Turning things around – we want to help you do just that. TurnToHelp.com was created to give you information and support to help you learn about opioid dependence and its treatment. So, you can take the next step.
Opioid dependence is a real medical condition. It’s very common, and can happen to anyone. You are not alone. But what is it exactly? Let’s start with opioids to help give you a better understanding.
What are opioids?
Opioids are drugs that work in the body the way opium does – they block the body’s ability to feel pain. Some are made directly from opium (for example, morphine and codeine), while others are man-made but similar chemically to opium (for example, the painkillers oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, better known by such brand names as OxyContin®, Vicodin®, Percocet®, and Actiq®). Heroin is also an opioid.
Resetting the brain.
For people with severe pain, opioids are very effective medicines, and many patients treated for pain with opioids do not become addicted. For some people, however, opioid dependence is an unexpected consequence of proper pain treatment. The problem comes when someone is unable to stop using the drug after the pain passes. Why does this happen? Over time, opioid prescription painkillers can alter the brain’s chemistry by “resetting” the brain so you begin to feel you need more and more of the drug just to get through your day. That’s why doctors consider opioid dependence a long-term medical condition – one that can be treated effectively. Learn more about treatment here.
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THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF OPIOID DEPENDENCE
Opioid dependence can affect everyone differently. That’s why knowing the signs and symptoms of opioid dependence and how they may relate to you is an important first step in recognizing your own individual risk.
The following is a list of some general warning signs and symptoms that could indicate you may be at risk of opioid dependence. It is not a complete list, so please talk to your doctor if you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms and to decide on your next step.
Source: Physical Signs & Symptoms. Available at: www.buppractice.com/node/2994. Accessed June 12, 2012.
This is not a complete list or a method of diagnoses. Only a medical professional can determine the diagnosis of opioid dependence.
Where do you go from here?
If you are currently using opioids and have been experiencing any of these issues, you may want to learn more by taking the Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST) – a similar screening test to one used by physicians who treat this medical condition. You can use your results and recommendations to start a conversation about opioid dependence with your doctor.
Opioid dependence is a real medical condition that can be treated effectively. As more people come to understand that opioid dependence is a medical condition and not a personal failure, more people are taking steps towards the treatment options that may help them – including those in the privacy of a doctor’s office.
OPIOID DEPENDENCE CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE
Opioid dependence may be more common than you thought. And although you may feel alone, you’re not. Opioid dependence can affect men and women of all ages, races, ethnic groups, and educational levels. So, it can happen to anyone – a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a spouse, a brother, a sister, or parent.
Did you know?
More help. More treatment.
More and more people are getting help each day – great news! People are discovering they don’t have to struggle with this medical condition alone because now there are more effective treatments available that have worked for others. Learn more about these treatment options so you can make an informed decision about treatment.
*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-41, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 11-4658. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2011.
HOW DOES DEPENDENCE BEGIN?
No one sets out to become dependent, but why do some people become dependent on opioids while others don’t?
While everyone is unique, some known factors can increase the chances that a person will become dependent. These may include:
Your genetic makeup
Some people may be genetically predisposed to opioid dependence. This means that having a family member who has been dependent on alcohol or another substance may make a person more likely to become dependent on drugs themselves, including opioids.
How your body processes a drug
People can absorb medications or other drugs differently because of their individual body chemistry.
Underlying emotional issues
A person’s emotional state while using a particular medication or drug can lead to differing effects from one person to another.
Environmental influences and/or previous substance use
Many people may be negatively influenced by those around them to abuse other substances, which may also increase the risk for dependence.
Understanding the path to dependence.
Many people who become opioid dependent move along a path toward dependence that may look like this:
|1||Prescription: Your doctor prescribed you an opioid medication for pain (or you took one for a non-medical use).|
Opioids enter the bloodstream and attach to specific places in the body, called "opioid receptors." When the opioids occupy these receptors, they block pain messages from reaching the brain. That’s why opioids are used to relieve pain when a person is injured or recovering from surgery. When opioid receptors are occupied by opioids, a chemical called "dopamine" is also released, which gives the effect of relief as well as feelings of pleasure or euphoria.
|2||Relief or pleasure: Your pain is relieved, and/or you discover the medication gives you a heightened feeling of pleasure, which leads to repeated use.|
When the effects of the drug begin to wear off (i.e., the opioid molecules leave the opioid receptors), pain messages to the brain are no longer blocked and any feelings of relief or feelings of pleasure also begin to fade, triggering a desire for those same feelings to return.
|3||Drug tolerance: Your brain’s chemistry can become altered over time as the medication “resets” the brain to make you feel you need the medication just to continue daily activities.|
Continued use of the medication causes changes in the brain that may lead to drug tolerance. As the brain gets used to (i.e., more tolerant) the drug, it becomes less sensitive, and more of the drug is needed to get the same pleasurable feelings, or even just to feel "normal" again.
|4||Physical dependence: When you are not taking the drug, you experience symptoms of withdrawal, such as muscle aches, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.|
According to the National Institutes of Health, withdrawal symptoms can include agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, insomnia, runny nose, sweating, yawning, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, dilated pupils, goose bumps, nausea, and vomiting. Even people with the best intentions to stop or reduce their use have a difficult time tolerating these intense and unpleasant symptoms. They recognize that continued use of the drug alleviates withdrawal symptoms.
|5||Psychological dependence: Intense cravings for the drug, you find yourself using the drug more and more or in larger doses.|
After experiencing cycles of withdrawal and relief, people begin to fear the withdrawal symptoms and spend more and more time making sure that they continue to keep a level of drug in their system and at their disposal in order to prevent and avoid the intense withdrawal symptoms. People find they are taking significant risks to obtain opioids despite the harmful consequences to themselves, their family, their job, or their community.
|6||Behavioral dependence: Opioid misuse can reset the brain’s chemistry and drive your behavior.|
Avoiding withdrawal along with the need to have more of the opioid to get the same pleasurable effect that it had previously can alter people’s behavior. Emotions and actions begin to change noticeably. Feelings of frustration, defeat, and shame take over and people begin avoiding family, friends, and activities that once were enjoyed.
It is because of these brain chemistry changes that opioid dependence is now considered a chronic brain disease.
Understanding how dependence can begin is an important step to helping you manage opioid dependence. Knowing how it may have started can help you choose a future plan with your doctor, beginning with the right treatment options to help you.
FAQs: About opioid dependence
- What are opioids and why are they prescribed?
- What are some examples of opioid prescription painkillers?
- What are triggers and what do they have to do with opioid dependence or drug addiction?
- Is addiction to opioid prescription painkillers a disease?
- Can someone who is addicted to opioids or heroin simply stop taking them or “quit cold turkey”?
All brand names cited above are the property of their respective owners. Vicodin is a registered trademark of Abbott Laboratories. Percodan and Percocet are registered trademarks of Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Duragesic is a registered trademark of Ortho-McNeil, a Johnson & Johnson Company. Actiq is a registered trademark of Cephalon, Inc. Demerol is a registered trademark of the Sanofi-Aventis Group. MS Contin and OxyContin are registered trademarks of Purdue Frederick Company. Avinza is a registered trademark of King Pharmaceuticals Research and Development, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of King Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Tylenol is a registered trademark of McNeil Consumer Brands, Inc. Darvon is a registered trademark of aaiPharma LL.