What is opioid dependence?

dependence opioid
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What is opioid dependence?

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Opioid dependence has often been described as a brain disease with a behavioral component.* Studies of brain chemistry have led to the understanding that opioid dependence is a biological brain disease that drives drug-seeking behavioral patterns that are neurologically wired to survival.1 The physical reality of withdrawal and cravings compounds the psychosocial aspect of the disease and causes a strong need to repeat the experience. Long-term fundamental changes to the structure and function of the brain often compel people to continue to misuse opioids, despite the harm they can cause.

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Opioid dependence has been described by the World Health Organization and the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a brain disease with a behavioral disorder. Long-term fundamental changes to the structure and function of the brain often compel people to continue to misuse opioids, despite the harm they can cause.

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Characteristic features include drug craving and maladaptive behaviour focussed on obtaining opioids at any cost. Opioid misuse can be defined as a continuous compulsion to use opioids despite physical, psychological or social harm to the user.3 The World Health Organisation suggests that the following are required for the diagnosis of opioid dependence:4 • A strong desire or sense of compulsion to take the substance. • Difficulty in controlling use. • A physiological withdrawal state. • Tolerance. • Neglect of alternative pleasures and interests. • Persistence of use despite harm to oneself and others.

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