White pills on a table for someone with Opioid dependence

Discovering Signs of Opioid Dependence: What Now?

If you’ve had an injury or surgery, you may have taken opioids to manage pain. But you may be surprised what happens as you heal. It may only take a short period of misuse before it becomes opioid dependence. You may not realize how much you’ve relied on opioids until you try to stop taking them.  


When this happens, you may be unsure what to do next. And you may have trouble accepting the idea of getting treatment. Learn more about substance abuse, substance dependence and how to start recovery. 


Substance abuse vs. dependence

Substance use ranges from mild recreational use to dependence. The main difference between substance abuse and dependence is how a person prioritizes their use. According to the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, eleven key behaviors define substance use. These are categorized as impaired control, social impairment, risky use, tolerance and withdrawal. 

Substance abuse

Substance abuse is present when a person shows two or three of these behaviors. It is also called a mild substance use disorder. If the person sees the risk and changes their use, they can reduce the chance of dependence. They may need counseling or other support to make these changes. Or they may find ways to do this on their own.

Substance dependence

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a person with substance dependence has a high tolerance. They will experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop without help. A person with dependence may show other misuse behaviors. But this isn’t always the case. 

Physical dependence can develop even when medications are taken correctly. Opioid medication use should be closely monitored. Addiction involves compulsive use and many life consequences. 


How to recognize withdrawal

A person with physical dependence on a substance will have withdrawal symptoms. They may not show up right away if their use is ongoing, but symptoms can appear quickly when the substance leaves their body. Withdrawal can be uncomfortable, and the urge to relieve symptoms can lead to misuse.

Symptoms to watch for

Withdrawal symptoms progress from mild to severe over several hours or a few days. outlines these physical signs of withdrawal; symptoms can feel like mild overall discomfort to disruptive digestive issues.

Early withdrawal symptoms 

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tear production
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose

Later withdrawal symptoms 

  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea

Tolerance, a sign of potential withdrawal symptoms

Tolerance is the body’s need for increased amounts of a substance. If your usual dose doesn’t work the same anymore, you may feel tempted to use more. The need for a higher dose is a sign of tolerance. 


Tolerance and withdrawal are the two key factors in substance dependence. If you’ve developed a tolerance, withdrawal symptoms may follow.


How treatment can help opioid dependence

Withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to manage alone. Doing this on your own can lead to misuse. You may be surprised to hear your doctor recommend opioid dependence treatment. But opioids have potent effects. Treatment can help you minimize the negative impact of dependence. 


As stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are reliable ways to treat opioid dependence. These include medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) and behavioral therapy. Some people may do well with both. Medication can help your body keep functioning. It’s a safer substitute that prevents withdrawal. 


With these medications in place, you can begin recovery. You can learn how opioid dependence affects your life. You get the chance to adjust your lifestyle and learn coping strategies. This approach prepares you for long-term recovery. 


Opioid dependence—what’s the next step? 

If you or someone you care about has developed opioid dependence, seek medical treatment. Trying to quit on your own can be dangerous. With help from medications, you can start recovery safely. The Right Step Houston can help.

For more information about substance abuse and dependence, call us at 844.768.0169

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