About Pain Pills


Pain is highly individualized because the perception of pain and the psychological response differs person to person, according to “Core Concepts in Pharmacology” by Norman Holland and Michael Patrick Adams. The goal of pain pills, also known as analgesics, is to relieve pain and suffering. There are three main types of pain medications used for acute and chronic pain: opioids, nonopioids and adjuvants.


Nonopioids can be effective for treating acute and chronic pain and are usually the first pain medication used in treatment, according to “Understanding Medical Surgical Nursing” by Linda Williams and Paula Hopper. Nonopioid class drugs include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs and acetaminophen (Tylenol). These medications are not used long term because they have a ceiling effect, which means there is a point at which a dosage can not increase to relieve pain without increasing the side effects, according to Williams and Hopper.


An opioid is a natural or synthetic product extracted from the poppy plant that reduces pain, according to Holland and Adams. When opioids adhere to certain opioid receptors in the body, they can prevent the awareness of pain, states the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is why they are the drug of choice for severe pain. Opioids include morphine and morphine-like drugs.


Adjuvants are drugs that were created for different uses but have proven successful at relieving pain. These medications are sometimes helpful with treating pain that does not subside with nonopioids and opioids alone. This drug class contains drugs such as steroids, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, anticonvulsants and amphetamines, according to Williams and Hopper.

Side Effects

Opioids are narcotic substances and can cause drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and respiratory depression. Euphoric effects caused by opioids affect the brain’s pleasure sensors. This feeling is can lead to abuse, increasing the risk of opioid overdose, states the NIDA. Physical dependence caused by the nervous system adapting to frequent medication use may also be a side effect, according to Holland and Adams. Conditions such as tolerance, in which the body adapts to a drug and requires increasingly higher doses to maintain the same initial effect, may occur, states the Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care.

Long Term Use

Long-term use of NSAIDs increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. The American Heart Association says women who use 500 milligrams or more of non-aspirin pain medications a day are at risk for developing high-blood pressure. Extended term opioid users run the risk of developing physical dependence and addiction, according to the NIDA. Painkillers containing acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, can cause acute liver failure and even death when misused, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse states acute kidney failure can be caused by the use of over-the-counter painkillers long-term.

About this Author

Annie McElfresh is a nurse by trade and an avid writer by night. Her background includes 10 years of experience in pain management, operating room, home health, and medical office management. She has completed two full-length novels, contributes to two blogs, and is a member of several writing forums.