Which factors increase the risk of relapse of opioid abuse?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: David W Dixon, DO; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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One of the most insidious features of opioid addiction is the tendency to relapse on the drug even weeks, months, or years after those addicted stop using and withdrawal symptoms disappear. The mechanism for this type of relapse is being studied intensely. Animal studies suggest 3 distinct conditions that reliably induce relapse:

  1. Stress

  2. Exposure to conditioned cues related to past drug use

  3. A dose of the previously administered drug or a drug with similar properties

There is evidence that long-term administration of opioids can permanently alter the density of dendritic spines in certain neurons, and these permanent changes may contribute to long-lasting vulnerability to relapse.

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