Opiate dependence is caused by the persistent use of opiates and is thought to be a disorder of the central nervous system. Opiates are powerful painkillers that cause sedation and euphoria. Some examples include oxycodone, Suboxone, Fentanyl, Dilaudid, heroin, Norco, hydrocodone, methadone, and Vicodin. Once opiate addiction sets in, many users feel entirely powerless and continue to use despite potentially dangerous or life-threatening consequences. Unlike some drugs, which can elicit one or the other, opiates can cause both addiction and physical dependence.
Opiate Addiction VS Opiate Dependence
Although sometimes used interchangeably, the terms “addiction” and “dependency” is clinically two separate things. The National Institute of Health says drug addiction is present when a person compulsively uses a drug despite negative and dangerous consequences and effects. A physical drug dependence means a person needs the substance to function and can have intense cravings, according to the organization.
Opiate dependence does not always entail opiate addiction. The American Academy of Pain Medicine, the American Pain Society and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, in a collaborative effort, have adopted the following definitions:
- Addiction: “Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiological disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. Examples of behaviors include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.”
- Physical dependence: “Physical dependence is a state of adaptation that is manifested by a drug class specific withdrawal syndrome that can be produced by abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, decreasing the blood level of the drug, and/or administration of an antagonist.”
Opiate addiction is commonly described as a disorder caused by an untreated opiate dependence, with a high potential for relapse. What this means is that opiate users who are trying to get well, may fall back into old patterns of drug use and abuse. Because opiates are so potent, they have a particularly high relapse rate. Strong cravings and other opiate withdrawal symptoms can trigger relapse if not well managed, even after a period of abstinence.
Drugs That Fall Into Opiate/Opioid Category
Opiate vs. Opioid
Opiates are naturally derived from the poppy plant, which contains opium. Opioids are synthetic or partly synthetic, which means that they are manufactured through chemical synthesis instead of the poppy plant. Opioids can act similarly as opiates in the human body.
Opiate Addiction Epidemic
The Center for Drug Control (CDC) shows that drug overdose notably, those related to opioids continue to increase in the US. Since 1999, the number of deaths involving opioids including prescription painkillers and heroin has quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than 500,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. Currently, an average of 91 people dies every day from an opioid overdose.
It is important to realize, that while prescription opioids are a driving factor in the increase in opioid deaths. The number of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, there had not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans reported. Furthermore, deaths from oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone have also more than quadrupled since 1999.
Symptoms of Opiate Addiction
- A compulsive desire to take the drug
- Difficulty controlling opiate use
- Experience of physical withdrawal symptoms whith the interruption of an opiate use.
- Increased tolerance to the drug, resulting in increased dosage in order to achieve effects originally produced by lower doses
- Increased focus and time took to obtain or use take the drug.
- Continued drug use regardless of harmful consequences
How Opiate Addiction Occurs
Opiates elicit their powerful effects by activating opiate receptors that widely locates itself, throughout the brain and body. Two significant effects produced by opioids are the pleasure (or reward) and pain relief. The rush of pleasure and reward or relief from pain is so strong and powerful; it can lead to opiate abuse and addiction.
The brain itself also produces substances known as endorphins (the body’s natural painkiller) that activate the opiate receptors. Research indicates that endorphins are part of many functions, including respiration, nausea, vomiting, pain modulation, and hormonal regulation. After prolonged opiate use, the nerve cells in the brain, which would otherwise produce endorphins, cease to function normally. The body stops producing endorphins because it is receiving opiates instead. The degeneration of these nerve cells causes a physical dependency to an external supply of opiates. Abrupt or sudden abstinence from opiates induces yet another traumatic disorder – withdrawal syndrome. This also leads to addiction. Learn more about opiate addiction and brain chemistry.