Topic Overview

If you follow your doctor's directions about taking narcotic medicines—and you don't have a history of drug use problems—your risk of becoming dependent is small. In the past, narcotics were used only for short periods for short-term pain or for cancer pain. Many experts now also use them for longer periods to treat chronic pain. You can take these drugs, which are sometimes called opioids, to reduce pain and increase your functioning without becoming dependent.

If you stop taking narcotics suddenly, you may get nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. The symptoms aren't life-threatening.

You can avoid withdrawal symptoms if you gradually stop taking the medicines over a set period of time. Work with your doctor to see how to gradually stop taking the medicine you are on.

What should you do if you think you may be dependent?

If you think you may be dependent, talk to your doctor. Signs of dependence include the following:

  • Your drug use is having a bad effect on your family life, your job, or other activities.
  • You keep using the drug even though it is actually harming your body or your behaviour.
  • You're taking larger amounts of the drug than was intended. Or you're taking it longer than was intended.

When you are dependent on painkillers for a long time, withdrawal can be very difficult. But treatment is available to help you through that process.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015