There is a significant difference between opioid drug dependence and addiction, and by understanding this you can learn how to avoid both and know when to seek treatment help.
Dependence vs. Addiction: Why Prescription Opioid Use Is Not the Same as Illicit Abuse
A person can become addicted to either prescription or illicit opioids if they abuse them, but even cautious users who take a narcotic medication as prescribed can become dependent on it. This is why it is so important to understand the difference between dependence and addiction.
Dependence ≠ Addiction
Addiction and dependence are two very different things, and while they can sometimes occur together, they imply different issues and require different treatments. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction–or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences–is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug” as well as by
- A failure to meet one’s responsibilities.
- Seeking out the drug even in the face of problematic effects.
- Secretive and hostile behavior when confronted by loved ones.
- Serious physical and psychological effects.
- Apathy toward things that used to matter to the individual.
- Consequences in ones daily life (professional, personal, financial, legal, etc.) associated with their substance abuse.
In addition, many illicit or commonly misused drugs (like narcotics) can cause tolerance and withdrawal symptoms as well. When a person begins to exhibit these issues, they are likely experiencing dependence along with their addiction. While this is extremely common among opioid abusers, a person can still become dependent on an opioid drug even if they are not abusing it.
Dependence and Licit Use
Physical dependence on a drug is caused when a person uses it often and regularly over a prolonged period of time. Someone who takes opioids under a doctor’s orders will often do so in order to treat pain or other issues. Therefore, it is possible for a person to become dependent on a prescription opioid even while taking it exactly as prescribed.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Withdrawal from opiates can occur any time long-term use is stopped or cut back.” While the body will still need to be weaned off the drug slowly, this dependency is not the same as addiction. Only a person who abuses a drug by taking it without a prescription, in a way differently from how it was prescribed, or using it illicitly can become addicted to that substance.
Am I Dependent or Addicted?
If you took your medication exactly as it was prescribed to you without deviating from that prescription, it is likely you are experiencing physical and psychological dependence. You will require help from your doctor in order to be safely weaned off the drug, but you should not be concerned about addiction, as your use was not illicit.
However, if you were taking a narcotic drug (either illicit or prescription) in high doses and in a way that was not medically prescribed to you, your dependence is very likely an extension of your addiction. You will require rehabilitation in a professional treatment program in order to overcome this issue.
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