If you are unsure or worried about taking painkilling drugs, speak to your doctor. It can help to read answers to some frequently asked questions about painkillers before you start taking them.

Questions you may have

People have different questions or concerns about painkillers, especially strong ones such as morphine. Some people may feel scared or worried about having these painkillers. It can help to read answers to some frequently asked questions about painkillers before you start taking them.

  • When should I take my painkillers?

    You should start taking your painkillers when you have pain.

  • Do I have to take my painkillers regularly?

    If you have painkillers, take them regularly as prescribed by your doctor. The aim is for pain control to be constant.

  • What is the right dose of a strong painkiller?

    Unlike many other drugs, there is no standard dose for morphine and some other strong painkillers. The right dose is the one that controls your pain, and this varies from person to person.

  • Is there a maximum dose for strong painkillers?

    There is no maximum dose for some strong painkillers. If you take them as prescribed, you will not overdose. Suddenly increasing the dose is dangerous, so never increase the dose without talking to your doctor first.

  • If I’m given a strong painkiller, does that mean that my cancer is advanced?

    You may be given a strong painkiller, such as morphine, if you have severe pain. This doesn’t mean that the cancer is more serious. The dose can also be changed if the pain gets better or worse. If you have a strong painkiller, this doesn’t mean you will always need to take it.

  • Will I become addicted to painkillers?

    Many people who are prescribed strong painkillers ask if they will get addicted to them. This is unlikely to happen. People who become addicted to drugs usually choose to start taking them and then can't stop. This is very different from someone who has cancer pain and needs to take painkillers.

  • Can I stop taking a strong painkiller?

    If you are taking morphine or another strong painkiller, it’s important that you don’t suddenly stop taking it. This is because as well as controlling pain, strong painkillers have other physical effects. If they are stopped suddenly, you may get withdrawal effects. These include diarrhoea, cramping pains in the stomach and bowel, sickness, sweating, restlessness and agitation.

  • How can I remember when to take my painkillers?
    • Write a note to yourself and put it somewhere you will see it.
    • Ask your partner, relative or friend to remind you to take them.
    • Set an alarm on your computer or mobile phone to remind you.
    • Use a pain diary to help you keep track of when to take your drugs.
    • Write a note to yourself and put it somewhere you will see it.
  • What is a pill organiser?

    If you are taking several different drugs, you may find it easier to have your drugs arranged in a container or box. This is called a pill organiser or dosette box. They usually have compartments for the day and time when your medicines should be taken. They can be bought from most pharmacies.

  • How should I store my painkillers?

    It’s very important to store painkillers carefully. Make sure that they are properly labelled, and keep them in a cool, dry place. You should keep them out of the reach of children and lock them away if necessary.

  • Can I take out of date painkillers?

    Do not take painkillers if they are out of date. You can check the bottle or packet for a date. Always return any unused medicines to a pharmacist, who can dispose of them properly. Don’t put them in the bin or down the toilet.

  • Can I drink alcohol if I am taking painkillers?

    This will depend on which painkillers you are taking. It is best to avoid alcohol if you’re taking opioid painkillers, such as morphine or codeine. This is because alcohol can increase side effects, such as drowsiness. It should be okay to drink alcohol with milder painkillers, such as paracetamol.

  • Can I drive if I’m taking strong painkillers?

    When you first start taking strong painkillers, they can sometimes make you feel tired and drowsy. You may not be able to concentrate and your reactions may be slow. If this happens, you should not drive or operate machinery.

  • Will I be breaking the law if I drive while I am taking strong painkillers?

    It is an offence to drive with certain drugs above certain limits in your body. This includes some prescription medicines. But most people taking strong painkillers will not be breaking the law as long as:

    • the painkillers are not affecting your ability to drive safely
    • the painkillers have been prescribed to treat a medical problem
    • you have followed the instructions you were given by the prescriber or the information that came with the painkillers.

    The police can stop drivers and use tests to check whether they have taken any drugs. This may include a blood or urine test at the police station. So it’s a good idea to carry a copy of your prescription and the packaging the painkillers come in.

  • Do I have to tell the DVLA, DVA or my insurance company that I'm taking painkillers?

    You don’t have to tell the DVLA (or DVA in Northern Ireland) if you are taking strong painkillers – but they may need to know about your illness.

  • Can I travel with my painkillers?

    Some countries limit the amount of particular drugs that can be taken into the country. There are restrictions about taking drugs like morphine into some countries. We have more information about taking medicines abroad.

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