What is Opioid Addiction?
Opioids are a class of powerful drugs that are primarily prescribed to treat severe pain. If opioids are abused, they can create feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria, and can also lead to fatal overdose, along with other medical, legal and social problems. Opioids include illicit drugs, such as heroin, as well as prescription medications, such as Percocet, morphine and codeine. Opioids are an effective medication when used as prescribed, but they carry a risk of addiction because of their powerful effects.
Opioid addiction refers to a group of signs or symptoms and behaviours that indicate a person is both physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. Typically the person will continue to use opioids despite the fact that the drug use is causing significant physical, personal or social problems. Because tolerance develops quickly to the euphoric effects of the drug, the person will take increasing amounts of the drug in order to feel high. Through chronic exposure to the drug, the person will also show signs of physical dependence. That is, if the person abruptly stops using the drug, he or she will experience very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as strong cravings, sweating, muscle aches and insomnia. Withdrawal symptoms happen when the body cannot re-adapt quickly enough to the absence of the drug.
Opioid addiction involves more than just physical dependence. For example, a person with cancer who is prescribed opioids for severe pain may experience withdrawal symptoms when he or she stops taking the medication, but is not addicted. In addition to physical dependence, opioid addiction also involves psychological dependence. This means that the drug is so central to the person’s life that the need to keep using becomes a craving or compulsion, even if the person knows continued use is harmful.
Cravings and increasing tolerance may lead the person to buy drugs on “the street” or go to more than one doctor to get the same drug. He or she may smoke, snort, crush or inject the drug in order to feel high faster and more intensely.