Supporting the stages of recovery

What is addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that develops in response to the use of an addictive substance. Symptoms include impaired control, social impairment, risky use, increased tolerance, and withdrawal. Drugs change the structure and functioning of the brain, impairing the part of the brain in charge of impulse control.

What is physical dependence?

Physical dependence can happen with the chronic use of many drugs including opioids like heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Prescription opioids can lead to physical dependence even if taken as instructed. When drugs such as opioids are stopped suddenly, withdrawal symptoms develop. With opioids, withdrawal symptoms include tearing up, runny nose, sweating, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Many describe withdrawal as the worst flu of their life.

Can addiction be treated?

Yes. Addiction is a chronic disease that can be treated and managed successfully by the use of behavioral therapy and/or medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. Research shows that a combination of behavioral therapy plus medication is the most successful form of treatment.

Due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapses happen. However, this does not necessarily mean that treatment has failed, rather that treatment needs to be adjusted or reinstated. This is similar to relapses in other chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension which have a complex set of physiological and psychological factors that could lead to relapse.

Resources to learn more