Learn about the different types of prescription pain medication and which type is the most addictive.

Pain medications are used for many different types of pain, from minor toothaches to recovering from major surgeries. Pain medications allow people experiencing pain to be more comfortable and avoid or reduce the unpleasant sensations of pain. There are many types of prescription pain medications, but they can roughly be divided into three different groups. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids and medications that are not intended to treat the pain itself but treat the cause of pain. Much teen prescription drug abuse involves prescription pain medications.

Opioids are the Most Addictive Painkillers

Opioids are very addictive prescription painkillers. NSAIDs are not addictive and medications that treat causes of pain, instead of pain explicitly, may or may not be addictive, but will not normally be as addictive as opioids. Some prescription opioids that are addictive include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Dilaudid
  • Percocet
  • Oxycodone
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol

Heroin is also an opioid but is not used as a prescription pain medication due to how addictive it can be and the health problems that it can cause. People often wonder what prescription opioid is the most addictive. There is, unfortunately, not a lot of evidence for which opioids are more addictive, and they all work much the same way. Some are stronger than others, but this changes the dose that is used, not how addictive it is.

Why Are Opioids So Addictive?

Opioids change receptors in the brain that affect pain and stimulate the release of chemicals called endorphins into the brain. These chemicals create a pleasurable, euphoric sensation called a high. Opioids also change the chemistry in the body when they are used over a prolonged period, making it so that the body is unable to function normally without them. This shift is called dependence. The high and dependence that opioids create lead to cravings and can create an addiction to opioids.

Avoiding the Risk of Teen Opioid Use and Addiction

Teen opioid use is on the rise, with 3.6% of adolescents between the ages 12 and 17 reporting using an opioid within the last year. Teen prescription drug abuse is a major public health issue, and opioids are the most commonly abused prescription drug used by teens who struggle with substance use disorders.

Helping teens avoid becoming addicted to opioids involves having an awareness of what is happening in their lives and removing possible sources of prescription opioids. Maintain clear communication with your teen and establish that you want to help and support them in a non-judgmental way. Try to establish mutual trust and communication with them about their lives so that they will feel comfortable discussing struggles they may encounter later.

Ensure that there are no opioids in the house except for ones that are being actively used for a medical purpose. If you have any old opioids, discard them appropriately and any opioids that are currently being used should safely put away. If your teen has been prescribed opioids, you should monitor how long they use the opioid medication and how much they take. If they are on more than a one week course, you should discuss with their doctor alternative ways to treat their pain.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Volkox, Nora D. “Teen Prescription Drug Abuse.” Tennessee Medicine: Journal of the Tennessee Medical Association, April, 2009. Accessed September 8, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Prescription Opioids.” June, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2019.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Opioid Addiction.” September 3, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2019.

Office of Adolescent Health. “Opioids and Adolescents.” May 13, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2019.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know.” February 1, 2019. Accessed September 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.