Opioid Addiction and Dependence: Signs and Symptoms
Opioid drugs are synthesized from morphine, which occurs naturally in some varieties of the poppy plant. Highly addictive and very dangerous, these drugs include prescription painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone and codeine as well as the illegal opioid heroin.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 2.1 American adults are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers and another 500,000 are addicted to heroin.
Signs and Symptoms of Opiate Addiction
While engaging in opioid abuse is a decision an individual makes initially, continuing to use these drugs can lead to opioid addiction, which is primarily characterized by the inability to stop using a drug despite the negative consequences it’s causing in your life.
Other signs and symptoms of opioid addiction include:
- A loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- An increasing neglect of personal hygiene
- Social withdrawal and increasing isolation
- Problems with finances, relationships, the law and physical and mental health
- Stealing or borrowing money or prescription medications
- Dramatic mood swings
Once an addiction develops, using drugs is no longer a choice, but rather a compulsion due to changes in the structures and functions of the brain associated with pleasure, learning and memory.
Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Dependence
Opioid addiction and dependence are not the same thing, although they most commonly co-occur. Dependence develops due to changes in brain structure and function as the brain works to compensate for the presence of the drug in the body. This leads to tolerance, which is characterized by needing larger amounts of a drug in order to get the same effects.
With chronic, repeated opioid abuse, a shift may occur in which the brain begins to operate more normally when the drug is present than when it’s not. When this happens, withdrawal symptoms will set in when the drug is withheld from the body. This is the main indication that physical dependence has developed.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, willpower and good intentions are rarely enough to overcome a drug addiction. Professional help is almost always needed due to the intensity of withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids and because treating an addiction must begin with addressing the issues and factors that contribute to it, such as trauma or mental illness.
A high-quality treatment program that utilizes both medication and therapy is the best way to treat an opioid addiction. According to an article published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, medical detox and behavioral therapy alone have poor outcomes, with over 80 percent returning to drug use.
The combination of medication and therapy, on the other hand, has been shown by research to reduce opioid abuse, decrease cravings, reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis, and increase the motivation to recover.
In many cases, making the decision to enter treatment for an opioid addiction is the hardest part of recovery. This isn’t to say that recovery isn’t hard work. But the work you put into successful recovery comes back to you in the form of a higher self-esteem, greater purpose, an increased quality of life and a better sense of well-being.