Updated on September 8, 2023
6 min read


What are Analgesics?

Analgesics, or painkillers, are prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications that relieve pain. They include both OTC and prescription medications and come in several forms, including:

  • Capsule
  • Tablet
  • Liquid
  • Topical cream
  • Injectables

Healthcare providers prescribe opioid pain medication for conditions including:

  • Cancer
  • Surgery
  • Severe injury
  • Chronic pain from conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis

The two main classes of analgesics are non-opioid analgesics and opioid analgesics. These classes work differently in the body and have different uses and risks. Although effective as indicated, analgesic misuse can lead to severe consequences.


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Are Analgesics Addictive?

While non-opioid analgesics generally have a low risk of addiction, misuse can still result in drug dependence. Prescription opioid misuse is also common and quickly leads to addiction.

Opioid analgesics bind to opioid receptors within the brain, triggering the release of certain chemicals. These chemicals produce pleasurable feelings, which interact with the brain's reward pathways. 

This generates a cycle of reinforcement, leading to repeated drug use. Over time, this cycle results in tolerance and physical dependence.

What Are Opioid Analgesics?

Opioids, or narcotic analgesics or narcotics, are prescription medications that treat severe pain. Some opioids are made from the opium plant, while others are synthetic (human-made).

Common opioid painkillers include:

What Are The Side Effects of Opioid Analgesics?

Opioid analgesic health effects vary depending on the drug, dosage, and method of consumption. Long-term use of high doses increases the risk of severe side effects.

Analgesics produce several effects, including:

  • Pain relief
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Drowsiness
  • Relaxation
  • Euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Nervousness
  • Mood changes
  • Problems urinating
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Confusion
  • Slowed breathing
  • Coma
  • Brain damage
  • Death

Prescription opioid misuse is common. In 2020, 48,006 people overdosed on opioids, while 3.8% of American adults abuse opioids yearly. Anywhere between 71.8% and 80% lead to overdose deaths from opioids.

What Are Opioid Analgesics Interactions?

Like some medications, opioid analgesics can have drug reactions with other substances. This can vary from mild side effects to severe outcomes.

Substances that can interact with opioid analgesics include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Diuretics, warfarin, clopidogrel, apixaban, dabigatran, or rivaroxaban.
  • Acetaminophen: Alcohol, warfarin, isoniazid, diflunisal, carbamazepine.
  • Opioids: Alcohol, anti-seizure medications, benzodiazepines, antibiotics, antidepressants, antifungals, antiretrovirals, sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, muscle relaxants

Always consult a medical professional before analgesic use. Tell your doctor about all supplements, OTC drugs, and prescription medications you are taking to avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions.

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What Are Non-Opioid Analgesics?

Non-opioid analgesics include NSAIDs and other OTC and prescription medications. They are used to manage conditions such as:

  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Arthritis
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Backaches
  • Dental problems
  • Gout
  • Menstrual cramps

In some cases, combining non-opioid and opioid analgesics may enhance pain relief. Common painkillers in this category include:

  • Tylenol (Acetaminophen)
  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

What Are The Side Effects of Non-Opioid Analgesics?

Non-opioid analgesic side effects vary depending on the drug. Potential side effects include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Allergic reaction
  • High blood pressure
  • Liver or kidney damage
  • Stomach ulcers or bleeding
  • Heart attack or stroke

What Are Topical Analgesics?

Topical analgesics treat localized muscle or nerve pain. Users apply them directly to the skin rather than ingesting them.

Topical analgesics can come in:

  • Gels
  • Ointments
  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Sprays
  • Patches

What Are The Different Types of Topical Analgesics?

Common types of topical analgesics include:

  • Counterirritants: Ingredients produce hot, cold, or tingling sensations, distracting from pain sensations
  • Topical NSAIDs: Commonly contain aspirin and work by decreasing pain and swelling when absorbed
  • Capsaicin: Capsaicin from hot peppers blocks pain signals from skin nerves

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What Are The Risks of Analgesics Use?

Despite their effectiveness in treating pain, analgesics have mild to life-threatening side effects. In general, OTC analgesic side effects are less severe compared to prescription drugs, but statistics over the years can be alarming.

The risks of analgesic use include:

  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Amplified side effects of alcohol
  • Severe health complications

The number of deaths related to opioid overdoses significantly increased over the years. From 2010 to 2017, there was a rise from 21,089 to 47,600 deaths. This number remained consistent until 2019. 

However, there was a notable spike in 2020, with 68,630 reported deaths. This trend continued in 2021 with a further increase to 80,411 reported deaths.

How Do Users Misuse Analgesics?

People misuse analgesics by using them in ways other than prescribed. Typical forms of misuse include:

  • Taking higher doses than recommended
  • Consuming medication in a different way than prescribed
  • Using drugs not prescribed to you
  • Taking medicine to get high

Opioid dependence and addiction can quickly develop, leading to continued use despite negative consequences.

What Are The Signs of Analgesic Addiction?

When you stop opioid use, severe physical reactions occur in the form of withdrawal symptoms. This makes people develop an addiction.

Opioid addiction symptoms vary from person to person and may include physical and psychological changes, including:

  • Feeling an intense need to use opioids regularly
  • Gradually needing to take higher opioid doses to achieve the same physical effects
  • Experiencing an inability to focus on routine daily tasks
  • Being unable to stop using the opioid on your own
  • Experiencing financial difficulties connected to opioid use
  • Resorting to dangerous behaviors to obtain the drug, such as stealing
  • Engaging in risky behaviors while under the influence of opioids
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or limiting opioid use
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Poor hygiene

Recovery from opioid analgesic addiction is challenging without assistance. If you’re struggling to stay sober, get professional treatment today.

What Are Analgesics Withdrawal Symptoms?

People addicted to an opioid analgesic can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can start several hours after halting medication use.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe opioid cravings

What Is an Analgesic Overdose?

Overdosing is when you take more of a drug than the recommended dose. An overdose occurs when you use enough of the drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death.

When you overdose on an opioid, your breathing may slow or stop. Without enough oxygen reaching the brain, you can quickly experience coma, brain damage, or death.

Ways you can overdose include:

  • Taking more than the prescribed dose of acetaminophen or NSAIDs
  • Taking opioid medications at greater doses
  • Taking opioid medications with other drugs, like alcohol

Emergency Treatment for Opioid Overdose

Healthcare professionals administer a medication called naloxone in the case of an opioid overdose. The drug works by blocking opioids' physical effects.

What Are The Treatment Options for Analgesic Addiction?

Treatment for analgesic addiction typically includes a combination of medications and psychotherapy.

Rehab options may consist of: 

  • Medication-assisted treatments: The standard care option for opioid use disorder; reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Behavioral therapies: Helps people recognize and change negative behaviors associated with addiction; often one of the most effective treatments for opioid use disorder
  • Support groups: Allows individuals to share their experiences, struggles, and successes with like-minded people who understand their challenges


Analgesics are drugs used to manage pain. OTC analgesics are generally non-habit-forming, but prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous.

If you misuse opioids, they can lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, overdoses, and death. To help combat opioid addictions, medication-assisted treatments combined with psychotherapy and support groups are recommended.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, seek professional help immediately. You can recover from opioid addiction and lead a healthier life.

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Updated on September 8, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on September 8, 2023
  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, 2022.

  2. NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).” Cleveland Clinic, 2023.

  3. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opioids and Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).” MedlinePlus, 2023.

  4. Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.

  5. Drug Overdose Death Rates.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2023.

  6. Woller et al. “Analgesia Or Addiction?: Implications For Morphine Use After Spinal Cord Injury.” Journal of Neurotrauma, 2012.

  7. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. “Opioid Crisis Statistics [2023]: Prescription Opioid Use” Drugabusestatistics.org, 2023.

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