Health professionals are being warned to only prescribe painkillers when necessary as one in three patients say they worry about being addicted to the drugs.
Research carried out by Nuffield Health found a third of people using pain medication on a long-term basis were concerned they needed the pills to function normally. And the study discovered 37% felt they would not be able to carry on working without taking painkillers.
The researchers at Nuffield Health said medical staff frequently viewed painkillers to be a cheap and simple way of treating a patient instead of tackling the health problem causing the pain. They said the study indicated that large numbers of people in the UK were taking painkillers regularly over long periods of time.
The study involved a poll of 3,100 people and found that 1,659 - more than 53% - had been taking painkillers to manage pain or injury over the previous 12 months. Of these people, 14% said they had taken more than the recommended safe dose and almost one in four admitted they were taking a daily dose of between five and 10 painkillers.
Just over one in four (26%) had been using painkillers regularly for longer than five years, with 38% of them worrying that they had become dependent on the medication.
Manoj Krishna, consultant spinal surgeon at Nuffield Heath Tees Hospital, said it was vital for patients to understand all their options, which could include surgery, exercises or physiotherapy.
Long-term use of painkillers can cause serious medical complications including heart disease, kidney problems and liver disease as well as side-effects ranging from ulcers and bleeding to constipation and drowsiness.