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How Quickly Can Someone Develop Tolerance to Opiates

No matter if individuals buy opiate drugs off of the streets or the drugs were prescribed to them by a medical professional, opiates can result in serious problems for an individual’s physical and mental health. The main reason for this is because of opiates’ ability to form tolerances within their users.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), tolerance may develop “when drugs such as heroin are used repeatedly over time. Tolerance occurs when the person no longer responds to the drug in the way that person initially responded. Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response achieved initially.”

What is the Difference Between Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction?

  • Tolerance — We now know that tolerance can form when someone requires more of a drug to achieve the same effect over time, but how does it differ from dependence and addiction? Well, tolerance can lead to dependence or addiction if not monitored carefully. Building up a tolerance to opiates puts an individual at serious risk for developing tolerance addiction problems down the road, and it is extremely common for this to happen.
  • Dependence — Dependence forms when the individual’s body begins to rely on the drug in order to function properly. Also, in absence of the drug, the user will experience withdrawal symptoms (such as shaking, sweating, etc.). Drug tolerance and dependence to opiates go hand-in-hand with each other since building up a tolerance can result in the body depending on it to function.
  • Addiction — Addiction takes dependence one step further; instead of just the body depending on the drug, the mind becomes involved as well. Addiction takes a toll on a person’s mind, body, and spirit, as well as their personal life and social relationships. An individual may have formed an addiction if they begin to neglect personal obligations, have relationship problems with friends and family members, or get in trouble with the law due to their addiction tolerance.

How Do Opiate Dependences Form?

  • Because of tolerance — since a person needs to keep taking drugs in higher doses to feel its effects, drug dependences can form as a result of tolerances.
  • Long-term use — many people who are on opiate drugs have been using them for a long time. Frequent use of opiate drugs for long periods of time can contribute to a person’s drug dependence.
  • Getting through life — when individuals begin to use opiates to “get through life,” they have a higher risk of developing a dependence. If someone has had a stressful day, is battling a mental health disorder, or has had a traumatic event happen in their life, opiate use may be more prevalent.

Why Does Opiate Tolerance Form So Quickly?

Opiate tolerance forms rather quickly due to “the development of dependence to morphine, and other opioid drugs involve specific areas of the brain, separate from the reward pathway, which has a more direct effect on whether or not the person will become addicted to opioids,” according to the NIDA. Opiate drugs create feelings such as relieved pain, drowsiness, relaxation, and even euphoria in high doses, and all of these keeps the individual coming back for more.

Another reason that opiate tolerance forms so quickly is due to the harsh withdrawal symptoms that individuals could experience without the drug’s presence in their bodies. Withdrawal symptoms of opiates may include muscle pain, sleeping problems, flu-like symptoms, irritability, anxiety, nausea/vomiting, and diarrhea — many of these are the opposite effect of what the medication was trying to help in the first place. Individuals will continue the use of these drugs in order to prevent these symptoms from occurring.

If you or somebody that you know is suffering from drug tolerance or addiction, call SAFE Prevention at 1-877-503-2608 as soon as possible. SAFE is an online place (that stands for “Stop Addiction with Family Education”) where family members can learn about addiction, treatment, and how to find the right resources for your unique situation. Call SAFE Prevention today so that you can gather the best information for making the most effective decisions for your loved ones!

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