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Opioid Dependence


What is opioid dependence?

Opioids are medicines, such as morphine and codeine, used to treat pain. Dependence happens after you have used opioids regularly for a long period of time. Dependence means that your body gets used to how much medicine you take. Dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction means that a person uses opioids to get high instead of using them to control pain.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid dependence?

  • You need more of the opioid to get the same amount of pain relief as you did when you first started taking it.
  • You have tried to use less opioid medicine but are not able to.
  • You have withdrawal symptoms when you take less of the opioid.

What are the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal?

You may have the following signs and symptoms if you suddenly stop taking opioids or if you decrease the amount you normally take:

  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills or goosebumps
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Anxiety

How is opioid dependence diagnosed?

Your caregiver will do a physical exam. He will ask you questions about your symptoms and your use of opioids. He will also ask about your current and past use of other drugs and any family history of drug abuse.

How is opioid dependence treated?

You may be treated in a hospital or you may be treated as an outpatient. During detoxification (detox), caregivers will slowly decrease your dose of the opioid medicine you are dependent on. They may use another opioid medicine such as methadone to decrease symptoms of withdrawal. You may need to take this or another medicine for some time. Your caregiver will also replace the opioid with another pain medicine that is less likely to cause dependence. He may also suggest that you receive counseling and social support during treatment.

What are the risks of opioid dependence?

There is a risk of overdose during early treatment with methadone. You may become dependent on the medicines used to treat opioid dependence. Without treatment, you may develop other health problems or become addicted to opioids. Your risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs increases. You may also develop risky behaviors that can lead to an overdose, violence, and suicidal thoughts.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your speech is slurred.
  • You have difficulty staying awake.
  • You have nausea and vomiting.
  • You are easily upset or cry easily.
  • You have poor balance.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel lightheaded or faint.
  • You have a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat.
  • You have a seizure.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.