September 5th, 2023
The opioid crisis persists, inflicting immeasurable suffering and fatalities worldwide. Though the extent of opioid addiction in the UK may not match North America’s, the figures remain distressingly elevated. Among the opioids causing significant harm is dihydrocodeine, a medication with addictive properties frequently misused, resulting in severe health and societal consequences. Conquering dihydrocodeine addiction may seem daunting, but it’s essential to remember that professional assistance is accessible and can facilitate a transformative turning point in your life.
What is dihydrocodeine?
Dihydrocodeine is an opioid painkiller that is chemically related to codeine but far more potent. It is prescribed for moderate to severe pain, often following surgery or injury, and in some cases for chronic pain conditions or cough suppression. Dihydrocodeine comes in tablet, capsule or liquid form and acts by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing pain signals and the emotional response to pain.
However, dihydrocodeine abuse is common with its misuse stemming from the euphoric ‘high’ it can produce, along with soothing feelings of relaxation and tranquillity. This misuse can quickly lead to physical and psychological dependence, marking the onset of addiction.
What is dihydrocodeine addiction?
Dihydrocodeine addiction is a chronic and debilitating form of prescription drug addiction. It is marked by an uncontrollable urge to use dihydrocodeine, a preoccupation with its acquisition and continued use despite experiencing harmful consequences. It is considered a brain illness because dihydrocodeine alters the brain’s structure and function, leading to changes that persist long after drug use has ceased.
Dihydrocodeine can develop in numerous ways. For example, someone might start using dihydrocodeine recreationally for its euphoric effects. Over time, this recreational use can escalate, and the person may start using the drug more frequently and in higher doses as they develop tolerance. They might then start to rely on dihydrocodeine to feel normal and avoid withdrawal symptoms.
In another scenario, a person might be prescribed dihydrocodeine for a legitimate medical reason, such as pain relief after surgery. However, they might misuse the prescription, taking higher doses or using it more frequently than recommended.
Self-medication is another common avenue to dihydrocodeine addiction. Some people might start using dihydrocodeine to alleviate mental health disorder symptoms, such as anxiety or depression. While dihydrocodeine might provide temporary relief, it does not treat the underlying disorder and often worsens the original symptoms.
In all these scenarios, the result is a dihydrocodeine addiction and abuse cycle that can be incredibly difficult to break.
Am I addicted to dihydrocodeine?
Recognising dihydrocodeine addiction signs isn’t always straightforward as it will try to convince you that you have your drug use under control or that you need dihydrocodeine for legitimate pain. If you are unsure whether you are addicted to dihydrocodeine, consider these questions:
- Do you take dihydrocodeine in larger amounts or for longer than intended?
- Have you tried to cut down or stop using dihydrocodeine but couldn’t?
- Do you spend a lot of time obtaining, using or recovering from dihydrocodeine?
- Do you have strong cravings for dihydrocodeine?
- Has dihydrocodeine use interfered with your daily responsibilities?
- Have you given up social, occupational, or recreational activities due to dihydrocodeine use?
- Do you use dihydrocodeine in situations where it’s physically hazardous?
- Have you continued to use dihydrocodeine despite knowing it’s causing physical, social or psychological harm?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, it is likely that you have a dihydrocodeine addiction.
What causes dihydrocodeine addiction?
Dihydrocodeine addiction, like other forms of substance abuse, arises from a complex interplay of various factors:
- Genetics: Studies suggest that our genes account for about half of a person’s susceptibility to addiction. This can be in the form of inherited predispositions that affect the brain’s reward and pleasure centres or genetic susceptibility to mental health disorders that increase the risk of self-medication and addiction.
- Environmental influences: Our surroundings and experiences also shape our behaviours and choices. People exposed to environments where substance abuse is prevalent or who experience peer pressure are at a higher risk of dihydrocodeine misuse. Additionally, factors like family behaviour, childhood trauma or socioeconomic stress can predispose someone to addictive behaviours.
- Psychological factors: People suffering from mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and stress often resort to self-medication to alleviate their symptoms. This is a risky strategy as it can lead to dependency and addiction. Dihydrocodeine, due to its calming and euphoric effects, can be particularly appealing for self-medication.
- Early use: Taking dihydrocodeine use at a young age increases the risk of addiction in later life as the adolescent brain is more susceptible to the rewarding effects of drugs, contributing to addictive behaviours.
- Dosage and duration: The risk of dependency increases with the dosage and duration of dihydrocodeine use as, over time, the brain adapts to the presence of the drug, requiring larger doses to achieve the same effect. Long-term, excessive use can then alter brain structures, leading to physical and psychological dependency.
It’s important to note that these factors do not work in isolation but rather interact in complex ways to contribute to the development of dihydrocodeine addiction. Understanding these factors can help in designing effective prevention and treatment strategies.
What are the effects of dihydrocodeine?
Dihydrocodeine, while effective in pain management, can lead to numerous health effects when misused or abused, including:
- Physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms: With prolonged use, the body becomes accustomed to dihydrocodeine’s presence, leading to physical dependence. When usage is reduced or stopped, withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea, vomiting and cold flashes can occur.
- Constipation: Dihydrocodeine slows down the digestive system leading to constipation which can be severe and lead to other health complications.
- Respiratory depression: Dihydrocodeine can slow breathing, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as hypoxia, which can have severe neurological and psychological effects.
- Liver damage: When combined with paracetamol, as it often is, the risk of liver damage increases significantly, especially with long-term use or overdose.
- Impaired coordination: Dihydrocodeine can affect coordination and decision-making, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries.
- Weakened immune system: Chronic dihydrocodeine use can weaken the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections.
- Hormonal dysfunction: Long-term opioid use can lead to hormonal imbalances, potentially causing reduced libido, infertility and, in some cases, osteoporosis.
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome: Pregnant women who use dihydrocodeine risk their babies developing this syndrome, which can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.
Beyond the physical health effects, dihydrocodeine addiction can have far-reaching consequences on various aspects of your life:
- Financial problems: Maintaining a dihydrocodeine addiction can be expensive, leading to financial strain or even ruin. This can result in homelessness or an inability to meet basic needs.
- Legal issues: Possession or distribution of dihydrocodeine without a prescription is illegal and can lead to arrest and imprisonment.
- Relationship problems: The behavioural changes associated with dihydrocodeine addiction can strain relationships with family and friends, potentially leading to isolation or divorce.
- Employment issues: Dihydrocodeine addiction can affect job performance and reliability, leading to job loss. It can also make finding new employment challenging.
- Social isolation: As dihydrocodeine addiction takes hold, it becomes the primary focus of a person’s life, often at the expense of previously enjoyed activities and relationships.
- Mental health issues: Substance abuse is often accompanied by mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which can exacerbate the challenges associated with addiction.
What are the signs of dihydrocodeine overdose?
An overdose of dihydrocodeine is a potentially fatal medical emergency and requires immediate professional assistance. The signs can vary in severity and may include:
- Slow or shallow breathing
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Cold and clammy skin
- Pinpoint pupils.
- Loss of consciousness
Preventing an overdose involves:
- Using the medication only as directed.
- Not mixing it with other substances (especially alcohol and other opioids).
- Storing it securely to prevent accidental ingestion or misuse by others.
If you notice any of these signs of dihydrocodeine overdose in yourself or someone else, call 999 immediately.
How can I help someone with a dihydrocodeine addiction?
Helping someone with a dihydrocodeine addiction requires patience, understanding, and a commitment to supporting their journey to recovery. Here are a few steps to consider:
- Educate yourself on dihydrocodeine addiction
- Approach the conversation non-judgmentally
- Encourage professional help
- Offer practical support during their recovery
- Take care of yourself
Remember, every person’s journey to recovery is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another. The most important thing is to offer non-judgmental support and encourage them to seek professional help.
How can you recover from dihydrocodeine addiction?
Dihydrocodeine addiction treatment typically begins with a medically supervised detox to manage withdrawal symptoms and break physical dependence. This is then followed by rehab to address the psychological aspects of dihydrocodeine addiction. After that, a comprehensive aftercare programme is necessary to help prevent relapse and enable you to stay dihydrocodeine-free for the rest of your life.
How to get help for dihydrocodeine addiction
If you or someone you know is struggling with dihydrocodeine addiction, Oasis Runcorn can provide the support you need. We offer evidence-based treatment to help you overcome dihydrocodeine addiction and reclaim control of your life. Reach out today and take the first step towards recovery.