Opioid Addiction and Dependence

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What Are Opioid Addiction and Dependence?

Addiction can be described as a chronic psychological disorder in which a person consistently does something or uses a drug despite its negative impact.  It is a brain disease because addiction completely changes the way a person thinks, feels and acts.  Addiction can be long-term, and it can lead to problems in business, family life and with friends. In the absence of effective treatment, addiction may get worse. Opioid addiction and dependence often go hand-in-hand, but they aren’t the same thing.

Understanding the difference between opioid addiction and dependence can help if you are struggling and exploring treatment options.

Even though opioids are mainly prescribed to treat various forms of pain, they are easily abused because they create a euphoric feeling and reduce anxiety when taken. This effect can actually be intensified when opioids are taken into the body via means other than was prescribed.

For instance, OxyContin which is prescribed for relieving pain can be snorted or injected to boost its euphoric effect. The misuse of opioids greatly increases the risk of other serious medical conditions including an opioid overdose.

What Causes Opioid Addiction and Dependence?

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Opioid addiction is the uncontrollable and compulsive usage of opioid medications despite their negative impacts. A person is said to be dependent on opioids when he develops a tolerance which is when his body adapts to the presence of opioids which can lead to withdrawal symptoms. This occurs when the drugs are not taken in higher volumes or are completely discontinued. One way to understand the difference between opioid addiction and dependence is that addiction is primarily a psychological disease although it does affect the body. Dependence is more of a physical condition of opioid use.

How Do Opioids Affect the Brain?

Using opioids for a long time or consistently increasing the dosage causes changes to the brain in such a way that it operates normally in the presence of the drugs and abnormally in the drug’s absence. This is exactly how tolerance works and opioid dependency/addiction comes about as there is a constant need to get higher volumes of opioid medications.

Long-term usage of opioid medication affects the brain’s opioid receptors at a cellular level. The euphoric feeling that was sought after by users diminishes over time and to get it back the volume of opioids medication taken has to be increased. This is the reason why it is commonly said that most opioid addicts continue to use the drugs just to feel ‘normal.’

Symptoms or signs of opioid addiction include:

  • Continued usage of drugs over a longer period than was intended or prescribed.
  • Consistent unsuccessful efforts to reduce and control opioid usage.
  • Having a strong urge to take opioid medications.
  • Spending significant amounts of time in getting and using opioid medications or recovering from its misuse.
  • Having problems at school, work or home due to opioid usage.
  • Using opioid medications even though it continues to cause social and personal problems.
  • Taking opioid medications despite it being physically hazardous
  • Taking opioid medications even though you know that it may potentially cause physical or psychological problems.

Opioid Addiction and Dependence Treatment Overview

The treatment of opioid addiction can be done in several places, depending on some factors which usually relates to the patient and also the setting. However, the four treatment settings below can be considered;

ASAM Level 1 (outpatient)

ASAM Level 2 (intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization)

ASAM Level 3

ASAM Level 4 (residential Addiction treatment or hospital settings)

Treatment for opioid addiction starts with a thorough assessment of the patient by a medical professional. The medical professional discusses all the available forms of treatment after the assessment.

It is the responsibility of the patient and medical professional to discuss and finally decide on the best form of treatment.

There are three main medication options available to treat opioid addiction which are buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone. These opioid-based medications can be administered along with therapy and other support.

Counseling for Opioid Addiction and Dependence

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Counseling is a vital part of treating any form of addiction. It is usually done along with taking medications. Counseling should be handled by a qualified medical practitioner as this will be a very strong factor in determining how the patients respond to treatment.

When done effectively, counseling helps to boost the self-worth of patients and encourage them to deal with their personal, social, financial and work-related issues.

Furthermore, patients can also join other support groups that have patients going through a similar problem to share and effectively assist each other in recovery. Support groups like family and friends play a vital role in encouraging patients to deal with their addiction problems, so it is important to include them.



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