Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence is a medically diagnosed addiction to a class of drugs called opioids, narcotic pain relievers including Vicodin, Percocet, and Oxycontin. Opioid dependence is characterized by both a physiological and a psychological reliance on the drug. The symptoms of the condition are therefore both physical and mental. Sufferers may exhibit “drug-seeking” behavior, as well as flu-like physical withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuing use. For this reason, treatment of opioid dependence can be a complex process that requires a doctor’s supervision, as well as adequate time and teaching. Historically, addiction to the Schedule I drug Heroin has been the most recognized form of opioid dependence. However, prescription opioid addiction is now a steeply rising concern due to the prominence of these medications as first-line analgesics. Dependence may develop after an individual suffers serious injury and requires physician-prescribed opioids to relieve their pain. Over time, they can acquire resistance and require increasing amounts of the drug.

Opioid Dependence Drugs

Opioid Dependence Symptoms

Opioid dependency is characterized by a variety of symptoms, which can be both physiological and psychological. If you take opioids and are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult with a medical professional immediately, as you might have an opioid dependency.

Physical withdrawal symptoms may worsen and progress over the course of hours or days, and sufferers may begin to experience high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat. Additionally, symptoms of withdrawal can progress to emotional changes, including irritability and anxiety that can persist for several months.

Behavioral Symptoms of Opioid Dependency

  • Determination and significant time spent acquiring opioids, often while neglecting other responsibilities
  • Decreased interest in daily life activities
  • Taking opioids without following the instructions of the prescriber (i.e. taking more than the prescribed dose or taking for longer periods of time than indicated)
  • Ineffectiveness of prescribed dose

Psychological Symptoms of Opioid Dependency

  • Feeling anxious or on-edge
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Feelings of euphoria or durations of increased confidence
  • Decreased motivation

Physical Symptoms of Opioid Dependency

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Sedation
  • Feeling no pain (or less pain than usual)
  • Constipation and GI discomfort
  • Respiratory depression
  • Slurring of speech
  • Slowing of motor movements
  • Narrowing of pupils (“pinpoint” pupils)

Physical Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

  • Muscle aching
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Yawning and tiredness

Opioid Dependence Causes

On a neurological level, opioid dependency is caused by changes in the brain that result from prolonged use of the drug.

  • Opiates activate the mesolimbic system, our brain’s “reward system.” They also work to release dopamine, which causes feelings of pleasure.
  • Users seek opioids to maintain and recreate these feelings of happiness, despite the possible harmful effects that can ensue.
  • Therefore, opioid dependence can be precipitated by chronic pain or and injury that leads to extended use of medication.
  • Individuals may also have a genetic or familial predisposition to the condition.

Opioid Dependence Diagnosis

Diagnosing opioid dependency is fairly straightforward, and a medical professional will be able to diagnose an opioid dependency following a patient evaluation, which can be performed in a few ways.

  • A licensed medical professional can diagnose opioid dependence based on an assessment of the sufferer’s symptoms and history.
  • Patients may also be assessed using diagnostic criteria set forth by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Opioid Dependence Treatment

Opioid dependency can be cured, and there are a variety of treatment methods that can lead to recovery. That being said, treatment results do vary from person to person, due to the complexity of opioid dependency.

  • Patients will require an initial detoxification period supervised by a medical professional while the drug is eliminated from the body.
  • Patients experiencing serious withdrawal side effects may be prescribed medications such as Methadone, Buprenorphine, Clonidine, and Suboxone.
  • To reduce the instances of relapse in individuals with severe addiction, prescribers may offer medications such as Naltrexone, which cause opioids to be ineffective.
  • In addition to medical treatment, therapy is an important part of treatment and recovery.