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Almost everyone uses painkillers at some point in their lives. Many low doses are available as over-the-counter medications, while others are stronger and require a prescription. All of these medications have the same effects, helping to alleviate pain so you can get back to living your best life as soon as possible.

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Whether it’s an OTC formula or a prescription opioid, however, all painkillers have the potential for misuse. Many people form dependencies on various painkillers. While taking the occasional dose is unlikely to harm you, even OTC painkillers can have some unpleasant long-term effects.

What are the long-term effects of painkillers? The effects vary from medication to medication, but you can count on all medications to have some lasting effects.


Liver Damage Can Be One of the Long-Term Effects of Painkillers

When you go to the pharmacy and get acetaminophen, you probably aren’t thinking about the long-term effects of this painkiller. One of the most common side effects, however, is liver damage.

Further, if Tylenol is used in higher dosages, it can lead to liver damage given it is metabolized by the liver. However, regular use at safe dosages should not cause problems to the liver.

Liver damage can also occur if you take this medication with alcohol. The liver can be damaged if you take too much of it.


NSAIDs Can Cause Stomach and Kidney Problems

Ibuprofen and Naproxen are common OTC painkillers. They belong to a class of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Generally speaking, they make good painkillers, and they also help alleviate inflammation in the body.

Over time, however, they can cause damage to the digestive tract. Specifically, medications like ibuprofen and Naproxen can predispose you to stomach issues like ulcers.

Given that NSAIDs are metabolized by the kidneys, they can cause problems such as kidney disease. Furthermore, some data shows NSAID use in the elderly can create cardiovascular issues and, as such, they are typically not recommended for the elderly.


Dependence and Addiction Are Other Long-Term Effects

Addiction and dependence are two serious long-term effects of some painkillers. Most people associate these two effects with opioid medications. Opioids seem to be over prescribed and contributed to over 4,000 deaths in Canada last year. They are not recommended for chronic pain conditions.

The addictions formed with opioid painkillers often progress faster and are more powerful, but that doesn’t mean NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and other painkillers are non-addictive. Many people develop dependencies and addictions, especially since these medications are so easily accessible and socially acceptable to use.

Dependence and addiction are some of the worst long-term effects of painkillers. Patients who misuse OTC substances may be less likely to see dependence as an issue, and they may not seek proper support and assistance.


What Can You Do?

Avoiding painkillers and only taking them when you truly need them is probably the best way to avoid these detrimental long-term effects. Always be sure to read the labels and take medications as directed.

For some people, however, these medications are an important part of their everyday lives. The best thing to do is to limit their use as much as possible. Try alternate treatments, such as medical marijuana, combined with therapies to better cope with pain and reduce your reliance on these medications.


the-devastating-effects-of-ontario_s-opioid-epidemic

Dr. Michael Verbora

Michael earned an MBA from the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business in 2009 and an M.D. from Schulich School of Medicine at Western University in 2013, before entering a Family Practice residency at the University of Toronto. A member of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, Doctors for Responsible Access and the Canadian Pain Society, he has completed over 2,000 cannabinoid therapy consultations and has presented many talks in community and hospital settings while serving as student health physician at Seneca College and Medical Director, Canabo Medical Clinic.

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