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Side Effects of Long-term Painkiller Use on the Brain

A man sits on a rock and watches the mist float over a valley.
True peace of mind doesn’t come in a bottle.


The brain usually does a pretty good job keeping your mood in check. Pet your dog and you’ll feel a surge of oxytocin. Go for a jog and your reward will be a nice rush of dopamine and serotonin. Enjoy a healthy breakfast and you’ll set yourself up for a day of abundant gamma aminobutyric acid. They all work together to keep you feeling happy, energized and calm.

Good job, brain.

Then painkillers march into the picture. They bring a flood of neurotransmitters designed to—not surprisingly—suppress pain. But they also bring a heady feeling of euphoria that far exceeds what the body can make on its own.

It feels great. You want more.

This might still all work out fine—if you’re taking painkillers for a legitimate medical reason and if you take them exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

But if you’re taking more than you’re supposed to, buying pills on the street or doctor shopping, it could very well end in disaster.

That’s because, if this goes on long enough, your brain will start trying to balance things out. How? By dialing way down on the feel-good neurotransmitters it produces.

What happens next is the problem. You can pet your dog all day, run 10 miles or eat all the chocolate in the world. None of it will compare to the rush of good feelings that painkillers can deliver.

Even worse, you’ll need more and more of them just to feel normal.

The Long-term Effects of Painkiller Abuse

Once you get to this point, stopping is hard. Withdrawal will set in, which includes physical symptoms like nausea, shaking and joint and muscle pain.

The thing is those can usually be overcome in a week or so. It’s the psychological symptoms that can be so challenging. Depression. Anxiety. Agitation.

Your brain wants to help—and it will. But it will take time to begin producing the feel-good neurotransmitters like it used to before painkillers took over.

Hope at The Raleigh House

Many people find they need help dealing with the long-term side effects of painkillers. At The Raleigh House, we believe that getting better is not just about getting drug-free. Instead, we embrace a whole-person approach to healing that addresses physical, mental and emotional health. Interesting in learning more? Fill out our form or call today to learn more about our painkiller treatment program.

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