Understanding Opioid Dependency

What is Opioid Dependency?

Opioid dependency is an addiction to prescription painkillers or illegal opioids, a condition in which a person's body becomes reliant on opioids to feel good and function normally. Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription drugs such as codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and illicit drugs such as heroin. 

With the physical and psychological reliance on opioids, individuals compulsively seek and use opioids despite adverse consequences, including serious health problems, such as addiction, overdose, and death. When opioid-dependent, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug abruptly. Often, withdrawal symptoms are so severe that individuals who try to stop taking opioids without medical supervision will often return to using the drug because they cannot bear the pain of withdrawal, making addiction and recovery treatment programs ever more critical.

Understand that dependency is not a voluntary choice based on the sincere desire among the individual. Addiction affects the mind and structure of the brain, altering judgment, decision-making, response to stress, memory, capacity to learn, and behavioral control.

Signs of Opioid Dependency

Opioid dependency can often go undetected, especially in the early stages. It is a serious issue that can manifest itself in many different ways—making it essential to be aware of the signs of opioid dependency so you or your loved one can get the help they need.  

Some common symptoms of opioid dependency exhibit changes in behavior, including mood swings, changes in sleeping habits, changes in eating habits, secretive behavior, and the use of multiple drugs. A study referenced by the National Institute of Drug Abuse suggested that “roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.” So when wondering how many people have an opioid addiction and the state of opioid addiction in the United States, it is nearly 1/4 to 1/3 percent of Americans. 

If you are worried that someone you know may be exhibiting signs of opioid addiction, there are some symptoms you can look for. You or your family member are not alone in this.

Overall Signs of Addiction and Dependency

  • Not using the drug as intended and/or developing a tolerance to achieve a desired effect
  • Seeking a drug in larger quantities or more frequently than prescribed
  • A commitment to minimizing usage without success
  • Persistent cravings and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when reducing the use
  • Engaging in risky behavior to obtain and use a drug
  • Effect on personal relationships and performance at work, home, and/or school

Physical Signs of Opioid Dependency

  • Change in Motor Skills
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Itchy Skin
  • Muscle Pain
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Pupil Constriction
  • Scabs, Sores, or Puncture Wounds if Using Needles
  • Weight Loss

Behavioral and Physiological Signs of Opioid Dependency

  • Anxiety
  • Avoiding Family and Friends
  • Change of Friend Groups
  • Change in Hygiene
  • Change in Eating Behaviors
  • Change in Sleeping Patterns
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Distorted Perception of Reality
  • Extreme Behavioral Changes
  • Loss of Focus, Interest, or Motivation
  • Mood Swings

Withdrawal Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Goosebumps 
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle Pain
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Runny Nose
  • Runny Stool
  • Sweating 

Stages of Opioid Dependency

There are three stages of opioid addiction: early, middle, and late. Each stage has its unique symptoms and challenges. 

  • An intense desire marks early-stage opioid dependency for the drug and a strong feeling of euphoria. The individual may also exhibit signs of withdrawal if they don't get their fix. 
  • During the middle stage, the individual's body becomes dependent on opioids, leading to frequent illness and a general feeling of malaise. 
  • The late-stage is marked by a compulsive need to use and continue use despite negative consequences.

Dangers of Opioid Dependency

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 841,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Most of these deaths were from opioids, including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin. 

Prescription opioids are highly addictive and can be deadly when not taken as prescribed. When used correctly, prescription opioids can help manage pain safely and effectively. However, many people start abusing prescription opioids after becoming hooked on them for legitimate reasons. 

For example, someone may be prescribed opioids for pain relief after surgery but take them more frequently or in larger doses than prescribed. This can quickly lead to addiction and dangerous opioid abuse. When misused or abused, prescription opioids can be addictive and lead to serious health consequences, including death.

Opioid addiction can have devastating consequences both physically and emotionally. People addicted to opioids often lose their jobs, homes, and relationships.

The increasing number of overdose deaths is part of an ongoing opioid epidemic in the US. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Once someone becomes addicted to opioids, they will likely need treatment to overcome their addiction.

Opioid Addiction and Mental Health

Mental health is often affected in those who are struggling with opioid dependency. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that rates of major depression were more than two times higher in people who misuse opioids than in those who do not. Rates of anxiety disorders were also significantly higher in opioid misusers. Studies have also shown a correlation between opioid dependency and increased suicidal ideation and attempts levels. 

There is a clear connection between opioid dependency and mental health conditions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported in 2016 that of the 18.3 percent of adults aged 18 years old or older who had any mental illness in the past year, 7.8 percent had abused substances in that period.

Substance abuse and mental health are two serious issues that often go hand in hand. Research has also shown that people with a history of mental illness and/or mental health disorders are more likely to develop an opioid dependency, and those who are dependent on opioids are more likely to have a mental health disorder. In some cases, people may start using opioids to self-medicate for their mental health disorders. This can lead to dependence on opioids and further mental health problems.

Some of the most common mental health disorders associated with opioid dependency include depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s essential to treat both conditions simultaneously, as they can feed off each other and make it difficult to recover. Both opioid dependency and mental health must be treated simultaneously in order for the person to have the best chance of recovering.

Treatment for Opioid Dependency

The most common treatment for opioid dependency is medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which uses medications such as methadone or suboxone to help people reduce or stop their use of opioids. These medications work by blocking the effects of other opioids and helping to stabilize brain chemistry.

If looking for treatment options at an opioid addiction treatment center, Central Florida Treatment Center has an outpatient program specializing in medication-assisted treatment for opioid and narcotic addictions. 

It has been serving the needs of those suffering from addiction to heroin and pain medicine since 1983. We understand opioid dependency and help each patient design a recovery treatment plan to meet their needs. Utilizing methadone or suboxone to break the grip of withdrawal, our clinical staff works to help patients build upon their strengths, resulting in a healthy mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual recovery. Life becomes livable again.