What is Opioid Dependence & Why Should I Care About It?

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Opioid dependence is a condition that can affect both individuals who take prescription painkillers as directed and those who abuse them. The body can build up a dependence on these drugs quickly, whether the user is taking them in high doses or not, and health issues may result.

What is Opioid Dependence?

Opioid dependence is the condition of relying on these drugs in order to make the user feel normal. Because opioids cause physical and psychological dependence, an individual will experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop taking the drug. These symptoms feel similar to having the flu and can also include vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression.

Dependence occurs after taking opioids regularly for a long period of time (at least several months or longer) and is not in itself a dangerous problem. However, the actions that many people take after becoming dependent on opioids can be problematic. Physical dependence occurs because of normal adaptations to chronic exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction.” But when someone becomes dependent on the drug and feels like they need it in order to

  • Not feel pain
  • Feel happy/have fun
  • Feel normal
  • Get out of bed every day/fall asleep every night
  • Reduce their stress

they may be at risk for abuse.

Why Should I Be Concerned if I Become Dependent on Opioids?

There are several reasons why someone dependent on opioids should understand the issue and make sure to handle it appropriately.

  • Becoming dependent can cause a person to abuse opioids. They may feel that they need more of the drug constantly and take higher doses or unscheduled doses. This can be dangerous, and doctors must always be vigilant for this reason.
  • Opioid abuse can lead to a withdrawal syndrome which can be painful and uncomfortable. It also has behavioral and psychological effects as well. These can also cause individuals to begin abusing opioids, as they do not want to experience the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms also make it harder to stop taking opioids in general.
  • Once someone undergoes withdrawal and stops being dependent on the drug, it does not necessarily mean that they are safe from other consequences. If they were abusing opioids, they will need to attend addiction treatment as well in order to treat their cravings and other symptoms that could cause a relapse.

Dependence is not the same as addiction, but it can lead to it. This is why the condition should be a concern for all individuals who take opioid drugs, not just those who abuse them. Your doctor can often diagnose opiate withdrawal after performing a physical exam and asking questions about your medical history and drug use.” If you are worried that you might already be dependent, consult your doctor.

Treatment for opioid dependence alone “involves supportive care and medications” and lasts about a week. However, treatment for opioid addiction is much more in depth and can even be a life-long problem. This is why you should be concerned if you notice yourself becoming dependent on opioids.