prescription medication abuse can be severe. These include:

  • Skin infections (at injection sites), sometimes resulting in loss of digits or limbs
  • Septicaemia, a bacterial infection of the blood that can lead to severe illness or death
  • Hepatitis (A, B, or C), Tuberculosis, and/or HIV infection
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Death due to accidental overdose, suicide, accidents (especially falls or driving) or other health-related complications; death rates are HIGH.

For those lucky enough to escape death, the social toll of abusing prescription pain killers is also quite high. Social issues include:

  • Inability to function in social relationships/loss of relationships
  • Loss of child custody; life-long psychological damage to abused/neglected children
  • Inability to work; loss of job/livelihood
  • Impaired mental function, inability to concentrate or remember; lack of motivation
  • Arrests; involvement with a crime

Psychological problems can also develop. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Guilt over misdeeds
  • Loss of memory and cognitive function
  • Little to no self-esteem
  • Hostility
  • Impulsivity, risk-taking, irresponsibility
  • Loneliness due to loss of relationships
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts


There are two classes of medications that can have similar effects on prescription pain killers. These medications are dangerous in their own right when abused, however, when abused in conjunction with prescription pain killers, the result is very often deadly. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. They are medications often prescribed to relieve anxiety. They produce a sense of ease and calm. One of the side effects of withdrawal from “benzos” can be seizures, which may be a life-threatening complication.

Barbituates include Nembutal, Seconal, Luminal, and Amytal. These are sedating. Again, as with benzodiazepines, combining these drugs with other medications or suddenly discontinuing the drug can be medically serious and/or life-threatening.


A study in the American Journal of Therapeutics noted that 75% of people who received treatment for prescription pain killer abuse were initially prescribed these medications by their doctor(s). The DEA reports that hydrocodone is one of the most common drugs to be found on police raids. Prescription pain medication is everywhere, and because it is so easily accessible, it is difficult to break free of the addiction on your own. In order to have the greatest chance of success, it is critical that you put yourself into a safe environment where you can be helped by medical professionals. By engaging in a safe and comfortable medical detox, then looking at the root causes of your addiction, you will find a path to addiction recovery that is clear and long-lasting.

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Painkiller addiction treatment at Cliffside Malibu, like all our services, is highly individualized, holistic, and integrative. First, after a safe, supervised detox provided by some of the industry’s leading painkiller detox professionals, you will be helped to understand how you became addicted to painkillers in the first place. These reasons may not be the same for you as they are for someone else. Painkiller addictions different from other addictions and must be treated in a painkiller rehab facility that specializes in this form of addiction, as Cliffside Malibu does.

Many painkiller addicts are reticent about coming to treatment. They understand treatment as a sort of punishment – where they will be told when to wake up and forced to clean bathrooms and make their beds at certain times of the day. While this may happen at some treatment centers, this is not what Cliffside Malibu is about. We provide all our clients with the most luxurious of amenities and environments – private and semi private rooms, mountain views, WIFI throughout the treatment facility, and meditation gardens for use day and night. In this setting, where you will be served nutritious food, organic when available, by gourmet chefs and work out with your own personal trainer, you will have space and support to make the changes you need to overcome your addiction for good.

All of our treatment programs are highly individualized. With your personal therapist, you will develop a treatment plan that will best serve you, helping you to regain the health and vitality that addiction has stolen.


Call now to speak confidentially with an admission counselor.

(424) 320-3061