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Addiction Risk of Pain Management Drugs


Drugs used for pain management, also known as analgesics, are medications used to relieve pain.

There are several different types of pain drugs, which can be categorized into three main classes: (1) non-opioid analgesics, (2) opioid analgesics, and (3) adjuvant medications.

Pain drugs, especially opioids, can carry a risk of addiction when not used as prescribed or when used for extended periods.

The risk of addiction depends on various factors, including the type of medication, the dose, the duration of use, an individual's personal history of substance abuse, and genetics.

Here's a closer look at the addiction risk associated with different types of pain drugs:


  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs reduce pain and inflammation. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin.

  • Acetaminophen: It is not an NSAID but is often used to relieve pain and reduce fever. Brand name examples include Tylenol.

Non-opioid pain medications are generally not associated with the same addiction potential as opioids.

“NON-OPIOID” ADDICTION RISK………LOW (when used as directed)


  • Opioids are powerful pain relievers that work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord.

  • They are typically reserved for severe pain or pain that does not respond well to other medications.

  • Common opioid drugs include morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl.

  • The risk of addiction is more significant with strong opioids like fentanyl, oxycodone,and hydromorphone compared to weaker opioids like codeine.

  • Using opioids for non-medical purposes, taking higher doses than prescribed, or usingthem for euphoric effects can lead to addiction.



  • These are drugs that are not primarily designed for pain relief but can be used to enhance the effects of other analgesics or manage specific types of pain. They include:

  • Antidepressants: Certain antidepressant medications, such as tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), can help with neuropathic pain.

  • Anticonvulsants: Medications like gabapentin and pregabalin are often used for neuropathic pain.

  • Muscle Relaxants: These drugs are used to alleviate muscle-related pain and spasms.

  • Topical Analgesics: Creams, gels, or patches that are applied to the skin, containing substances like lidocaine or capsaicin to relieve localized pain.

  • Corticosteroids: These may be used to reduce inflammation and pain, especially in cases of joint or soft tissue pain.

  • Adjuvant medications are typically not considered addictive. However, some individuals may experience dependence on or withdrawal symptoms.


It's important to note that the choice of pain medication depends on:

(1) the type and severity of pain

(2) the patient's overall health

(3) the potential for side effects or interactions with other medications

Pain management should always be under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure the safe and effective use of these drugs.

Additionally, there is ongoing research and development in the field of pain management, so new medications and treatments may become available in the future.

It's essential to use all pain medications as prescribed by a healthcare professional.

To minimize the risk of addiction and other potential adverse effects, here are some general recommendations:

1. Follow the Prescribed Dosage: Take the medication exactly as directed by your

healthcare provider. Do not exceed the recommended dose or frequency.

2. Short-Term Use: Opioids should be prescribed for the shortest duration and lowest effective dose to manage pain. They are generally not intended for long-term use.

3. Close Monitoring: Regularly communicate with your healthcare provider to evaluate your pain management plan. Adjustments may be necessary over time.

4. Dispose of Unused Medications: Safely dispose of any unused pain medications to prevent misuse by others.

5. Inform Your Healthcare Provider: Disclose any history of substance abuse or addiction to your healthcare provider, as it can help them make more informed decisions about your pain management.

6. Seek Alternatives: Explore non-pharmacological pain management strategies and non-

opioid options when appropriate.

7. Report Side Effects: Notify your healthcare provider if you experience any concerning side effects or signs of dependence, such as cravings, withdrawal symptoms, or tolerance.

It's important to be aware of the potential risks and benefits associated with pain medications

and to work closely with your healthcare provider to strike a balance between effective pain

management and minimizing addiction risk.


Medical Disclaimer. The information contained herein is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or a patient-client relationship with Allen Research Endowment, Inc. You must consult with your own physician or other healthcare professional regarding this information and your own unique needs. Information based on data we believe to be reliable. However, we cannot guarantee its accuracy. Information subject to change without notice.

Allen Research Endowment is focused on saving lives of people with opioid addiction through treatment, prevention, and research to develop non-opioid pain management solutions. © 2023 Copyright Allen Research Endowment, Inc.


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