A decade ago, the number one cause of accidental death in the United States was car crashes. Sadly, that inauspicious record now belongs to overdoses from prescription pain pills, the most common of which is opioids. There are now about 90 overdose deaths across the country every day.
Addiction to these medications is serious and complex, with many causes and facets. One is the innocent use of them for pain management related to chronic illness or recent medical procedures. These are powerful medications that are highly habit-forming and can remain in your body for a long time.
How long do pain pills stay in your system? That is an important question because it relates to the likelihood that a medication can cause addiction.
This article gives you both short and more detailed answers to how long different types of pain bills remain in the body. Keep reading to learn more.
How Long Do Pain Pills Stay In Your System?
The short answer to this question is a few days. Regardless of the drug, the effects of most pain medications are completely gone within 24 to 36 hours. With many over-the-counter drugs, that duration is usually closer to two to six hours.
It is worth distinguishing the direct effects of pain medications from withdrawal symptoms and cravings. The latter can last much longer and cause serious health problems.
How long do pain pills stay in your system? It is true that the pain-mitigating effects of even powerful pain medications like opioids diminish after a few days, at most.
However, recovery from opioid addiction is almost always a much longer process. It usually warrants interventions, including recovery therapy and treatment.
Main Types of Pills for Pain Relief
The scientific term for the broad category of medications that are used in the treatment of pain is “analgesics.” There are thousands of different types, if including distinct manufacturers and combinations of substances.
A more succinct and feasible way of understanding how pain pills act in the body is through different categories. Here are the main ones to consider.
Acetaminophen is a pain reliever that usually comes in over-the-counter form. It treats mild to moderate pain. It does so by blocking pain receptor signals throughout the body.
This includes pain related to headaches, muscle aches, toothaches, backaches, and menstrual cramps. Acetaminophen is also effective at reducing fever (which puts it in the category of “antipyretics” as well as analgesics).
Acetaminophen only remains in the body between 12 and 24 hours, if you are taking the recommended dosage. For people exceeding this, it could build up in the body and take several days (at most) for the body to clear it out.
Acetaminophen is not habit-forming. For this reason, you can take it long-term without the risk of causing addiction.
Antidepressants are often not thought of as “pain relievers.” That is because they do not address the same types of physical pain as the other medications on this list and were not designed for that purpose. However, they do have analgesic properties, including the ability the treat neuropathic pain.
Antidepressants work by increasing the function of neurotransmitters. These are chemicals in the brain that affect mood and emotions. Common examples include dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline.
Antidepressants also inadvertently act on nerve cells that contain neurotransmitters. This can bring about pain-relieving effects. For this reason, antidepressants are “pain pills,” even if they are ineffective at doing their other job: relieving depression.
Different types of antidepressants can stay in the body for various durations. Some can clear out completely within 24 hours, while others can take over a month. This often depends on how long the individual has been taking the particular medication.
The analgesic effect of antidepressants is mild compared to more powerful pain pills on this list. For this reason, they are not as addictive or habit-forming as pain relievers. Their withdrawal symptoms are from psychological impacts rather than a reaction to the absence of pain-relieving properties as well.
Antiepileptic medications are also known as “anticonvulsants.” They were first invented in the 1940s and became widely used in the 1960s.
Doctors prescribe antiepileptics to help control the onset and effects of epilepsy and other seizure disorders. Like antidepressants, they help dissipate neurological pain. For this reason, they are characterized as analgesics as well.
Also, like antidepressants, most antiepileptics are not addictive or habit-forming. Although, there are some exceptions. For instance, drugs like klonopin (generic name clonazepam) have both analgesic and antiepileptic properties.
These drugs fall into the category of benzodiazepines. These have sedating properties that can lead to dependence and addiction. However, taking them properly without combining them with controlled substances makes this less likely.
Antiepileptics stay in the body anywhere from a matter of hours to more than a month, depending on the medication. For instance, clonazepam can stay in the body for over a month after the last dose.
Local anesthetics are medications used by medical professionals to treat pain during a particular medical procedure or operation. This includes surgeons, dentists, general practitioners, and other doctors. Local anesthetics work by blocking the transmission of impulses in nerve fibers that signal pain.
Local anesthetics are typically topical or injected at the procedure site. While most often used in a clinical setting, there are a few prescription types for at-home use.
Local anesthetics usually wear off after four to six hours. Since their effectiveness is limited to a particular place in the body, they are not habit-forming or addictive.
General (versus local) anesthesia is technically designed to avoid pain. However, since the primary goal is to sedate the patient, it is in its own category and not considered an analgesic or pain medication.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a category of analgesic medications used to treat myriad ailments and conditions. These include everything from headaches, injuries, cold and flu symptoms, and joint pain.
As the name suggests, NSAIDs also have anti-inflammatory properties. This makes them ideal for treating conditions like arthritis, as well as the pain associated with the condition.
NSAIDs come in a variety of forms, including tablets, capsules, creams, gels, and injections. Some of the most common over-the-counter varieties include: aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen sodium
There also are different types of prescription NSAIDs. Common ones include celecoxib, diclofenac, fenoprofen, indomethacin, and ketorolac.
NSAIDs only stay in your system for a few hours. Even long-acting ones last no more than six hours.
NSAIDs do not contain chemicals that are mentally or physically addictive. However, there are some rare cases where people abuse them as a way of coping with pain.
Opioids are the most powerful medications on this list. They are categorized as narcotic pain pills. As mentioned, they can stay in your system for several days, but four days are about the most, even after long-term use.
Opioids come from a substance that occurs naturally in the opium poppy plant. Some medications derive directly from the plant. Others are produced synthetically in laboratories to mimic the same chemical structure.
Opioids are often prescribed by doctors to treat persistent and/or severe pain. This includes everything from chronic head or backaches to recovery from surgery, pain associated with cancer, and severe injuries from sports or accidents.
Opioids work by attaching to proteins called “opioid receptors.” These are located on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body. They block pain messages sent from the body to the brain.
Most opioids come in pill form. However, you can take them intravenously or through skin patches.
There are many different types of opioids. Common ones include:
The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid made from the poppy plant. It can come in various forms but is often a white or brown powder.
Opioid medications cause extreme euphoria and relaxation. Side effects can include confusion, drowsiness, and slowed breathing.
While the direct physiological effects of opium last only a few days (at most), they can be impactful. This makes the drugs extremely addictive from both a physical and psychological standpoint.
Withdrawal symptoms can also be quite severe. These can include anxiety; insomnia; nausea and vomiting; muscle cramps; and sweating, among others.
While opioid addiction can develop after only short-term use (e.g., after surgery), long-term use of the drugs (e.g., for chronic pain) increases this risk. Regardless of the underlying cause for taking them, it is vital to be aware of this heightened likelihood of addiction.
Learn More About the Types of Pain Pills and Their Effects
Now that you have an answer to “How long do pain pills stay in your system?” you can have a more informed outlook on how different drugs can impact your body. Specifically, this can make you more aware of the potential for dependence and addiction.
At America’s Rehab Campuses, we are committed to helping individuals achieve true recovery. We offer a full continuum of care under one roof and accept most insurance plans. Contact us today to learn more or to learn more about addiction or other types of treatment.