5 Signs of an Opioid Tolerance

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Opioid tolerance can be just as problematic other issues that occur as a result of long-term opioid use. Whether you are abusing opioid drugs or not, it is important to understand the signs of opioid tolerance because it can occur in any consistent opioid use in the long term. When someone has been using opioids for more than a few months, even if it’s by the exact dosage recommended by their doctor, there is still a possibility that they may become tolerant to opioids.

A high tolerance for opioids and its effects can be a stepping stone to opioid abuse and, eventually, addiction. Look for the 5 signs of an opioid tolerance to know whether or not you may have an issue and need to discuss your opioid use with your doctor or even be weaned off the drug entirely.

1. The Same Dose No Longer Affects You in the Same Way.

You will know that you are building up a tolerance to opioids when you realize that the same dosage of opioid drugs or medications no longer affects you the way it used to. According to the NIDA, the definition of tolerance is “a state in which an organism no longer responds to a drug… Stated another way, it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same level of response achieved initially.”

You will notice this when you realize that the same dosage that you have been taking no longer causes the effects that you are used to. Depending on the reason you are using or abusing opioids, you will not feel the same level of

drug tolerance

Having a tolerance to opiates is a precursor to dependence and addiction.

  • Pain reduction
  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Drowsiness
  • Calmness
  • Anxiety relief

that you once did. In this case, you may start to notice other signs as well that are pointing toward your growing opioid tolerance.

2. You Think About Using a Higher Dosage of Opioids.

If you are taking opioids by a doctor’s recommendation, you may start to decide that you want to take a higher dosage or take it more often than you were initially prescribed. It is important to understand that upping your dosage of opioids in any way without first consulting your doctor is a form of drug abuse and is incredibly dangerous as well as illegal. If you are thinking about taking a higher dosage in order to feel the effects more strongly, you should always discuss it with your doctor first.

For someone who is abusing opioids, this may lead to the abuse of more of the drug or them taking it more often than before. It may become something they agonize over, how to again experience the original high that they remember feeling. Many drug abusers say that they are constantly chasing their first high and that it never feels the same which is why they continue to abuse these drugs. Part of the reason why this occurs is the tolerance that they build up to the drug’s effects, making it impossible to experience the same first high again.

3. You Make Excuses to Use More Opioids.

“Making excuses to use drugs” is one of the signs of a substance use disorder (NLM). If you have ever said or thought something along the lines of

  • “I only need a little more.”
  • “It’s okay for me to take this because _________.”
    • I want to have fun with my friends
    • I’m in pain
    • Everyone else is taking more than me
    • I know how to handle it
  • “I didn’t take any yesterday.”
  • “I’m under a lot of pressure.”

you are abusing a substance. In the case of opioids, this can lead to addiction and many other problems. However, these excuses are all being made as a result of tolerance. The individual is not feeling the effects they desire, therefore they are making excuses to take more drugs.

4. You are Thinking about Taking Harder Drugs.

If you have been taking prescription opioids for some time and feel that the effects are not as strong as you’d like, you might have considered taking a stronger medication. This is a sign of tolerance, and in many cases, doctors will help you manage this issue. But some individuals choose to abuse a much more dangerous opioid: heroin.

According to the NIDA, “Prescription opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin can have effects similar to heroin when taken in doses or in ways other than prescribed, and research now suggests that abuse of these drugs may actually open the door to heroin abuse.” If you have ever considered taking a harder opioid drug because the effects of the drug you are on no longer seem strong enough, you are tolerant to the drug and may be in serious danger of becoming addicted. It is important to talk to your doctor immediately as your use of opioids has already become dangerous and you will likely need some kind of help stopping.

5. You are Spending More Money than You Used to on Opioids.

You may be spending more money than you once did on opioids or even more money than you can afford. According to CESAR, “OxyContin can be rather expensive,” and heroin abusers can spend more than $200 on their habit. If you notice that your expenses are increasing as a result of your increased drug abuse, it is because you are experiencing a tolerance to opioids and need more each time in order to feel the effects.

You may even have considered illegal acts like faking prescriptions, doctor shopping, or other dangerous actions in order to obtain more opioids. This is to feed your increasing need for the drug and, especially if you never considered doing so before, you are showing that opioids are becoming increasingly more important to you and that you constantly need to take more each time, a clear sign of opioid tolerance.

Whether you are abusing opioids or taking them as recommended, you may experience some sign of opioid tolerance. It is important to discuss the issue with your doctor or get help before you begin abusing these drugs. If you already are abusing them, you should consider seeking help before your condition gets worse.


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