What Is Opioid Dependence?

backlit beach with person walking

backlit beach with person walking

Opioid dependence has impacted people across the United States. As a chronic disease, it has symptoms and diagnoses like any other illness, and a person who has it can receive treatment. Unfortunately, people with opioid addiction face stigma from society that can discourage them from seeking help. By knowing the science behind opioid dependence, we can make it easier for people to get treatment. This quick overview will explain opioid addiction and how to address it.

About Opioid Addiction and Dependence

When a person becomes dependent on opioids, their brain relies upon the medication or drug to make them feel “normal” and prevent painful withdrawal symptoms that occur in the absence of opioids. The human brain naturally produces chemicals in response to participation in activities we enjoy, including dopamine, that make us feel good. When an individual takes an opioid, these same chemicals are released but at a much higher rate. Over time, the brain becomes dependent on the opioids to produce those chemicals as it is no longer producing them naturally. The good feeling or “high” that comes from the flood of hormones caused by opioids can not be attained through normal activities and now the individual is unable to function without them.

Opioid Dependence Symptoms

While opioid dependence on its own may not show clear symptoms, over time the person begins to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking opiates for a period of time. In early withdrawal, they might experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose

As someone opioid withdrawal symptoms become more prevalent, they may also have:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Goosebumps

These withdrawal symptoms do not cause lethal harm, but they can feel extremely uncomfortable, making it difficult to stop taking opioids.

Opioid overdose can result in death. The signs of an overdose include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow or stopped breathing
  • Limpness
  • Vomiting
  • Blue or ashen skin
  • Small pupils
  • Unresponsiveness

If you notice these signs in someone else, call 911, attempt to wake them and give them a rescue medication if you have one.

Taking Opioid Dependence Medication

Medical professionals can treat opioid addiction and dependence with medication-assisted treatment (MAT). During MAT, a patient takes medicine that relieves their withdrawal symptoms so that they can focus on building recovery skills. Certified MAT programs include opioid use disorder counseling that helps patients better understand their triggers and develop coping strategies to reach their recovery goals. Care providers may also offer social and support services that increase a patient’s chance of success.

The types of medicine used in MAT include methadone and buprenorphine. These medications provide replacement therapy and similarly activate opioid receptors to fulfill the brain’s need for them. However, the patient takes their medicine in a controlled environment dispensed by a nurse. MAT medications also tend to have more controllable effects than opioids like heroin. They can act as a full agonist (methadone) that completely activates the receptors or partial agonist (buprenorphine compounds) that partially activate the receptors.

MAT has high success rates and provides a safe environment for recovering from opioid addiction. You can receive MAT at a treatment center like BAART Programs.

Learn More About Opioid Dependence and Addiction Treatment

Would you like more information on MAT and opioid dependence? We welcome you to contact our staff online to ask us questions or schedule an appointment at BAART Programs. You can find our locations across the United States.

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