Pills spilling out of a prescription bottle. Prescription opioid dependence and addition can require medical detox.

People frequently — and mistakenly — use the terms “opioid dependence” and “opioid addiction” interchangeably, but these conditions are very different, and how they are treated can mean the difference between life and death.

Opioid dependence is a condition in which a person is physically dependent on a substance to prevent withdrawal; however, it can be shorter in duration than opioid addiction and can sometimes be treated by weaning a patient off the opioid. Opioid addiction is a long-lasting condition characterized by a compulsive need for the substance that goes beyond dependence, such as taking the drug even when it is no longer medically required. Both opioid dependence and opioid addiction can be treated with various forms of medical detoxification.

 What Is Opioid Dependence?

Opioid dependence is not the same as addiction. Physical dependence can occur as the brain and the body adapt to the presence and effects of a drug. If the opioid intake is suddenly interrupted, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are common. When the body has reached this point of relying on a continuous, external source of opioids in order to prevent withdrawal syndrome, the person can be characterized as dependent.

When opioid drugs are continuously present in a person’s system, the body and brain have to adjust in order to function. This change provides a kind of normalcy that can be maintained with the constant presence of opioids. In other words, the body depends on opioids to function. If the daily dosage is reduced or interrupted, however, physical symptoms of withdrawal will occur.

Who Becomes Dependent on Opioids?

Dependence is not unique to illicit opioid drug users. Patients who receive legitimate opioid prescriptions for medical conditions can become dependent, similar to how people can become dependent on things like caffeine, antidepressant medications, and many other substances.

Although nearly all individuals who take opioids for an extended period will become dependent, not everyone becomes addicted. Opioid-dependent individuals might be able to meet work, social and family obligations, which distinguishes them from those suffering from addiction.

Symptoms of Opioid Dependence

Symptoms of opioid dependence can vary dramatically depending on numerous factors, such as the type of opiates taken and the dosage ingested.

Common symptoms of opioid dependence include:

  • Constipation
  • Cravings
  • Emotional indifference
  • Euphoria
  • Lack of energy
  • Small pupils

If the intake of the drug is reduced or interrupted, physical symptoms of withdrawal will occur.

Examples of withdrawal symptoms in people who are opioid dependent include:

  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sleeplessness
  • Sweating

Withdrawal symptoms in opioid dependence are different from and can be less severe than withdrawal in people who are struggling with opioid addiction. Dependent people often become tolerant to the drug they take, however. When a person’s tolerance leads to needing higher doses than the amount prescribed, that person can become addicted.

If you have been prescribed an opiate for a long period of time, you could develop a certain level of physical dependency, which is not uncommon. This dependency does not automatically mean you have an opioid addiction problem. If you suspect you might have an issue with your opioid use that you aren’t able to manage yourself, however, learn about your treatment options.

Medical treatments are available to help someone overcome opioid dependence effectively and more comfortably and safely than going cold turkey. If you or someone you know is struggling with dependence, research reputable detoxification centers’ treatment options. Specific medical treatments like anesthesia-assisted opiate detox, such as the rapid detox treatment offered by Waismann Method®, may be the solution to help you overcome opioid dependence.

Opioid Dependence Treatment

Compared with addiction, physical dependence on opioids can be more easily treated. Opioid dependence can be treated via medical detox, rapid detox, or sometimes by methodically lowering the dose, also referred to as tapering off the drug.

Opioid dependence treatment options vary based on the severity of the situation. Waismann Method® uses some of the most advanced medical protocols available to treat opioid dependence. Their quadruple board-certified medical director and his team provide the professional care needed to successfully perform opioid detoxification, starting with a medical evaluation to determine the most appropriate course of treatment for the individual.

Patients from 18 to 80 years of age can now safely become opioid free, whether they are dependent on painkillers, heroin or methadone. Waismann Method’s team has helped thousands of individuals and their families achieve healthier and happier lives. By conducting detox in an accredited hospital and providing aftercare in a private facility, Waismann Method’s team ensures the patient’s safety throughout treatment.

What Is Opioid Addiction?

In contrast to opioid dependence, opioid addiction is a longer-term condition that can develop as dependence worsens. Addiction and prolonged use of opioids can affect the brain’s response to reward, motivation and memory. The resulting dysfunction of specific circuitry in the brain can negatively impact the person biologically, psychologically and socially.

These adverse effects of opioid addiction produce an inability to consistently control behavior and impair a person’s perception or recognition of harmful and risky actions. In other words, the powerful craving for and preoccupation with obtaining and using drugs overpowers a person’s sense of responsible judgment and decision-making.

Is Opioid Addiction a Physical or Behavioral Condition?

Advances in neurobiology research have shown that human behavior is a direct response to chemical reactions in the brain. Therefore, opioid addiction is more than a behavioral disorder; it is the physical and emotional result of continuous opioid use. This type of drug addiction is an extremely progressive and harmful condition that can result in premature death. Comprehensive treatment, including detox and post-detox therapy, can help many people struggling with addiction.

Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

People suffering from opioid addiction often resist or delay the necessary actions to change their dysfunctional behavior, regardless of the negative effects it may have on their lives or the lives of others. Such harmful decision-making can be a result of prolonged exposure to the drug.

Common symptoms of opioid addiction include:

  • Difficulty identifying or controlling feelings
  • Excessive time spent obsessing over where to obtain and use substances
  • Impaired judgment
  • Increased anxiety
  • Lack of behavioral control
  • Neglect of basic responsibilities
  • Overreaction or extreme sensitivity to stressors
  • Significant damage to social, professional and family relationships

The continuous, intense craving for opioids combined with the compulsive aspect of addiction makes seeking help challenging. Many people suffering from opioid addiction describe feeling powerless. If you’ve been using a prescribed opiate for a long period of time and suspect your condition may have advanced from dependence to addiction, discuss possible treatment options with detox specialists like those at Waismann Method.

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options

Opioid addiction can be treated with medical detoxification procedures such as anesthesia-assisted detox. This rapid detox treatment involves putting the patient under sedation during detoxification to reduce the amount and length of withdrawal symptoms. Such an accelerated opioid detox flushes the substance from the person’s body, enabling them to quickly move on to post-detox recovery with a new lease on life.

Waismann Method conducts rapid detox treatments for opioid addiction in a private, full-service, accredited hospital. The medical team evaluates the patient’s needs prior to treatment to provide comprehensive care before, during, and after the detox procedure, and then the patient is discharged to an exclusive recovery center with aftercare support.

Waismann Method’s approach to rapid detox and aftercare reduces the complications and likelihood of relapse associated with some other forms of addiction treatment, including problems that can arise when aftercare is conducted in a hotel or home without medical staff support. Additionally, rapid detox can be supplemented with other post-detox treatments for opiate addiction, such as medication-assisted therapies that include behavioral therapy and counseling.

People discuss the differences between opioid addiction and dependence, which is crucial to receiving proper care and help.

Critical Differences in Treating Opioid Dependence vs. Addiction

Understanding the differences between opioid addiction and dependence can help you spot warning signs and possible symptoms of a developing addiction. Also, this knowledge enables you to speak accurately about the conditions and their differences.

Opioid dependence is preventable, and it can be medically reversed with adequate medical detoxification. Opioid misuse — such as taking more doses than prescribed, taking the drug for longer than prescribed or taking the drug for non-medical purposes — can lead to addictive behavior. Unlike dependence, addiction is viewed more as a behavioral reaction to long-term opioid use and is primarily characterized by uncontrollable cravings and the inability to manage or discontinue drug use despite the harm it causes oneself and others.

If your loved one or you are suffering from opioid dependence or addiction, remember, there is help. There is a humane, dignified and effective treatment available. You don’t need to feel ashamed or scared, and you don’t need to be locked away for months on end. A number of medical and individualized detox treatment options could be right for you.

By discussing your specific needs with highly experienced detox treatment specialists, such as those at Waismann Method, you can find out if you’re a candidate for rapid opioid detox or a non-anesthesia alternative detox treatment. Their medical team can customize your opioid addiction treatment according to your pre-existing health concerns, the type of substances you have taken, and your level of opioid use.

Published on January 22, 2019

Reviewed by Clare Waismann, CATC, Founder of Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence

All topics for the Opiates.com blog are selected and written based on high standards of editorial quality, including cited sources. Articles are reviewed by Clare Waismann, CATC and founder of Waismann Method®, for accuracy, credibility and relevancy to the audience. Clare Waismann is an authority and expert on opioid dependence, opioid use disorder, substance dependence, detoxification treatments, detox recovery, and other topics covered on the Opiates.com blog. Some articles are additionally reviewed by one of Waismann Method®’s specialists, depending on their field of expertise. For additional information and disclaimers regarding third-party sources and content for informational purposes only, please see our Terms of Service.