Opioid dependence is a disease in which there are biological, psychological, and social changes. This is the case for all forms of addiction, but specifically for opiates some of the physical changes include the need for increasing amounts of opioids to produce the same effect, symptoms of withdrawal, feelings of craving, and changes in sleep patterns. Psychological components of opioid dependence include a reliance on the drugs to help one cope with everyday problems or inability to feel good or celebrate without using heroin or opioids. The social components of opioid dependence include less frequent contact with important people in one’s life, and an inability to participate in important events due to drug use. In extreme cases, there may even be criminal and legal implications.

The hallmarks of opioid dependence are the continued use of drugs despite their negative effect, the need for increasing amounts of opioids to have the same effect and the development of withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.

There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the continued use of opioids. Among these are the use of opioids to escape from or cope with problems, the need to use increasing amounts of a given substance to achieve the same effect, and the psychological need to feel high.


Treatment for opioid dependence is best considered a long-term process. Recovery from opioid dependence is neither an easy nor painless process, as it involves changes in drug use and lifestyle such as adopting new coping mechanisms and being motivated to stick to a treatment plan. Recovery involves extreme levels of commitment, discipline, and the willingness to examine opioid dependence and its effects on one’s life. It is completely normal for the individual to initially feel impatient, angry, or frustrated when dealing with all the changes.

The changes the individual will need to make depends on how opioid dependence has specifically affected his/her life. The following are some of the common areas of change to think about when developing a recovery plan:

  • Physical – good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and relaxation.
  • Emotional – learning to cope with feelings, problems, stresses, and negative thinking without relying on opioids.
  • Social – developing relationships with sober people, learning to resist pressures from others to use or misuse substances, and developing healthy social and leisure interests to occupy one’s time and to give him/her a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.
  • Family – examining the impact that opioid dependence has had on one’s family, encouraging them to get involved in their loved one’s treatment, mending relationships with family members, and working hard to have mutually satisfying relationships with family members.
  • Spiritual – learning to listen to one’s inner voice for support and strength, and using that voice to guide the individual in developing a renewed sense of purpose and meaning.


During the treatment process, Suboxone will help the individual avoid many or all of the physical symptoms of opioid withdrawal. These typically include craving, restlessness, poor sleep, irritability, yawning, muscle cramps, runny nose, tearing, goose-flesh, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. A doctor may prescribe other medications for the individual as necessary to help relieve these symptoms.

The individual should be careful not to respond to these withdrawal symptoms by losing patience with the treatment process and thinking that the symptoms can only be corrected by using drugs. To help one deal with the symptoms of withdrawal, the individual should try to set small goals and work towards them.

A medicine that has proven to be more effective at treating opioid addiction is Vivitrol. Once the individual is clean for 7-10 days, he/she can receive the first Vivtrol shot which lasts about 28 days. During this time, it is virtually impossible to overdose from using opioids. Vivitrol treatment lasts for one year which involves receiving 12 monthly shots. Vivitrol is a good alternative to Suboxone. Suboxone causes physical dependence which means individuals on it will experience withdrawal when it is time to stop using it. Vivitrol, on the other hand, does not produce physical dependence and it is safe to stop Vivitrol shots without experiencing withdrawal.