What is Opioid Painkiller Dependence?

Opioid Painkiller Dependence (OPD) is a physical addiction to prescription, and or over the counter painkillers.

Opioid painkiller dependence is a long-term medical condition — and one that can be treated effectively.

Many people take opioid painkillers to relieve the pain associated with a range of medical conditions. If you take opioids, you may become tolerant to them. This means that more of the drug is needed to obtain its effects. It is also possible to become dependent on opioids. This means that if you stop taking them, you will feel sick. The sickness is known as withdrawal. Dependence is not the same as addiction, but can lead to addiction.

Opioid painkiller dependence can affect anyone – men and women of all ages, races, ethnic groups; it can affect a friend, colleague, spouse, brother or parent.

Is this you? Or, someone you love?

People who struggle with opioid dependence may be reluctant to ask for help because of the stigma attached to the notion of “drug dependence.”

What are opioids?

Opioids also called opiates or narcotics – they block the body’s ability to feel pain, they slow down the actions of the body, such as breathing and heartbeat and affect the brain to increase pleasant feelings. Opiates cover a huge variety of drugs, ranging from legal drugs such as fentanyl, codeine, and morphine to illegal drugs such as heroin and opium.

Why does dependency happen?

Over time, prescription and over-the-counter opioid painkillers can change the brain’s chemistry by “resetting” the brain so people begin to feel like they need more and more of the drug just to get through the day.

Signs and symptoms of OPD

Opioid painkiller dependence can affect everyone differently. It’s a chronic medical condition that results from changes in the brain.

Recognising the signs and symptoms of dependence early on is an important step in understanding your individual risk.

The following is a list of some of the warning signs and symptoms that could indicate risk of opioid painkiller dependence:

  • needing to take more of the drug to get the same effect
  • spending a lot of time and effort to obtain, use and recover from opioids
  • running out of prescription medications early
  • accessing two or more physicians for prescriptions
  • buying opioids on the street
  • crushing, snorting, smoking or injecting opioids
  • showing signs of opioid intoxication, drowsiness, delayed reaction
  • feeling ill (withdrawal) when the use of opioids suddenly stops. Digestive disturbances (like constipation)
  • experiencing cravings to use
  • loss of friendships or marital problems
  • sleep problems
  • mood swings / anger / irritability / depression
  • sexual dysfunction

If you feel that you or some one you know is experiencing these symptoms please talk to your doctor.

You are not alone. There is help. Opioid painkiller dependency may not be easy to overcome, but people can and do recover.

What are the treatment options available?

It is important that you understand the treatment options available so you can make a choice that fits your individual circumstances and optimises your chances for recovery.

Treatment can help you manage your dependence, get through withdrawal symptoms, cope with cravings and help you stop or reduce opioid overuse or misuse.

Treatment can also help you address life issues, such as feelings of self worth or a bad situation at work or home. Treatment helps you move into a healthy, addiction-free lifestyle known as recovery.

Treatment options:

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

The use of medications (methadone or buprenorphine) replaces the opioid the person is using. It helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms and decrease cravings in order to help stay focused on treatment goals.

The goal is for the person to feel physically normal, rather than either high or craving opioids. If that goal is achieved, the person can then receive other necessary treatments (e.g., psychiatric), work or address other issues (e.g., family issues or problems with other substances).


There is more to opioid dependency than just physical addiction. Counselling can be very effective in addressing the psychological and behavioral aspects of addiction. Combining medication-assisted treatment with behavioral therapy has been shown to increase the likelihood of treatment success. Listening to other people who share your concerns and experiences, may help you learn to recognise the situations, feelings, or events that could “trigger” a desire to misuse opioids. Recognising these triggers in yourself and the world around you, and learning new coping skills can help you to avoid triggers or to manage them as they happen.

In-Patient Treatment

Treatment can be received through in-patient treatment programs or residential treatment programs which offer around-the-clock support and highly structured treatment. Patients can detach from their everyday lives for a period of time and focus entirely on following their treatment plan and achieving their goals. The length of stay is determined by the patient’s needs and treatment progress.

Out-Patient Treatment

Treatment can also be received as an out-patient, in convenient an accessible settings.

Starting treatment

To find out more about accessing treatment, speak to your doctor.

Your doctor will explain the options available to you. A treatment plan can be tailored to your individual needs to help you stay on track and achieve your individual treatment goals.

Successful treatment helps people overcome their dependence, lead a long, healthy life and re-engage in the activities that mean most to them.