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Signs of Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence is a common issue faced both by those who abuse these substances and by those who do not. Many people do not even realize that they are dependent on opioids and, according to the NLM, “even withdraw from [them] after being given such drugs for pain while in the hospital without realizing what is happening to them.” Consider the signs of opioid dependence in order to protect yourself from the painful effects of opioid withdrawal.

Addiction Vs. Dependence

opiate abuse

Opiate dependence can quickly lead to addiction.

It is important to understand that addiction and dependence are two separate things. A person can be dependent on opioids and not be addicted. According to the NIDA, dependence is defined as “a state in which an organism functions normally only in the presence of a drug.” Therefore, if a person

  • Can’t get out of bed or fall asleep at night without taking opioids
  • Complains of only feeling normal when they are on opioids
  • Becomes unhappy or experiences painful symptoms when not on opioids

they are likely dependent on opioids but may not addicted. Being addicted to a substance means that person cannot stop abusing the drug, even if they wanted to. Dependence means that they are accustomed to having the drug in their system, that they feel normal when they are on it and not normal when they are not. Usually, a person becomes dependent as they become addicted, but a dependent person doesn’t necessarily have to be addicted to a substance.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Another strong sign of dependence on opioids is if the individual experiences withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking the drug. Although these symptoms are not usually life-threatening, they can be very intense and painful. The NLM lists the symptoms of withdrawal which you will experience if you are dependent on opioids and trying to quit. They are:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Increased tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

These withdrawal symptoms are a definite sign of dependence. According to the NLM, “Withdrawal from opiates can occur whenever any chronic use is discontinued or reduced.”

Other Signs of Opioid Dependence

Often, tolerance and dependence build together when a person is taking opioids. Whether or not the person is abusing them, this will usually occur. Tolerance causes people who take opioids to need more of the drug each time in order to feel its effects. If you start to feel this way, you are definitely experiencing a growing tolerance and may be becoming dependent on opioids.

The brain comes to depend on the way opioids make a person feel, the euphoria and pain relief start to be something that the person relies on and expects. This is how dependence is born. It is nearly impossible to prevent it when using opioids chronically, even if you do follow your doctor’s prescription, but you should slowly taper off the drugs in order to not have withdrawal and other issues hit you at once. Detox may also be necessary if you are heavily dependent on these drugs.

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