Addiction to opioid pain medicine can be insidious, happening so gradually that you and those closest to you may not recognize the warning signs.

The latest high-profile example of this is the sudden death of Prince. The musical legend was found dead April 21 at the age of 57, and autopsy results released from the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office confirm Prince died of an overdose of the opioid pain medication fentanyl.

The New York Times had previously reported that he might have had a long-term addiction to Percocet or a similar opioid pain drug and was on the verge of getting treatment right before his death.  

Jamie Lee Curtis has also revealed that nearly two decades ago she battled pain pill addiction. 

"I too, waited anxiously for a prescription to be filled for the opiate I was secretly addicted to," she wrote in the Huffington Post. "I too, took too many at once. I too, sought to kill emotional and physical pain with pain killers. Kill it. Make it stop."

Celebrities, of course, are not the only ones who can become addicted or experience serious side effects from taking prescription opioids. The drugs are among the most commonly prescribed medications in America and were responsible for the deaths of more than 28,000 people in 2014, more than any other year on record according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least half of those deaths were attributed to use of commonly prescribed painkillers as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin.

In fact, 44 percent of Americans say that they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, according to an April 2016 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on health research.

Prescription opioids are just as addictive as street drugs like heroin, says Andrew Kolodny, M.D., a senior scientist at Brandeis University and chief medical officer at Phoenix House, a national nonprofit center for addiction treatment. “Anyone can get hooked, " he says, "even those using the drug legitimately to combat pain.”

“The drugs don’t differentiate based on your station in life or why you’re using them,” adds Kolodny. “The effect on the brain is the same.”

In fact, as many as one out of four taking a prescribed opioid for several months or longer becomes addicted, according to the CDC.

Consumer Reports' new guide to pain relief explains how prescription pain drugs and other addictive substances affect your brain and how to protect yourself. 

Recognizing Addiction

Addiction's biggest red flag is a loss of control. If you find that pain pills are taking over your life—for example, you crave them between doses, are taking more than what was prescribed, or are taking them to sleep or relieve anxiety rather than to treat pain— talk to your doctor immediately. He or she can help you regain control or refer you to a physician who specializes in substance abuse disorders.

Even people who are not addicted can become physically dependent on the drugs if they're taken continuously for more than two weeks. In that case, stopping abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including worsened pain, severe stomach upset, muscle aches, flu-like symptoms, anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.

If you’ve been prescribed an opioid and are still taking it daily after two weeks, don’t even try to stop cold turkey. Instead, work with your doctor to gradually reduce your dosage and give your body time to adjust. In Consumer Reports' recent report, we provide expert advice on how to stop taking a prescription painkiller without suffering with withdrawal symptoms

Safer Ways to Relieve Chronic Pain

The changes that opioids cause in your brain and body make them a poor solution for many types of chronic pain, says Consumer Reports’ medical director, Orly Avitzur, M.D.

“The drugs may relieve pain initially, but most people quickly develop a tolerance to them, meaning it takes progressively higher doses to get the same effect,” she says. “Eventually, very high doses may not work well.”

And the longer you take prescription pain drugs, especially at high doses, the greater the risks of serious side effects, including addiction, overdose, and death—even if you've been taking the pills as directed by your doctor to treat pain.  

For persistent pain, talk to your doctor about other types of pain medication and nondrug measures. Our report, "Pain Relief: What You Need to Know," details a variety of approaches, such as biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, and exercise that, in some cases, can provide just as much or more relief than an opioid, with far less risk.

And if you do wind up taking an opioid for chronic pain, the CDC advises starting at the lowest effective dose and checking in with your doctor at least every three months to make sure that the drug is helping and that you are able to take it safely. Read our experts’ take on the latest advice from the CDC on using opioids to treat chronic pain.

Update: This article was changed to reflect Prince's autopsy results, which were released June 2.

Editor's Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).