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.