How is addiction defined in opioid abuse?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: David W Dixon, DO; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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The phenomenon of addiction is seen in a variable number of patients using drugs. Addiction is characterized as a psychological and behavioral syndrome in which the following features are observed:

  • Drug craving

  • Compulsive use

  • Strong tendency to relapse after withdrawal

Addiction must be defined by the observation of maladaptive behaviors, such as adverse consequences due to drug use, loss of control over drug use, and preoccupation with obtaining opioids, rather than pharmacological phenomenon of physiologic dependence, tolerance, and dose escalation. Do not use the term addiction to describe patients who are merely physically dependent. Also, keep in mind that undertreatment in patients with pain may result in a pseudoaddiction, and opioid-seeking behavior may be mistaken for addiction.

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