Opioid effects are the result of this substance stimulating your brain’s natural opioid receptors. Unfortunately, opioid addiction and abuse can lead to more severe and dangerous side effects.
This class of drug comes in the following forms:
- Prescription painkillers like OxyContin (oxycodone) or Vicodin (hydrocodone).
- Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl
- Illicit substances like heroin
Opioids reduce the number of pain signals your body sends to your brain. Beyond this, opioids also alter your perception of pain. Despite these primary pain-relieving properties, opioids also deliver rewarding euphoric effects. Regrettably, this means opioids have a strong potential for addiction and abuse.
Opioid Side Effects
Side effects are a common byproduct of opioid therapy. Clinical trials indicate that anywhere from 50% to 80% of trial participants experience side effects from opioid therapy. With the opioid epidemic still unresolved, the incidence of side effects could be even higher in everyday use.
Fortunately, opioid side effects have been comprehensively studied and can be effectively managed.
The most common of these adverse reactions are as follows:
- Nausea: Nausea, often accompanied with vomiting, often occurs within the first few days of taking opioids. Consult your healthcare provider if you experience vomiting or nausea – anti-nausea therapies can manage these side effects.
- Constipation: If taking opioids triggers constipation, increase fluid intake, dietary fiber, and exercise. Stool softener and laxatives can also be beneficial.
- Sedation and drowsiness: Opioids often induce drowsiness or sleepiness in the initial phase of therapy, or if dosage is increased. If this is accompanied by confusion or muddled thinking, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. Dosage can be adjusted, the opioid discontinued, or another medication introduced.
- Slowed breathing: In higher doses, opioids can slow breathing. This typically resolves once you become accustomed to the medication.
Physical Effects of Opioids
The physical side effects associated with opioid use can be damaging in both the short- and long-term.
Short-Term Effects of Opioid Use
The CDC reports these immediate short-term effects of opioids:
- Respiratory depression
It is principally these short-term effects of opioids that make it so dangerous to drive or operate machinery while using this medication.
Potentially much more damaging, though, are the manifold negative long-term consequences of abusing opioids.
Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use
Tolerance rapidly builds when you start taking any opioids. This means you’ll need more of the substance to achieve the same effects. Resultantly, taking higher doses of opioids is known to triggers these serious adverse outcomes:
- Depressed immune system
- Higher risk of depression
- Increased chance of liver and kidney disease
- Heart problems
- Heightened risk of HIV/AIDS
In high doses, opioids suppress your CNS (central nervous system) to the extent that breathing can slow or even stop completely. Triggering a condition called hypoxia, you could cause brain damage or a fatal coma.
Opioid Adverse Effects
All the most adverse effects of opioids can be summarized in just three words: opioid use disorder.
According to SAMHSA’s NSDUH 2020, the number of people in the US with opioid use disorder has declined slightly, although there are still over 1.6 million people addicted to these powerful painkillers.
Opioid use disorder often involves physical dependence on opioids, but additionally involves a powerful psychological component, primarily due to the way opioids impact the brain.
Opioid Effects on the Brain
When you ingest opioids, your body releases large quantities of dopamine, a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in the brain) associated with positive mood. Dopamine stimulates the brain’s reward pathways. Your brain is then encouraged to crave more opioids to achieve more of these rewarding effects.
With sustained opioid abuse, these pathways can become damaged and structurally altered. The brain also struggles to recognize the normal dopamine release, leading to a reduction in pleasure in everyday activities and permanent changes to the brain.
In the event of opioid addiction, you will experience intense opioid withdrawal symptoms as the effects of the medication subside.
Opioid Intoxication Symptoms
If you are concerned about a loved one’s use of opioids, all of the following are common indicators of opioid intoxication:
- Dilated pupils
- Slurred speech
- Sluggish movements
- Drowsy appearance
Other physical opioid symptoms include:
- Slower heart rate
- Low blood pressure
- Less physical pain
- Lowered body temperature
While addiction to opioids can be debilitating, opioid use disorder is also treatable, typically with a combination of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and psychotherapy – cognitive behavioral therapy, for instance.
In the worst outcome, though, opioid abuse leads to a potentially deadly overdose. It is possible to overdose on opioids in isolation, but the risk is dramatically heightened if you consume other CNS depressants at the same time. Combining opioids with alcohol or benzodiazepines is especially dangerous.
How do you know what to look out for in the event of opioid overdose, then?
Opioid Overdose Symptoms
These are the telltale markers of opioid overdose:
- Shallow breathing
- Clammy skin
- Pinprick pupils
- Extreme sleepiness
- Inability to wake up
Get Help at The District
If you or someone you know is dealing with an opioid addiction problem, it is vital to seek out treatment as soon as possible. Addiction, whether due to opioid abuse or alcoholism, is a serious issue that will often require the help of professionals to overcome. If you need help today, reach out to our team at The District Recovery Center today to learn more about how we can help.