Common questions about painkilling drugs

Common questions about painkillers are: When should I take them? and Do I have to take them regularly? Sometimes, people delay taking painkillers until pain is severe or don’t take them regularly. This can make pain more difficult to control and means you’re in pain when you don’t need to be.

The aim of painkillers is to provide constant pain relief, so it’s important to take them regularly.

Some people ask; If I’m given a strong painkiller, does that mean that my cancer is advanced? If you’re given a strong painkiller, this doesn’t mean the cancer is worse. Another common question is; Will I become addicted to painkillers? This is very unlikely.

If you need to take a strong opioid painkiller, you may ask if there is a right dose you should take or if you can stop taking them. The right does is the one that controls your pain. You should never suddenly stop taking them without medical advice as this can cause withdrawal symptoms.

If you’re unsure or concerned about taking painkillers, speak to your doctor. They will give you advice.

Facts about painkillers

People have different beliefs about painkillers, especially strong ones such as morphine.

Some people may feel scared or worried about having these painkillers. This may stop them taking the painkillers as advised by their doctor, which makes the pain harder to control. It can help to know some of the facts about painkilling drugs when you start taking them.

When should I take my painkillers?

You should start taking your painkillers when you have pain. Many people believe that they should delay using painkillers for as long as possible, and that they should only get help when pain becomes unbearable. But if you do this, it can mean you are in pain when you don’t need to be. It can also make the pain more difficult to control. There is no need to save painkillers until you’re very ill or your pain is severe.

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. If you’ve been given painkillers for breakthrough pain, don’t wait for it to get really bad before you take them.

It’s important to let your doctors and nurses know if your painkillers are not helping, or if you get breakthrough pain. Depending on the type of painkiller you are taking, you may need to have your regular dose adjusted, or you may need to have a different painkiller. Remember that it can sometimes take time to get the right painkiller and dose.

What does it mean if I’m given a strong painkiller?

If you have severe pain you may be given a strong painkiller, such as morphine. 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. If your pain improves, you may be able to take a milder painkiller.

Will my painkillers be given with any other medicines?

You may be given other medicines to take with your painkillers. These may include anti-depressants, muscle relaxants or anti-epileptics (drugs that prevent fits or seizures, but are also used for neuropathic pain). These medicines will help to control your pain in a different way from your painkillers.

Will I become addicted to painkillers?

Many people who are prescribed strong opioid painkillers such as morphine ask if they will get addicted to it, or if they will become confused and unable to look after themselves. This is unlikely to happen. People who become addicted to drugs usually initially choose to take them, and then keep taking them because they have a psychological need. For example, they may crave feeling disconnected or ‘high’ when they take them. This is very different from someone who is in physical pain and needs to take the drug to control their pain.

What is the right dose of a strong opioid painkiller?

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

Is there a maximum dose of a strong painkiller you can take?

If morphine or other strong opioids are taken as prescribed, you will not overdose. There is no maximum dose for strong opioid painkillers. However, suddenly increasing the dose is dangerous, so never increase the dose or take extra doses without talking to your doctor first.

Can I stop taking a strong opioid painkiller?

If you’re taking morphine or another strong opioid 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.