The Opioid Epidemic: How to Spot the Difference Between an Addiction and Physical Dependency

The Opioid Epidemic: How to Spot the Difference Between an Addiction and Physical Dependency

By Crystal Tsui

In a paper written by Turner et. Al (2017), Opioid Use Disorder: Challenges During Acute Hospitalization, discussed the difference between drug addiction and physical dependency. Addiction is described as a disease. It occurs when a drug produces chemical changes in the brain that enforces the medication to be more desirable. When a person is addicted to a certain drug, they start to build a higher tolerance meaning that they would not feel the effects of the drug with the same dosage. This would make them want to increase the dosage each time just to experience the same effect, which can be dangerous and lead to an overdose. The 4 C’s are the beginning signs of addiction. They are:

  • Craving
  • (loss of) Control
  • Compulsion
  • (using despite) Consequences

A few physical signs of substance abuse includes:

  • Track marks
  • Abscesses
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Blood in their vomit
  • Chronic cough

There are 3 types of opioid consumers we should be aware of; these include patients with chronic pain, patients who are on medication-assisted treatment and stable, and those who are self-medicating. If you or anyone you know has an opioid addiction, they should be met with warmth and compassion. A caring individual, like you, can help an addict seek the help they need, such as medication–assisted treatment or detoxification.

Individuals who are physically dependent on opioids are a different story. They are usually patients with chronic pain and have become dependent on opioids to relieve pain. However, they don’t feel the desire to take the medication for any purpose other than to relieve their pain. They wouldn’t feel the need to have their dosages increased constantly because the dosage of opioids does not change the effects of relieving pain.

This article is to help define the difference between an addiction and being physically dependent on opioids. This is not an exhaustive list.

If you or someone you know has a drug addiction, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit .


Opioid Use Disorder: Challenges During Acute Hospitalization, Turner et al. (2017).

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