Quarter of British adults take painkillers regularly
New research has found a quarter of British adults have been taking painkillers regularly for at least five years.
A survey by Nuffield Health suggested that 7.5 million people are reliant on painkillers to attend work.
Drugs charities have said that painkiller dependence is a largely hidden problem.
"A lack of knowledge, or fear of treatment, can lead patients into long term use of painkillers, often without a clear diagnosis by a specialist,” said Manoj Krishna, a consultant spinal surgeon at the Nuffield Health Tees Hospital
Krishna added: "This can be a very bleak existence with patients becoming depressed, losing their jobs, and often becoming dependent on the drugs."
More than a third (36%) of people using painkillers are taking potentially habit-forming drugs including codeine and tramadol.
But many British adults who take these medicines fear they will become dependent on them, the study found.
Two-thirds of respondents sought GP advice, but 16% were unhappy with their treatment and one in four did not believe their clinician knew enough about their condition.
Last week the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said tramadol should be more tightly controlled, as it has psychoactive qualities.
Surges of serotonin can be induced, as well as rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, vomiting and seizures.
Dr Kostas Agath, medical director of the charity Addaction, said: "We do see lots of people who are dependent on more powerful prescription painkillers.
"Until recently there was not much discussion about this problem. However, there is help available both from the NHS and organisations like Addaction."