Pharmacologic Treatments for Opioid Dependence

Opioids are one of the most abused drugs. Learn more about opioid dependence and treatment for opioid dependence in this comprehensive guide.

Table of Contents

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What is Opioid Dependence?

Opioid dependence is a situation where a person’s functionality is reliant on the consumption of opioids such that when the person stops taking the drug, they have symptoms of withdrawal. Opioids are potent analgesics that are also very addictive. They have a relaxing and pleasurable effect on the nervous system. Even when the drugs are properly prescribed and taken as prescribed, some persons still have a significant risk of developing opioid addiction and dependence.1

The hallmark of opioid addiction is a strong, compulsive urge to use opioids even when they are no longer necessary for medical reasons. Opioid dependence develops when opioids are taken for an extended period.

opioid dependence

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How Opioid Dependence Occurs

Opioids are most addictive when taken in ways other than prescribed, like crushing pills so they can be injected or snorted.2

Opioids cause the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters in your brain that makes you feel good. When the opioid effects on the brain wear off, you may find yourself craving the drug. This is the first step toward opioid addiction. Subsequently, you may begin taking the drug regularly and worry that you won’t have access to the drug. Addiction develops as you become more tolerant of drugs’ effects and focus on obtaining them. In the end, you become opioid dependent, which can affect your physical and mental health.3

Common Signs of Opioid Dependence

Familiarizing with the opioid dependence symptoms will help determine if you or your loved one will require opioid addiction treatment. The physical signs of opioid addiction are usually obvious.

Some of the common signs of opioid addiction and dependence are:

Why People Become Addicted to Opioids

Opioid use disorder is pervasive in the US. Opioid addiction and dependency are very detrimental to a person’s health. However, many people still fall victim to it. To understand why we’ll look at the causes of opioid addiction in this session.


Studies on genetic risk factors for opioid addiction have focused heavily on variations in the genes that give instructions for producing opioid receptors. The way the body reacts to opioids may be affected by variations in the shape and function of the receptors, according to researchers.4


Environmental influence on opioid misuse can be from peer pressure or a doctor’s prescription for a previous injury. Environmental factors, such as your family’s beliefs and attitudes and exposure to a peer group that promotes opioid use, have a role in first-time use that may lead to opioid dependency and addiction.5

Lifestyle Factors

Opioid addiction can be caused by lifestyle factors such as stress. To feel good or relieve stress, people may take opioids and develop a habit of taking them whenever they are stressed.

How To Diagnose Opioid Dependence?

At least two of the following should be noticed during a year to confirm a diagnosis of opioid addiction:6

Complete Evaluation

When OUD is suspected, a complete evaluation is necessary to diagnose the condition. This may include getting the results of urine drug tests and prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) reports.7

Mental Health Issues and Opioid Dependence

Opioid dependence is frequently accompanied by a co-occurring mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Some people experience mental health problems because of their opioid use disorder. Sometimes, patients get an opioid use problem to deal with the mental illness symptoms.

The most common mental illnesses associated with opioid addictions are depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Pharmacological Treatments for Opioid Dependence

It takes more than willpower the management of opioid use disorder. However, you can employ opioid addiction treatment options, including Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to treat opioid addiction and therapy for opioid use disorder. The opioid dependence medications used for the management of opioid use disorder include the following:


Evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder involves the use of three medications, one of which is Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist for treating opioid dependence. This opioid treatment medication also has the potential for misuse and diversion. Although, it is less likely to cause an overdose unless combined with other drugs.


Another opioid addiction treatment medication that is quite effective and potent is methadone. Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist used as a component of a comprehensive opioid addiction recovery plan to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal.


Opioid treatment may also include Naltrexone which reverses or blocks the effects of other opioids. Naltrexone is an effective drug to treat opioid addiction with fewer risks than other opioid treatment medications. Naltrexone is not an opioid, and it is not addictive. However, it is not an opioid addiction treatment option for anyone younger than 18 or persons with a co-occurring health condition. Naloxone OverviewAn important thing to note about opioids is that people who abuse them are susceptible to an opioid overdose. The first line of action for an opioid overdose is to quickly administer Naloxone, an opioid antagonist that reverses the effects of other opioids and calls for medical assistance as quickly as possible. Following this episode, you or your loved one that has recently suffered an opioid overdose will need opioid overdose supportive therapy and other forms of opioid treatment to help manage the addiction.

Vivitrol and Sublocade

Although MAT medications are meant to help people overcome the risk of opioid withdrawal, they do run the risk of dependency and abuse. As such, some substances are considered safer to use than others. Sublocade is generally considered a safer alternative to methadone or Suboxone. Sublocade is made up of buprenorphine, and it is meant to be used on a monthly basis. Sublocade continuously releases a sustained level of buprenorphine throughout each month.Vivitrol is another medication considered to be safer than some other forms of MAT. Vivitrol is made up of naltrexone. It reduces opioid cravings, and Vivitrol injections can also be used to help an individual overcome alcohol cravings.

Psychological Treatments for Opioid Dependence

opioid dependence

Opioid treatment is not complete without opioid use disorder therapies. In seeking opioid addiction help, it is also important to include psychological treatment. This is because of some factors that cause opioid addiction and dependence, like stress, addressed in therapy. You stand a higher chance of beating opioid addiction if opioid use disorder therapies are included in your treatment plan.

Motivational Interviewing & Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational interviewing is a counseling technique that helps people find the drive to achieve positive behavioral changes.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps you understand why you might be using drugs, strengthens your confidence in your ability to solve your problems, and teaches you how to deal with difficulties more successfully.

Family Therapy

Family therapy includes close family members to support your treatment.

Couples Counseling

Opioid dependence can have negative impacts on our relationship. A treatment plan that includes couples therapy can help improve your relationship and strengthen your bond.


Hypnotherapy is a therapy that uses hypnosis to aid in treating various illnesses such as opioid dependence. It is characterized by a heightened state of focused attention and concentration. It enables you to be more receptive to suggestions for healthily altering your views, feelings, emotions, memories, thoughts, or behaviors.


Neurotherapy, often known as neurofeedback, is a type of therapy that evaluates a person’s brainwave activity, intending to help people learn how to alter their brain activity and enhance self-regulation.

Twelve-Step Facilitation

Twelve-step programs have objectives like having a sponsor or attending meetings to help you overcome your addiction.

Getting Help For Opioid Dependence at Soledad House

Opioid addiction recovery is possible. The first step toward this path is to find an authentic and reliable treatment center to help in the journey to sobriety. In this regard, Soledad House is a reliable choice. Soledad House is a luxury addiction treatment facility dedicated to helping you or your loved one overcome substance use disorder, including opioid dependence, and achieve long-term sobriety and recovery. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about what Soledad House offers and how to create a unique treatment plan best suited to your needs.