Overuse of painkillers in modern society

Overuse of painkillers in modern society

Author: Lauren Walsh

The advent of science and technology over the past few decades has ushered in a pharmaceutical revolution. With this revolution, there has been an increase in the dependency on medicines and drugs freely available in the market. Whether these drugs are prescription-based or over-the-counter, countless people have slowly gotten used to taking medicines daily or habitually. One of the most common issues that people face today is overdose and addiction to commonly available drugs.

When most people hear about overdose and addictions, they only consider the use of hard or recreational drugs. However, this is not the case. Drug dependency can be of prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs too. Overuse and addiction to regular painkillers are common types of dependencies. Most people rely on these drugs to help alleviate pain, discomfort, cramps, unease, and so on. This unhealthy addiction can lead to further complications in daily life.

Non-prescription pain drugs like painkillers often lead to overuse over prolonged periods of time. Pain medicines, called analgesics, help in alleviating pain, fevers, and inflammation. They do not help in curing the condition; only the symptoms. Pain medicines like Co-codamol, Ibuprofen, Advil, Aspirin, Tylenol, Naproxen, and so on may help in easing symptoms of migraines, headaches, menstrual cramps, arthritis, cold, hay fever, toothaches, sinusitis, and muscular aches and pains.

Most analgesics are relatively safe to use and are highly efficient. It is imperative to remember that no drug is ever without risk. Pain medicines, when used too frequently, can cause a series of health issues.

Let us look at some reasons why overuse of painkillers in modern society is harmful to the general public.

Kidney damage:
One of the biggest reasons for excessive care and concern is kidney damage and failure. A report published by the National Kidney Foundation stated that nearly 3 to 5 percent people developed kidney function problems due to overuse of painkillers. Low kidney function is an alarming issue since continued use of pain medications worsens the condition till the kidney tissues and structures degenerate and fail. Kidney failure is an irreversible condition and can cause further health complication and complete dependency on dialysis.

Crippling Headaches:
Overuse of pain medicines often leads to unnecessary headaches. This condition is also called medication overuse headache. This state is not recognized by health professionals but is being extensively researched. People who tend to take Aspirin, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, or any other analgesic continuously for 15 days or more have reported an increase in headaches. Stronger pain medications like triptans (used to treat chronic migraines or cluster headaches) are also not immune to this phenomenon. The same crippling problems are also common in opioids (stronger pain medicines used to treat excessive pain) like Tramadol, Co-codamol, Codeine, and Morphine.

The only way to cure a crippling headache caused due to overuse, or daily use is to stop the medication entirely for some time. The human body tends to develop immunity towards medicines after prolonged use and prevents the effect or counteracts the impact completely. Many times, the headache worsens after stopping the painkiller but gradually tends to ease out after a while.

Unhealthy addiction:
Opiates like Codeine have been used as pain receptor inhibitors. These drugs enhance the action of regular pain medications such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen. Like almost all opiates, Codeine produces a feeling of relaxation and calmness but has addictive side effects. The painkillers have addictive qualities that prevent regular day-to-day life. Most adults take these painkillers daily to ease joint pains, work stress, minor headaches, and lethargy. The problem with codeine-based painkillers is that they are stronger than regular painkillers and the effect of addiction is much faster.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also cause addiction. People get used to the feelings of taking a tablet to alleviate pain and relax. Some people even take as many as six painkiller tablets per week. Once the effect of the regular OTC painkiller starts wearing off and lessening over time, people start opting for higher doses of painkillers to combat minor issues and problems. This medication overuse causes high levels of painkiller dependency in most people. When people try to wean off the painkillers, the body undergoes withdrawal symptoms that lead to agitation, weakening, mood swings, insomnia, shivers, and joint aches.

Although there are no official statistics regarding the overuse of painkillers in modern society, the addiction caused due to opiates and triptans has been widely recognized as a major concern area. Most people do not realize the extent of painkiller overuse and how misuse of regular painkillers can cause changes in the human body.


Lauren Walsh is a guest writer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.