There’s nothing better than the relief over-the-counter painkillers and prescription painkillers provide for pain triggered by migraines, injuries and surgeries. Painkillers are so effective that more than 168 million prescriptions were written in 2018 to help U.S. citizens manage their pain.

Unfortunately, this same effectiveness is a key reason for the opioid epidemic that has raged across the country for almost a decade. While prescription painkillers have the power to relieve pain, many people are unaware of both the short- and long-term side effects of these drugs, including depression.

Can Painkillers Cause Depression?

In a 2016 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine journal, researchers from St. Louis University examined how constant prescription opioid abuse affected patients’ mental health. The researchers found that 10 percent of the 100,000 patients studied developed depression after taking opioids for at least 30 days.

These results support the conclusion that prescription painkillers – as beneficial as they are for pain management – can trigger depression symptoms. Painkiller abuse can also make depression worse if you’re already struggling with major depressive disorder.

Regrettably, these depressive symptoms can come as a shock. After all, prescription painkillers are meant to help you feel better. So, why is depression a common consequence of ongoing opioid use?

Why Do Painkillers Lead to Depression?

It all goes back to how prescription painkiller abuse impacts the brain. Opioids are able to provide pain relief because they target a group of structures within the brain that are known as the “reward system”.

Opioids attach to both pleasure and non-pleasure receptors in the brain to mask the pain the body is feeling and flood the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine to help you feel relaxed and euphoric.

As your painkiller intake continues or increases over time, the brain losses its ability to regulate dopamine and other feel-good chemicals naturally. This drug reliance prevents your brain from being able to manage your mood like it used to do, leaving you vulnerable to side effects like depression, insomnia and other long-term consequences.

Can Depression Influence Painkiller Use, Too?

Just like how prescription painkiller abuse can trigger depression, depression can also lead to prescription painkiller abuse. This is because prescription painkillers and depression have a bi-directional relationship, influencing each other and leaving you trapped in a toxic cycle of addiction and mental health struggles.

People who constantly struggle with depressed mood, irritability, feelings of guilt and despair and even suicidal thoughts oftentimes see drugs like prescription painkillers and heroin as a quick way to cope or even escape from their depression.

The unfortunate reality is relying on painkillers – whether legal or illegal – to alleviate depression tends to make the depression worse because of the way opioids change the brain. Luckily, there are ways to overcome addiction and manage your depression symptoms so you can get back to living a happy, healthy life again.

How Do I Recover from Painkiller Abuse and Depression?

First, begin by asking yourself the following questions about your painkiller use:

• Have you taken more than what your prescription recommends?
• Have you resorted to purchasing opioids off the street?
• Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms like depression when not on painkillers?

Now, answer the following questions about your depression symptoms:

• Are you constantly depressed and irritated throughout the day?
• Are you no longer interested in activities you used to enjoy?
• Have you found that drugs like painkillers help to relieve your symptoms?

If you’ve responded “yes” to these questions, addiction and mental health treatment may be able to help you with your co-occurring disorder. Treatment centers like Fountain Hills Recovery can offer you the evidence-based treatment and care you need to overcome painkiller addiction and learn how to manage your depression effectively without prescription drugs.

Heal from Painkiller Abuse and Depression at Fountain Hills Recovery

As Arizona’s premier addiction and mental health treatment center, our caring and supportive team can help you reach lasting recovery from opioid addiction and depression. We use evidence-based treatment modalities to help you get to the bottom of your dual diagnosis disorder and experiential therapies designed to help heal and strengthen your mind, body and spirit.

You don’t have to go through this alone. If you’re ready to break free from addiction and find happiness again, contact our expert staff today to get started.