Opioid Epidemic – Addiction vs. Dependence
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have now classified opioid abuse as an epidemic in the United States due to the increasing abuse of both prescription and illicit forms.
According to the CDC’s data, drug overdose deaths and opioid deaths continue to increase in the US, with 6 out of 10 drug total overdose deaths involving opioids. Since 200, illicit and prescription opioid deaths have more than quadrupled.
As this epidemic continues to spread, public understanding of opioids is vital to combating this deadly trend. Drug education will prove instrumental in saving lives, especially understanding the detrimental effects opioids have on the brain. This article discusses opioid addiction and dependence and how to differentiate and determine abuse. They key to winning addiction is spotting and reacting to early signs.
Addiction vs. Dependence – What’s the Difference?
The average person might easily confuse substance addiction and dependence, though they are not exactly synonymous. Opioid addiction is the mental and psychological inability to quit use at the cost of bodily and social harm, while physical dependence refers to the body’s change in response to the drug, such as withdrawal symptoms. Opioid addiction can occur without physical dependence and vice versa.
A physical dependence to opioids means that the body becomes reliant on the presence of the opioid, resulting in the user experiencing withdrawal. This condition means the body will become physically sick and slow down to dangerous heart and breathing rates. Physicians can treat the bodily dependence relatively quickly using proper health care and medication.
To understand the relationship between opioids and physical dependence, we need to know a little bit about the brain’s natural process for controlling pain and reward. The brain naturally is equipped with opioid receptors and produces endogenous, or naturally occurring opioids that attach themselves to these receptors. These chemicals function to help us process and remember feelings of pleasure. One of these endogenous opioids is known as endorphins, which produces euphoria to numb an injury or other traumatic experience. Someone may need to take an opioid based drug to boost their natural endorphin production in cases of extreme pain and some psychological conditions. The opioids produced within the body are typically not enough to manage chronic pain. Usually, paramedics and other professionals may immediately administer drugs like morphine to stabilize someone; opioid drugs supply the brain with the excess chemicals that block pain receptors and help ease someone off surgery.
When a person absorbs these external opioids, the brain builds a tolerance to the drug, and eventually will no longer produce enough of them naturally, leading to withdrawal. Activities that once brought pleasure (like sports, art, and relationships) will lose meaning, which can also create depression. This kind of physical dependence can occur without the psychological abuse, and even under the close supervision of a licensed physician.
Physical dependence is not unique to opioids and can happen with many other substances. Even relatively harmless drugs such as caffeine have the potential to create physical dependence. Any drug will produce some level of bodily side effects that you can manage with the advice of your doctor. Although, as someone continues to progress into higher and stronger doses of prescription or illicit form of opioid, the withdrawal symptoms become more debilitating, which may result in a lethal overdose. Experiencing some withdrawal effects will be unpleasant, but, in itself, does not imply addiction or the need to discontinue use. Always consult your doctor for advice on managing symptoms.
Professionals consider opioid addiction much more dangerous than dependence and classify it as a disorder.
“Cravings”, or uncontrollable urges, primary characterize opioid addiction. These urges persist even when the user knows of the harmful effects to their body and their relationships. Someone controlled by the drug’s impulses will engage in risky, illegal, and life-threatening activities just to satisfy their mental drive for the high experience. These urges may manifest themselves in the following behaviors;
- Financial problems from acquiring the drug illegally at street prices
- Avoiding or missing social, family, or professional obligations due to being high or spending time seeking the drug
- Using the drug for longer periods than initially intended
- Borrowing or stealing money
- Poor judgment and risky behavior
Someone with a severe addiction to opiates may recognize these behaviors as destructive but has no willpower to quit.
Cravings, and the resulting behaviors, are not unique to opioid addiction. Alcohol, other illicit drugs, gambling, can also create a mental addiction. Users can treat, or at least mask, the dependence withdrawal, but addiction is nearly impossible to break free from alone. Complete treatment involves reversing the brain’s altered chemistry through a variety of cognitive therapy and possibly months of counseling
Addiction is sometimes wrongly called dependence. While both conditions can be co-occurring, each can be present without the other. A critical first step in treating both physical dependence and addiction is identifying these two factors and the extent to which they are present in the patient.
Opioid Dependence and Addiction Treatment
Treatment methods vary based on whether the person is battling dependence, addiction, or both simultaneously.
Opioid Dependence Treatment
A medical detoxification typically treats the dependence by flushing out the substance from the individual’s system. The process of abstaining from the drug under supervised conditions will slowly allow the body to readjust physically to normal functions. In some cases, doctors may prescribe other drugs to treat extreme cases of withdrawal.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Opioid addiction treatment involves suppressing the craving for the drug. Usually, rehab professionals accomplish this slowly by reintroducing healthy pleasures into the person’s life to replace the destructive desire for the drug. Complete recovery may only be possible with intensive therapy, weekly counseling, and a trusted community of loved ones. In some cases, opioid addiction treatment and recovery can become a lifelong commitment.
Understanding the distinction between dependence and addiction, especially for opioid users, can go a long way in helping the person receive the right kind of treatment. Most modern treatment methods center on the distinction between these two conditions.
The United States suffers from an ongoing opioid addiction and abuse epidemic, recently declared a national state of emergency. If you or your loved one is suffering from opioid dependence or addiction, seek treatment immediately.
Riverside Recovery offers luxury, spa-like waterfront facilities for opioid detox and full recovery. Contact us for a free consultation and get your life back!