What’s the Difference Between Opiate Dependency & Addiction – By Jessica Donovan

What’s the difference between opiate dependency and addiction. Some say none.

I say, there is a big difference!

Having spent the better part of last year with chronic back and pelvic pain I have been on and off and on and off opiates. Only to be back on again. This time while I await surgery as the source of my pain has finally  been located with no help from my general practitioner but that’s another story.

So in the meantime, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me I have been prescribed Norco AKA hydrocodone 10mg and Percocet for breakthrough pain. Let me tell you what – the chemical dependency is real folks! Your brain will become attached to this medication. You will feel the highs and lows of it all. You will get goosebumps and go into full withdrawal if you go 6-12 hours without a dose. Please don’t ever kid yourself and think your brain won’t become attached. Because it will. THAT’S the chemical dependency that requires tapering when coming off of your medication. Your brain and body will be ultra grateful that you found a medical professional to help you with said tapering process. It should be slow and purposeful and also having someone to help when you get a spike of pain is also an added bonus. So you don’t take more medication to kill your pain but end up messing up your taper.

If you decide to cold turkey off opiates you will suffer the most inhumane physical symptoms one can have. Chills, goosebumps, sweating, insomnia, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, DREADED restless legs (especially when trying to sleep) and so much more.

Now while all of this sounds absolutely delightful (NOT). This, to me, is not addiction.

This is the chemical dependency where your brain receptors are hungry to be touched by the opiate, in this case after being legally prescribed the medication.

Addiction in my understanding and feeling is when one will go above and beyond to procure their drug of choice for reasons that are beyond withdrawal or pain. When one feels like they are unable to survive in life without their medication. That’s a problem. If you don’t know how to parent, love your partner, get out of bed or enjoy your day without an opiate, THAT’S an addiction.

When you will risk your relationships, financial security, and safety to get access to a drug – THAT’S an addiction.

Yes, there is a fine line and believe me as a pain patient this year I have been careful to walk that balance. Because at one point I thought I had an addiction. I told people I did! I made it out to be like some monkey had hopped on my back and had me in a choke hold.

Not the case!

Not even a little bit.

I don’t NEED my medication for anything other than the pain I suffer and to be properly tapered off.

I enjoy my life, love my husband, and adore my girls. My friends all still matter to me. No I won’t risk financial meltdown over a drug because there is simply no need for all of that. If I run out, I won’t turn to heroin. Yes I’d be in withdrawal which would suck but I know that it would pass. I can see my way out of the medication maze. I’m not trapped.

That’s the difference between dependency and addiction! At least in my eyes and yes I will defend it to the end! Because I have lived and witnessed true addiction as it’s finest. Being the only child of two addicts I have watched those I love wither away to nothing and die. I have saved a house from foreclosure several times because street drugs were more important than paying the mortgage. I’ve wiped bloody noses from 8 days of cocaine binging and I was the one put in unsafe situations by others in hopes of them scoring a drug.

So please, when you think someone is addicted, try to understand that there’s a difference when it comes to opiates and chronic pain management. And if you don’t know the difference or can’t see the balance that patient is walking, just be quiet. Because trust me, that person doesn’t need your help in making them think they have an addiction. At least I don’t!

I beat myself up everyday for allowing myself to take care of my pain as opposed to ignoring it. When my surgery is done and successful I will wean off and get back to my regularly scheduled program called life.

Until then, I am dependent on opiates for my immediate pain relief.


(Not the addict this stigmatized uneducated world has made me out to be,)



About Jessica Donovan

As a New Jersey native, Jessica is a banker turned stay at home mom to 2 girls. Growing up as an only child, both of her parents were functioning drug addicts until they lost the ability to function. Their untimely demise came in 2004. As a result, Jessica is no stranger to anxiety and depression. With a love of writing since her early teens, putting pen to paper has always been a source of therapy and comfort. She believes talking about addiction and mental illness is important for removing stigma. Her hope is that sharing her story will empower others to get the help they need to stop the cycles of addiction. Jessica is also a pretty badass cook and even though she doesn't have the space to garden, she loves growing vegetables and keeping house plants alive. She runs her own blog at roadtoharmony.com and is a contributor for mytrendingstories.com. Should you want to have deep conversations about addiction, share a recipe, trade tips on gardening or just say hi, you can contact her at harmonyroad4@gmail.com.
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  1. I really enjoyed reading this! I felt a lot of similarities though it’s a completely different situation.

  2. Jessica, thank you for your post. As someone who is studying to become a addiction counselor, recognizing difference between addiction and dependency is crucial in being able to help. As you put it, there is a fine line and I think you made the distinction very well. For those who’ve become dependent and the time comes to stop, even when troubled by withdrawal, will be able to stop. An addict, and this isn’t definitive, will be unable to stop, even when they want to. It’s not a cookie cutter malady, nor is the definition. Thanks again!

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