What Are the Long and Short-Term Effects of Opioids?
There are many short- and long-term effects and medical complications associated with opioids that can span across physical, psychological, and social domains. This article focuses on the short-term and long-term effects of opioid use, and also covers topics such as opioid dependence, withdrawal, and treatments for opioid use disorder.
Short-Term Effects of Opioids
Some of the common effects people experience after using opioids include:1,2
- Pain relief.
- Feelings of euphoria or pleasure.
- Flushing of the skin.
- Confusion or lack of mental clarity.
- Alternating between consciousness and semiconsciousness.
- Slowed breathing and heart rate.
What Are the Long-Term Effects and Risks of Opioid Use?
Some of the long-term effects of opioid use include:1,4
- Insomnia and sleep problems.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Mental health problems, such as depression.
- Liver and kidney disease.
- Sexual dysfunction in men.
- Irregular menstrual cycles in women.
- Brain changes that may lead to neuronal and hormonal imbalances.
Some of the long-term effects vary based on the route of administration. People that inject opioids chronically may get collapsed veins or skin abscesses (a collection of pus), suffer infections of the heart valves and lining, and are at a heightened risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis C,1 while people who use opioids intranasally (snorting) can damage the tissue inside their nose.1
Anyone that uses opioids is at risk of developing an opioid use disorder (OUD), the clinical term for opioid addiction. OUD is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) as uncontrollable opioid use despite significant major consequences.5
Opioid Dependence and Withdrawal
Prolonged opioid use can lead to physical dependence, something that occurs when a person’s body becomes so used to the presence of opioids that when they significantly reduce their dose or abruptly stop using opioids, they experience opioid withdrawal.1
Someone may also develop an opioid dependence even when taking drugs as they have been prescribed; however, Dependence and opioid withdrawal increases the risk of developing an OUD.2,5
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are usually not life-threatening but can be very distressing and unpleasant.7
Withdrawal symptoms across all types of opioids are similar, with some variation in withdrawal symptom onset, withdrawal duration, and symptom severity based on the type of opioid used, duration of opioid use, opioid dosage, and delay between doses.7 Some of the common signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:7
- Increased pulse.
- Sleep problems (insomnia).
- Dilated (enlarged) pupils.
- Unusually heightened reflexes.
- Increased breathing rate.
- Dilated (enlarged) pupils.
- Watery eyes.
- Runny nose.
- Muscle spasms and pain.
- High blood pressure.
- Increased body temperature.
- Bone pain.
- Stomach cramps.
Social and Relationship Impacts of Opioid Use Disorder
In addition to the impact on physical and mental health, opioid use can lead to misuse and uncontrollable use, with significant negative consequences to someone’s career, relationships, social standing, and other aspects of a person’s life.5
Negative social and relationship consequences that can indicate problematic opioid use include:5
- Spending lots of time seeking opioids, using opioids, or recovering from opioid use
- Neglecting obligations at home, work, or school due to opioid use
- Continuing to use despite it causing problems in relationships
- Giving up important social, recreational, or occupational activities to use opioids
Opioid use may lead to legal consequences as well. A 2016 national survey found that approximately 1 in 4 people with opioid use disorder had some form of contact with the justice system in the year prior.6
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 187 people die every day from opioid overdose.9 Recognizing and quickly reacting to the signs of an opioid overdose can save someone’s life.
Signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose include:3,11
- Unresponsiveness or loss of consciousness.
- Vomiting or making sounds that indicate they are having difficulty breathing (e.g., choking or gurgling).
- Breathing that is shallow, slow, or stopped.
- Lifeless or limp body.
- Lips or fingernails turning blue or purple.
- Small (pinpoint) pupils.12
In the event of an opioid overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately and stay with the person until emergency personnel arrives.
The CDC recommends several ways to help someone who is experiencing an overdose while waiting for emergency personnel:12,13
- If it is available, administer Narcan (naloxone), which can quickly reverse the life-threatening symptoms of an opioid overdose, buying extra time for emergency services to arrive.13
- If the person is awake, continue to talk to them, try to keep them conscious, and make sure they are breathing.
- Help the person lay on their side to prevent them from choking.12
Factors that increase the risk of opioid overdose include:14
- Using prescription opioids that were not prescribed to you.
- Taking prescription opioids in higher doses or more frequently than prescribed.
- Using heroin or other street drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA or counterfeit pills of prescription drugs), especially if mixed with fentanyl.
- Returning to opioid use after a period of reduced or no use.
- Mixing opioids with other substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, or sleeping pills.
- Being an older adult (age 65 or older).
- Having health conditions that impact the respiratory system, such as sleep apnea, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Get Help for Opioid Addiction
Opioid use disorder is a treatable condition. Treatment for OUD generally utilizes a combination of medication and psychosocial treatments, and may involve:14,15
- Medical detoxification: Detox is often the initial step in substance use disorder treatment. Detox involves medical supervision during withdrawal and may include medications to manage cravings and reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
- Behavioral therapies: Through various methods of therapy, patients learn to identify and avoid triggers and develop alternative coping skills. Clinicians may also use techniques to increase a person’s motivation to change their substance use. Behavioral therapies may be applied in individual and group formats.
- Medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD): FDA-approved medications for opioid use disorder, such as methadone, naltrexone, or buprenorphine, may be prescribed to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms, block or decrease the effects of illicit opioids, and mitigate opioid cravings.
- Treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions. People with addiction often suffer from other mental disorders like depression or anxiety. Research shows that an integrated approach to treatment is more effective than treating these conditions separately.
Addiction treatment is not one-size-fits-all, meaning one treatment approach may work for some, but not others.16 Laguna Treatment Hospital evaluates each patient upon admission to obtain critical information about their substance use history, health, living environment, and social situation. Our inpatient rehab in Orange County, CA then uses this information to provide individualized, evidence-based care through various levels of opioid addiction treatment for opioid use disorder.
If you would like to learn more about opioid addiction treatment, call an admissions navigator at . Our helpful staff can assist with rehab admissions and answer questions on using health insurance to cover rehab and other payment options.
You can also verify your insurance coverage at Laguna Treatment Hospital by using the confidential .