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.
  • Itchiness.
  • Confusion or lack of mental clarity.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Alternating between consciousness and semiconsciousness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate.
  • Constipation.

Long-Term Effects of Opioids

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.
  • Pneumonia.
  • 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 experience 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 Addiction 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, both dependence and opioid withdrawal increases the risk of developing an OUD.2,5

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are usually not life-threatening but can be very distressing and unpleasant.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with 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:

  • Increased pulse.
  • Sweating.
  • Goosebumps.
  • 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.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

Social Impact of Opioid Addiction

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 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. For example, a 2018 national survey found that approximately 20% of people with prescription opioid use disorder had some form of involvement with the criminal justice system.

Opioid Overdose

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 80,000 Americans died from an overdose involving opioids in 2021.9 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 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).

Opioid Addiction Treatment Near Orange County, California

Opioid use disorder is a treatable condition. Treatment for OUD generally utilizes a combination of medication and psychosocial treatments, and may involve different levels of rehab, such as: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 drug rehab in Orange County 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 .

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.