Opioids: Addiction vs. Dependence

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How can you tell if someone is addicted to an opioid drug?

People who become addicted to opioid drugs usually report getting a feeling of euphoria or being “high.” They soon need increasing amounts of the drug to maintain that same high feeling. Unfortunately, this frequently leads to an ongoing and often desperate search for more of the drug through whatever means possible – legal or illegal.

Some behaviors that may be suggestive of possible addiction include:

  • Taking medications more frequently or at higher dosages than prescribed.
  • Ingesting drugs in ways other than directed, such as crushing, snorting, or injecting.
  • Frequent reports of lost or stolen prescriptions.
  • Doctor shopping.
  • Using multiple pharmacies.

Following are some of the key differences between addicts and pain patients:

Addicts Pain Patients
Addicts take drugs to get high and avoid life Pain patients take drugs to function normally and get on with life.
Addicts isolate themselves and become lost to their families. When pain patients get adequate relief, they become active members of their families.
Addicts are unable to interact appropriately with society. When pain patients get adequate relief, they interact with and make positive contributions to society.
Addicts are eventually unable to hold down a job. When pain patients get adequate relief, they are often able to go back to work.
The life on an addict is a continuous downward spiral. When a pain patient gets adequate relief, their life progresses in a positive, upward direction.


The American Academy of Pain Medicine, The American Pain Society and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2001). Definitions related to the use of opioids for the treatment of pain. Retrieved December 1, 2008, from American Pain Society Web site: http://www.ampainsoc.org/advocacy/opioids2.htm

The National Institute on Drug Abuse. Addiction vs Dependence. Retrieved December 1, 2008 from Our Chronic Pain Mission Web site: http://www.cpmission.com/main/addiction.html

© Karen Lee Richards 2008
Updated 12/1/2008

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