Opioids are prescription drugs that help relieve pain. Although effective, opioids can become addictive because they produce a sense of euphoria in addition to relieving pain. Unfortunately, opioid addiction and long-term misuse can lead to adverse effects. This is especially true when individuals use opioids outside of their prescribed use.
What Are Opioids Used For?
Doctors prescribe opioids to help manage moderate and severe pain, which can include:
- Acute pain that occurs because of any injury. This pain generally lasts fewer than three months. Common examples include a cut, bruise, burn, broken bone, or pulled muscle.
- Cancer-related pain. Cancer pain can feel like a dull ache, pressure, burning, or tingling. Most cancer pain happens when a tumor presses on nerves, bones, or organs in the body.
- Vascular pain, such as acute sickle-cell crisis.
- Post-surgical pain. Pain after surgery is normal and should improve within two to five days, but if not properly treated, can lead to chronic pain.
In addition to pain management, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved opioids to treat severe coughing and chronic diarrhea. Some opioids, such as Loperamide, help treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Adverse Effects Of Opioid Abuse and Addiction
Like most prescription drugs, opioid use does not come without risks. Using opioids can cause drowsiness, confusion, nausea, labored breathing, tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Signs of opioid addiction can differ from person to person, but most people grappling with opioid addiction display the following behavioral signs and symptoms:
- Forging prescriptions
- Doctor shopping
- Slurred or incoherent speech
- Uncontrollable cravings
- Frequent flu-like symptoms
- Decreased libido
- Isolation from family and friends
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Lack of hygiene
- Lack of coordination
- Inability to control opioid use
- Stealing from family, friends, and businesses
Being addicted to opioids can lead to even more adverse effects, including:
- Disrupted digestive system. When opioids enter the body, they affect muscles in the digestive system, which can cause nausea, abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, and vomiting. Chronic opioid use can lead to more severe issues, such as obstruction of the small bowel and perforation, which can lead to hospitalization and death.
- Liver damage. Opioids can cause acute liver injury. Abusing opioids can damage the liver, especially when used with acetaminophen. Since many opioids are combined with acetaminophen, the liver can become damaged as a result of increased toxicity. Once damaged, the liver’s ability to process these toxins reduces, increasing the risk of liver injury and failure.
- GI problems. Long-term opioid abuse and addiction can lead to chronic constipation. Research shows that 45% of opioid users experience severe constipation and bowel obstruction, which can lead to fatal complications.
- Respiratory problems. Opioids slow down activity in the central nervous system. This means they can also slow down breathing. When individuals take opioids, they can slow down breathing to the point that individuals lose consciousness and die. Long-term opioid misuse can lead to respiratory arrest, which prevents the brain and organs from getting enough oxygen. This lack of oxygen can lead to organ damage. The lack of adequate oxygen to the brain can also lead to coma, brain damage, and death. Opioid addiction can also cause respiratory related sleep problems such as sleep-disordered breathing, sleep apnea, and hypoxia. Opioid abuse can also cause irregular breathing and respiratory arrest.
- Cardiovascular problems. Research published in the American Heart Association found that opioid use, abuse, and addiction can be a risk factor for heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial fibrillation, which can lead to stroke, heart failure, and death. Individuals addicted to opioids can become susceptible to endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, which can be fatal when left untreated.
- HIV and other infectious diseases. Certain types of opioids can increase the risk of infectious diseases such as HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, and viral hepatitis. Individuals who inject opioids into their veins are highly susceptible to these diseases because they are easily spread by sharing contaminated needles.
- Reproductive issues. Research shows that long-term opioid use can lead to decreased fertility, increased risk of pregnancy loss, and other pregnancy complications, such as placental abruption and preterm birth. For men, long-term opioid use and abuse can affect testosterone production, decreasing the quality and quantity of sperm. Additionally, babies born to mothers who use opioids can suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome. They are also at risk of having longer post-birth hospital stays, being born with birth defects, and having developmental delays.
- Increased falls and fractures. Opioid use can also lead to an increased risk of fracture for elderly individuals. Research comparing older adults with arthritis who managed pain with opioids versus NSAIDs such as ibuprofen found that individuals who used opioids had an increased risk of fractures compared to others.
- Cognitive impairment. Long-term opioid use can have a negative impact on cognitive function. Research continues to show that people addicted to opioids have impaired memory, attention, spatial planning, and executive functioning. In addition to that, the information processing speed slows, which can make learning new skills and adjusting to new situations difficult.
Say Goodbye To Opioid Addiction & Hello To A Healthier Life
Even though opioids help relieve pain, abusing and becoming addicted to them can lead to a number of adverse effects that can affect your quality of life. Luckily, opioid addiction can be treated. Our addiction treatment programs combine the best of brain science and clinical support.
Addiction doesn’t have to control your life. Whether you’re looking for help with a short-term problem or need long-term, ongoing support, our team can help provide you with focused, expert-led care that can meet your needs and goals.
Contact us today if you’re ready to say goodbye to addiction and hello to a healthier, more fulfilling life.
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