Why Are Opioids So Addicting? And Do I Really Need Detox if I’ve Got a Prescription?

Opioid addiction is one of the hardest addictions from which to recover. This is both because of the physical dependency and the potential withdrawal symptoms. In addition, if the opioid was prescribed for an injury or chronic condition, the pain of that injury or condition might worsen after you cease your opioid intake.

What Are Opioids?

To understand the addictive factor of opioids, first you need to understand what opioids are and how they work. By definition, opioids are a specific class of drug including prescription painkillers and the illegal drug heroin.

Opioids are classed together because of their related chemical makeup. Every type of opioid works by attaching to opioid receptors in the body. These receptors can be found on the nerves spread throughout the body as well as on the brain.

Opioid painkillers are only meant to be prescribed for short periods of time following an injury or illness. Generally, if the opioid is taken as prescribed and use is discontinued after the prescription runs out, the risk of addiction is very low. The problem is that opioids cause a sense of euphoria on top of the pain relief, which sometimes tempts people to misuse them. They’ll either continue use after they no longer need the opiates, or they’ll take a higher dosage than is required per day, or some combination of both.

Misuse of opioid painkillers not only leads to addiction, but it comes with a risk of overdose and death. More than thirty thousand people died from opioid overdoses in the United States in the last year alone. It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been directly or indirectly touched by this drug epidemic.

How Do I Know if I’m Addicted to Opioids?

Physical dependence and addiction are two separate things, although physical dependence on a drug can lead to full-blown addiction. The following are some of the basic symptoms of physical dependence:

  • You build up a tolerance to the drug and therefore require more of it to achieve the same effects
  • Physical withdrawal symptoms occur if you abruptly stop taking the drug
  • You need the drug to feel like your body’s balance is stabilized

Addiction can have all of these symptoms, but it also has these additional markers:

  • You compulsively use the drug despite harmful consequences
  • You can’t stop using the drug
  • You fail to meet social obligations and day-to-day responsibilities

In short, physical dependence is the collection of physical symptoms which occur when your body becomes dependent on a drug. Addiction is the pattern of behavior and mental health symptoms which occur when your mind becomes dependent on a drug. It’s possible to be physically dependent on a drug without requiring it for mental stability; this is dependency without an addiction present.

Do I Really Need Detox if I’ve Got a Prescription?

The answer to this question relies heavily on your unique circumstances regarding your opioid use. Broadly speaking, the safest way to detox from opioids, regardless of the level of dependency, is through a medically supervised detox. You may not have the time or money to cover a detox center, though, in which case you might consider different criteria.

If you meet the following criteria, that’s a good indication that you are using your opioid medication responsibly. If you’re concerned about physical dependency, you should speak to your doctor, but you probably don’t require a stay in a detox center:

  • You take the medication exactly as it is prescribed, both in terms of the dosage and the time of day you take it
  • You take the medication to ease pain and not because you’re seeking the euphoric side effects
  • You can contemplate stopping the medication without anxiety
  • Your medication use has not negatively affected your day-to-day life in any way

Below is another set of circumstances; if you meet any of these, you may have developed or be developing an opioid addiction:

  • Thinking about stopping the medication gives you irrational anxiety
  • Your personal life, social life, or work life has been negatively affected by your medication use (cancelled appointments, missed days, etc.)
  • You have taken more of the medication than prescribed
  • You find yourself needing to take higher doses to achieve the same effect
  • You take the medication for the feeling of euphoria rather than for the painkilling necessities
  • You acquired the medication under false pretenses (faking or exaggerating an injury, etc.)

These behaviors are concerning because they show that the medication is beginning to rule your life. It’s best to stop your opioid use before the addiction becomes even harder to fight. You should talk to your doctor immediately and get their recommendation regarding whether or not you need to check into a detox center.

When it comes to opiate detoxes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Detox centers will have access to opiate blocking medications that help mitigate withdrawal symptoms and curb opiate cravings.

If you were prescribed the opiate for chronic pain or for an injury that hasn’t yet healed, you should talk to your doctor about painkiller alternatives. It’s especially hard to stop taking opiates when they’ve worked well to manage pain. But allowing a budding opiate addiction to continue will result in nothing but regret. As your tolerance heightens, the medication’s ability to kill pain will lessen until it’s not effective at all. As you take higher doses of the medication, you’ll increase your chances of overdose and death.

If you have questions about opiate addiction or want to know more about detox centers, you can call our trained counselors at (866) 840-6411. These counselors are available twenty-four hours a day to provide information and support. Whether you’re struggling with an addiction or just a physical dependency, you don’t need to struggle alone. Help is available if you just reach out for it.