The Science of Opioid Dependence

Sadly, almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with an opioid addiction, such as oxycodone, Percocets, Vicodin, Dilaudid, fentanyl, or heroin.

12/23/20222 min read

Sadly, almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with an opioid addiction, such as oxycodone, Percocets, Vicodin, Dilaudid, fentanyl, or heroin. In fact, in the United States, opioid addiction has been labeled a public health emergency, with 128 individuals dying every day from an opioid overdose. In addition, opioid overdoses have lately eclipsed car accidents as the leading cause of unintentional mortality.

So, what causes opioid addiction? Is it "nature" (as a result of your DNA) or "nurture" (as a result of your surroundings)?

It is, in fact, both—and more! Addiction is a complicated medical diagnosis including a combination of biological, psychological, social, and environmental components

Does this imply that you must have all of these elements in order to establish an addiction?

Definitely not! "We have a variety of patients who come in battling with an opioid addiction and wanting treatment," says Dr. Brain Clear, the chief medical officer (CMO) of Suboxone clinic, a telemedicine firm that treats patients with opioid addiction with buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone). Some of my patients grew up in a home where there was substance addiction, while others claim to have had "the perfect upbringing." Some people suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, while others have no history of mental illness. Some patients' addictions began after they were prescribed painkillers by their doctors following an injury, while others began by purchasing heroin on the street." The simple line is that addiction can impact people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses.

Is there a difference between opioid addiction and physical dependence on opioids?

While opiate addiction and dependency are similar, they are not the same: Dependence occurs when a person's body becomes accustomed to taking opioids on a daily basis. If that individual stops taking opioids, they will experience withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and agitation. Even if you are taking your drugs as prescribed by your doctor, this could happen to anyone who begins taking opioids on a daily basis and your body develops accustomed to them. Dr. Clear outlines how addiction differs from other diseases. "With addiction, there is a level of dysfunction that obstructs one's life—patients spend all of their time, energy, and money trying to obtain opioids." As a result, people may drain their financial accounts, neglect to fulfill commitments such as going to work or caring for their families, or lie to friends and family. They lose control and their lives are taken over by their addiction."

Visit our guide to the early indications of opioid addiction for more information on the difference between dependence and addiction.

How is opioid addiction handled, given its complexities?

The most effective way to treat opioid addiction is with a dual approach that involves both drugs and behavioral components, according to scientific data. Check out Online Therapy's helpful collection of resources or our guide to methadone and Suboxone to learn more about other treatment choices.

Is there an effective treatment for opioid use disorder?

Yes! Buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone), methadone, and naltrexone, for example, have been shown to reduce death rates by more than thrice. "It's also rewarding to observe patients' lives improve once they've treated their addiction and entered a life of recovery where they can reconnect with their unique beliefs and ambitions," Dr. Clear says. Addiction treatment has been compared as a "reverse country song," in which patients regain custody of their children. Their truck is returned to them! They also reclaim their dog!