A slippery slope
Opioid drugs are mainly used for the treatment of pain. These painkillers include medicines like hydrocodone, oxycodone, or tramadol. They work because they change the way our brains perceive and respond to pain. But, they can also get you high.
So, how does physical addiction to these drugs start? How can you identify the signs of opioid addiction? Most importantly, what is the first step you should take to address the problem?
In this article, we inform you about the practical ways you can recognize opioid addiction – in yourself or in a loved one. Then, we recommend ways that you can seek professional help. At the end, we invite your questions via the comments section. In fact, we try to respond to all real life questions personally!
Need help quitting opioids?
Does physical dependence = opioid addiction?
Dependence and addiction are two different medical terms. It is important to make a clear distinction between DEPENDENCE vs. ADDICTION because they are two different conditions that require different treatment protocols.
Q: What is PHYSICAL DEPENDENCE on opioids?
A: Dependence is an expected outcome and a manifestation of the body’s normal adaptation to opioids.
When you are prescribed an opioid medication to manage a pain, you can expect physical dependence to form after daily dosing of a few weeks, or more. This is a predictable condition, and one that can be easily managed. The brain adjusts to painkillers as a way to maintain balance. So when you are physically dependent on opioid medications, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms if you reduce usual doses or stop suddenly and abruptly.
Repeated use of any opioid drug will likely make your body and brain adapt to the presence of the substance in your system i.e. develop dependence to its effects. Physical dependence can also be accompanied by drug tolerance, a kind of slippery slope – requiring regular or increasing opioid dosing in order to continue feeling the wanted effects and to prevent withdrawal.
Q: What is opioid ADDICTION?
A: Addiction is a state of physical brain change(s) and mental conditioning that is treated with a combination of medicine and psychotherapy.
Addiction is considered to be a neurological disease caused by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors. It is characterized by continued use of a drug despite negative harm in your life. Main signs of opioid addiction include uncontrollable cravings, compulsive drug seeking behavior, and inability to stop or control use. Opioid addiction is dangerous and can be deadly, especially when brain changes due to drug tolerance result in increased dosing and possible overdose.
Physical signs of opioid use
You can tell if someone has started to abuse opioids if you notice these physical symptoms. They may include:
When you’re physically dependent
The one way to know if you’re dependent on an opioid – or not – is to significantly lower doses or miss a regular dose of your pain medication. This way, you can recognize physical dependence by observing changes in psychological response when regular use is discontinued. Here’s a list of common withdrawal symptoms that occur as a result of dependence.
Psychological symptoms during withdrawal:
Physical symptoms during withdrawal:
Medical detox for physical dependence
Why is medical treatment necessary for quitting opioids? Because relapse is very common, especially in the early stages of detox and withdrawal. Plus, quitting an opioid drug under the watchful care of doctors and nurses increases your chances of quitting for good.
Here is what you can expect during a medical detox:
1. Evaluation – This is an important initial part of detox and takes place as you enter treatment. During this phase doctors will interview you, assess your physical and mental health condition, and run the necessary blood or urine lab tests. The evaluation process helps doctors determine the level of care you require during your detox period, so they can adapt the medical care to your specific needs.
2. Stabilization – As all traces of opioids are eliminated from your body, your physical state starts to normalize. It can take 3-7 days to go through acute detox. During this time, doctors will still monitor and support you, and administer medications for opioid withdrawal symptoms that can lessen, manage, and minimize any possible risks and discomfort.
3. Transition into treatment – Detox is just your starting point in the treatment process and serves to prepare you for further rehabilitation and recovery. Ongoing therapy sessions may require extended treatment involvement, even after you leave your opioid addiction rehab program. Detox and rehab programs provide a combination of therapy and medical care to treat opioid addiction and ultimately stop the progress of addiction.
Need help locating reputable detox?
How does pain pill addiction happen?
How to tell if I’m addicted?
Can I cold turkey off opioids?
Going cold turkey off opioids carries potential risks and is not recommended unless absolutely necessary (i.e. an allergic reaction). Cold turkey withdrawal can provoke serious side effects and it is extremely uncomfortable. On the other hand, medical detox supervision addresses symptoms as they occur, to make the process more humane. Withdrawing from an opioid often includes administration of another drug, such as buprenorphine, methadone, clonidine, or naltrexone.
The treatment for dependence usually starts with a slow decrease in doses according to a tapering schedule. The dose reduction is usually done over a period of weeks, months or longer, depending on:
NOTE HERE: Dose tapering should always be supervised by a medical professional. You can also consult your local pharmacist to learn more about best practices. However, you should seek medical and clinical supervision before attempting any opioid taper regime.
Still have questions?
We hope to have covered most of your questions about dependence vs. addiction. If you have any further questions regarding physical addiction to opioids, please feel free to share them in the comments section below. We give our best to provide personal and prompt responses to all legitimate inquiries.
Reference sources: NCBI: Opioid Tolerance Development: A Pharmacokinetic/Pharmacodynamic Perspective
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My name is Alex. I got mixed up with drugs and alcohol most of my adult life. I came out the other side. Here sharing my testimonial and helping others become sober. Now living clean and living life to the fullest.