Do you know the difference between medication tolerance and addiction? Patients may be hesitant to try medications for pain. It is important to understand the meaning of addiction; it is a word that is often misused.

 Some patients need long-term pain medicine to manage their pain. Narcotics, also known as opioids, are natural or man-made medications that relieve pain. These work by releasing small amounts of medications to pain receptors in our body. Some of these medications are designed to “calm” the pain receptors for 2-4 hours, while others may work for 12 hours or more.

 An important term to understand is tolerance. Over a period of time, pain medications may not seem to work as well to treat pain like it did when first prescribed. The body begins to require a higher dose of pain medicine to maintain the same effect; it is not the same as addiction.

 It is also important to know what physical dependence on medication means. If a person had been taking pain medication for several months or years and suddenly stopped taking it, they would have withdrawal symptoms. This is known as physical dependence.  This is not the same condition as addiction.

Addiction is a chronic or long-term disease. It is characterized by behaviors that include no control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving. The craving can be pain medication, alcohol or other drugs, and the need to use it for effects other than pain relief.