Opioids are a class of drug commonly prescribed for pain relief. The category includes prescriptions like oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl alongside the illicit drug heroin. Their use in pain management means they are applied following major surgery, in response to injury, and even for treatment related to some kinds of cancer. Whether or not someone is in danger of opioid abuse, it remains important to know the long-term effects of opioids. This is especially true if you or a loved one were recently prescribed an opioid.
The Long-Term Effects of Opioids
The overuse or abuse of opioids always brings the risk of dependence, addiction, or overdose. Over time, it’s natural for the body to acquire some tolerance to most drugs. That means the user needs to up the dosage or frequency to achieve the same effect. Consequently, the foremost long-term effect of opioids is the potential for dependency. Once the body is dependent on opioids, addiction is liable to set in.
Another long-term effect of opioids is withdrawal symptoms when someone attempts to stop taking them. Long-term use alters the brain in ways that make stopping difficult. Stopping use deprives the brain of what it thinks it needs to function. As a result, withdrawal symptoms appear as the brain tries to deal without opioids. Typical opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle and bone pain
- Cold clashes
Withdrawal symptoms related to opioids generally last no more than a week. But in cases of severe or long-term addiction, they may persist for weeks or months. Moreover, multiple health consequences are possible as a result of long-term opioid abuse. Damage to vital organs is possible in this situation.
Health Effects of Long-Term Opioid Abuse
One of the common side effects of opioid use is constipation. As a result, a long-term effect of opioids is chronic constipation. Although this is a physical ailment, studies on chronic constipation discovered a direct impact on patients’ mental health. It’s also possible for opioid use to damage the cardiovascular system. Specifically, long-term opioid use is a risk factor for abnormal heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation. This condition increases the risk for heart attack and stroke, both of which can be fatal.
Another one of the long-term effects of opioids is damage to the reproductive systems in both men and women. It can lower fertility in both men and women and cause complications in pregnancy for women. Women who use opioids during pregnancy also put their babies at risk of developing neonatal abstinence syndrome, which essentially causes opioid withdrawal in the baby after birth.
Treating Opioid Abuse and Addiction
The addictive nature of opioids means any amount of abuse paves the way for addiction. As a result, the misuse of such a dangerous drug necessitates medical support and guidance. Opioid abuse and addiction are often treated with a set of medications that range from buprenorphine to naltrexone. These medications trick the brain by bonding to the same receptors as opioids but without the same addictive potential or physical effect.
Typically, these medications are just one element of a medication assisted treatment protocol (MAT). The MAT approach combines the use of medication, therapies, and support services to holistically address addiction. This method is shown to do the following:
- Decrease overdoses and criminal activity related to opioids
- Increase patient retention in treatment programs
- Improve outcomes for pregnant women and their babies during addiction treatment
Unfortunately, MAT programs for opioid abuse are not as widely prevalent or accessible as they should be. Recent data suggests that only one in four people seeking treatment for an opioid abuse disorder receive MAT despite it offering the best chance at recovery.
Don’t let opioids run your life or the life of a loved one. Contact 855.952.3546 to connect yourself or a loved one to expert addiction treatment.