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Why it Only Takes Days to Develop Opioid Dependency

Did you know that it only takes a few days to develop an opioid addiction? According to an article from, “Among patients without cancer, a single day’s supply of a narcotic painkiller can result in 6 percent of patients being on an opioid a year later.”

The longer a person uses opioids, their greater their chances become of suffering from opioid addiction in the future. By taking the drugs for just five days, a person’s chances of long-term addiction already begin to increase dramatically. A person using opioids for eight days or more would rise to a 13 percent chance of becoming addicted in the future.

Martin Bradley, a senior researcher at the University of Arkansas, says, “The chances of long-term opioid use, use that lasts one year or more, start increasing with each additional day supplied, starting after the third day, and increase substantially after someone is prescribed five or more days, and especially after someone is prescribed one month of opioid therapy.”

How Does Opioid Dependency Occur?

According to an article from, a person’s body begins to rely on the opioids for functioning. “Dependence develops when the neurons adapt to the repeated drug exposure and only function normally in the presence of the drug,” says the article.

Opioids cause people to feel drowsy, relaxed, and even feelings of euphoria if had taken enough. Since the drugs make people feel this way along with making their pain go away, people depend on them to make them feel better. The brain becomes used to these feelings, so it begins to “crave” the drug.

What Makes the Problem Worse?

When an opioid prescription is refilled, a person’s chances of becoming addicted increase even more. “The highest probability of continued opioid use at one and three years was seen among patients who started on a long-acting opioid, followed by patients who started on tramadol,” said Bradley.

Those who began on a “long-acting opioid” or tramadol (Ultram) were at a greater risk of continuing opioid use than the people who were prescribed hydrocodone (Vicodin) or even oxycodone (OxyContin).

Also, withdrawal is a huge reason as to why opioid dependency becomes much worse. When people are trying to quit, they may feel flu-like symptoms, anxiety, and irritability, and they may experience nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. With their pain coming back, their brain craving euphoric feelings, and new withdrawal symptoms coming into play, the dependency becomes stronger.

How Can We Stop This?

The article says that to help patients elude the risk of getting addicted to pain killers, doctors limit the amount of opioids that they prescribe to three days or less. “Awareness among prescribers, pharmacists and persons managing pharmacy benefits that authorization of a second opioid prescription doubles the risk for opioid use one year later might deter overprescribing of opioids,” says Bradley.

Education plays a very large role in long-term opioid use. Patients and their doctors need to thoroughly discuss the precautions of their painkillers when opioids are prescribed to them for recovering.

Scott Krakower, an assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, says that “Prescribers should be cautious about what they prescribe, and they should educate patients that if they are going to prescribe opioids, there is a likelihood that patients will have an opioid dependence.”

Opioid dependency is a serious problem that only takes days to develop. By talking with your doctor about the serious problems that come along with opioid use, you may be better educated for a safer recovery.