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What Does Opioid Dependence Mean?

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When you’re learning about opioids and their effects on the body, you may see the terms “dependence” and “addiction.” While many people use these terms interchangeably, they technically have separate definitions. Knowing the difference between dependence and addiction helps patients, loved ones and medical professionals understand how to address them. This guide will explain opioid dependence’s meaning and how to treat it.

What Is Opioid Dependence?

The term “opioid dependence” refers to physical dependence on opioids. When someone becomes physically dependent on a substance, their body relies on it to avoid withdrawal. In this case, instead of making enough of its own opioids, the body has begun to rely outside opioids to maintain normal function. It builds a tolerance to opioids over time and needs more of them to feel the same effects. If someone has a physical dependence, they don’t always have an addiction, but it can contribute to one.

How Does Someone Develop a Physical Dependence on Opioids?

Our bodies have endogenous opioids, or opioid compounds that they produce by themselves. When you take opioid medicine, it works with your natural systems to help your body manage pain. Opioids attach to the opioid receptors in your brain and cause reactions in the nervous system. These reactions moderate feelings of pain and promote relaxation and happiness. When someone takes an excessive amount of opioids, they can feel a rush of euphoria.

As someone uses opioids, they build a tolerance, which means their brain produces less endogenous opioids naturally and sends signals that it needs more external opioids to have positive feelings and pain relief. Without an adequate amount of opioids, the person begins to feel withdrawal symptoms.

What Does the Treatment of Opioid Dependence Involve?

Patients receive opioid dependence treatment when the dependence happens alongside an addiction. Most people who take opioids have dependence to some degree, and it doesn’t always cause harm. However, when dependence accompanies addiction, the patient needs extra help.

When someone has an opioid addiction, also known as opioid use disorder, they can receive professional treatment. At clinics like BAART Programs, they can receive medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT involves the use of medicine to satisfy the patient’s dependence so that they can build recovery skills.

How Does Opioid Dependence Differ From Addiction?

While dependence refers to a physical reliance on opioids, addiction covers abnormal behaviors and feelings about them. A person with an opioid addiction has uncontrollable cravings for opioids even if there are no physical symptoms of dependence currently present. The need for external opioids may cause risky or drug-seeking behaviors caused by their brains need for the substance. The physical effects of dependence can create or worsen an addiction, but they can also happen without an addiction. Opioid use disorder treatment involves managing the dependence and the addiction to help the patient stop using opioids.

Where Can Someone Get Help for Opioid Dependence and Addiction?

If you or someone you know has an opioid addiction, they can get help from a treatment center like BAART Programs. We welcome all prospective patients to contact our team online to schedule an intake at one of our locations.

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