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Opioid Use Disorder Vs. Dependence: What's The Difference?

Opioid dependence primarily refers to the physiological adaptation to opioids, while opioid use disorder encompasses a broader range of symptoms and behaviors related to problematic opioid use, including dependence. OUD is a clinical diagnosis that takes into account the impact of opioid use on an individual's life and functioning.

Opioid use disorder (OUD) and opioid dependence are related but distinct concepts in the realm of substance use disorders.

Understanding Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence typically refers to when a person's body has adapted to the presence of opioids. This adaptation leads to tolerance, where higher doses of opioids are needed to achieve the same effects, and withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is reduced or stopped.

Dependence can occur in people who are prescribed opioids for legitimate medical reasons, such as pain management, as well as those who misuse opioids recreationally.

Dependence on opioids can occur without the presence of problematic behaviors or impairment in daily functioning. Dependence on opioids is also a normal consequence of prolonged opioid use. It involves physiological changes in the body that lead to withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is abruptly reduced or discontinued. Dependence can occur even in individuals who use opioids as prescribed for legitimate medical reasons, such as pain management.

When a person develops dependence, their body adapts to the presence of opioids, leading to tolerance and withdrawal symptoms when opioid use is reduced or stopped.

Management of High Doses

If a patient's opioid doses become too high, a doctor may take several actions:

  • Evaluate the patient's pain management plan to determine if alternative treatments or medications could be more effective or safer.
  • Assess for signs of opioid misuse, such as seeking opioids from multiple providers or escalating doses without medical justification.
  • Consider tapering the opioid dosage gradually to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms and to improve the patient's overall well-being.
  • Collaborate with the patient to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses their pain management needs while minimizing the risks associated with opioid use.

Differentiating Dependence from OUD

Many people may be concerned about a relative or friend who takes high doses of opioids. They may seem dependent on their medication, but most people are dependent on medication they take daily. The question is, do they misuse their medication or have an unhealthy pattern of behavior when using it? Some medications may need to be changed to help them stay healthy.

The Bottom Line: OUD is a Disorder

While both dependence and opioid use disorder (OUD) involve opioid use, there are differences between the two. Dependence primarily refers to the body's adaptation to opioids, characterized by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. When a person has become used to opioids at a specific dosage, the drug may stop having as much of an effect. This will often cause a doctor to write a higher dosage for people with pain.

OUD has a wide range of symptoms and behaviors related to problematic opioid use. Cravings, loss of control over use, and continued use despite negative consequences are all symptoms of the disorder. People with opioid use disorder continue to get high even despite adverse outcomes, including arrests or overdoses.

A doctor may use different ways to screen for OUD. The screening might start by conducting a thorough assessment of their opioid use patterns, symptoms, and their quality of life. This assessment follows the diagnostic criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Does Opioid Dependence Always Turn Into An Addiction?

Many patients can be dependent on opioids without meeting the criteria for OUD. Many people use opioids as prescribed and only when in pain. Depencen is managed within the context of appropriate medical care and does not cause the harm that opioid use disorder causes.

Overall, managing opioid dependence involves careful monitoring, collaboration between patients and healthcare providers, and a comprehensive approach to pain management that considers both the benefits and risks of opioid therapy.

Understanding Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

Opioid use disorder is a clinical diagnosis characterized by a pattern of opioid use that leads to significant distress and discomfort. It usually reduces a person's quality of life and ability to make good decisions due to frequent impairment. It is a disorder of the brain that causes a person to use opioids despite negative consequences.

OUD has a range of symptoms and behaviors related to opioid use, including but not limited to tolerance. People with OUD often take more of the drug than is safe to get the high they crave. Because of this, many people have a high tolerance. Here are other symptoms:

  • A strong desire or craving to use opioids.
  • Difficulty controlling or cutting down opioid use.
  • Continued use despite negative consequences.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of opioids.
  • Using opioids in larger amounts or for more extended periods than intended.
  • Isolating from friends and loved ones.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when opioids are not used.
  • Hiding or minimizing drug use.
  • Lying or manipulating to get more of the opioid.
  • Hiding their drug use

OUD can range from mild to severe, depending on the symptoms present. Many people start using opioids as a valid prescription but move on to use street drugs when they can't obtain a prescription.

Medication-Assisted Treatment and OUD

MAT is highly effective in reducing opioid use, overdose deaths, and criminal activity, as well as improving social functioning and overall quality of life for individuals with opioid use disorder. However, it's essential to recognize that MAT is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and treatment plans should be tailored to each individual's unique needs and circumstances.

If you or somebody you love is addicted to opioids, there's help available. We help people with OUD get sober and assist with MAT if they qualify. Learn more about our services by getting in touch.


If you are in need of help, please call us at: 910-295-7246 or message us.



Contact Solas Health

Our mission is to improve lives and help you get better.

Addiction, pain, and mental health challenges interfere with the joys of living, but we can help. Dr. Corrigan, and the whole team at Solas Health, will help.

If you are in need of help, please call us at: 910-295-7246 or message us.

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