Frequently asked
questions

The terms ‘addiction’ and ‘dependence’ are often used to describe similar signs and symptoms, and can sometimes be used interchangeably. Throughout this website, the term ‘dependence’ refers to both physical and psychological dependence. Physical dependence on an opioid painkiller is a normal response when taking the opioid painkiller for an extended period. Psychological dependence occurs when you experience a loss of control over how much opioid painkiller you take.

‘Addiction’ is characterised by an inability to stop taking a drug, such as an opioid painkiller, and there’s a determination to obtain it by any means – despite harmful or negative consequences, for example, failing to meet work, social or family obligations.

Generally speaking, opiates are derived from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. The term opiate is sometimes used for close relatives of opium such as codeine, morphine and heroin, while the term opioids is used for the entire class of drugs including synthetic opiates, such as oxycodone.

Some people are just more susceptible to becoming dependent than others. It is not a sign of weakness or willpower and so no one is to blame. There may be a combination of reasons that lead one person to dependence and not another, including our genetic make-up, how our bodies process drugs, our mental wellbeing and the influence of others around us.

It’s important to remember that opioid painkiller dependence is a condition and not something that deserves blame – either blaming yourself or someone close to you who may be dependent. It’s no one’s fault. The main thing now is to take the next step and seek help from a doctor. Our doctor finder can help you find a doctor near you who has experience in treating opioid painkiller dependence.

Sometimes the need to take opioid painkillers can become more important than managing the original pain for which the opioids were prescribed. Whether you are still experiencing pain or not, a doctor can find new ways to help manage your pain while overcoming your opioid dependence.

Everyone is different in the way their body processes drugs. Opioids are also taken in a range of doses and opioids themselves vary in strength. Because of these differences, the time it takes to become dependent also varies. The effects of opioids also change the longer you use them, so you may notice the symptoms becoming more extreme as time goes on.

Opioids do vary in strength, however, they act in a similar way in altering the brain’s chemistry, which can lead to dependence. Codeine is actually related to morphine, and caution needs to be taken, just as it does with other opioids. Depending on genetics, people can metabolise codeine at different rates. Many people process codeine at a rate that allows them to receive the optimal pain-killing benefits. However, some individuals process codeine too slowly. This means that they may not feel adequate pain relief, and so they may take more than is recommended. Other people may process codeine too quickly, and this may lead to unsafe levels of opioids in the body. If you experience any unfavourable side effects when taking a codeine-containing medication, it’s important to speak to a doctor.

Generally the codeine that is available on prescription is of a higher dose than the codeine combination medications that can be purchased directly from the pharmacy. However you obtain codeine, whether it is prescribed or not, misuse can lead to dependence.