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  • Opioid Side Effects | Complications & Other Adverse Effects

    Opioid Side Effects | Complications & Other Adverse Effects

    Opioids are substances that cause relaxation, pain relief, and analgesic (numbing) effects. Doctors prescribing opioids may be trying to reduce chronic pain, also known as opioid therapy. Opioids may be prescribed for different kinds of pain management.

    Examples of common opioids prescribed as pain medications include:

    • oxycodone
    • fentanyl 
    • codeine
    • hydromorphone
    • hydrocodone

    Although opioid medications can help with severe pain or chronic pain, they can also cause many negative health effects. The risk of side effects increases if opioids are a target of drug abuse.

    Short-Term Side Effects Of Opioids

    Opioids can relieve many types of mild to severe pain, including back pain and acute pain in other parts of the body. When taken, they cause pain relief, sedation, and euphoria. They are typically stronger than over-the-counter pain medicines, such as acetaminophen.

    Due to their strength, opioids can also cause unintended side effects. Common side effects shared by many opioids include:

    • drowsiness
    • dry mouth
    • constipation
    • impairment (reduced physical or mental activity)

    Long-Term Side Effects Of Opioids

    Many opioids are recognized as controlled substances by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). There is a risk of both dependence and abuse for many of these substances. People with a history of substance abuse may have a higher risk of abusing opioids.

    Long-term opioid use can increase the risk of health problems. This can be difficult for people who take opioids for chronic pain, as they may end up taking opioids for months or even years, putting their health at risk. 

    Some studies also question the effectiveness of opioids past a 6-month period.

    Effects On The Mind & Body

    Long-term opioid use can increase your risk of side effects, including tiredness, dizziness, and digestive problems. Some studies have also pointed out a correlation between long-term opioid use and overdoses, heart attacks, and death.

    Long-term opioid use can also change how your body works. 

    Over time, your body may develop a tolerance. You may need more of the drug to get the same effects. This can lead to increased use of opioids, which can be dangerous.

    Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

    Opioids bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The brain and body become used to working with these chemicals, causing physical dependence. This can cause withdrawal symptoms when attempting to come off of the drug.

    Withdrawal symptoms may vary depending on the specific opioid taken, but generally include:

    • intense cravings
    • sleeping problems
    • vomiting and diarrhea
    • cold flashes

    Opioid withdrawal can last for days, weeks, or even months. These symptoms often cause people to relapse. Professional help may be needed if you or a loved one are struggling with opioid withdrawal.

    Opioid Overdose

    Opioid overdose can be fatal. In 2019, opioids were involved in over 49,000 overdose deaths.

    The most common sign of opioid overdose is respiratory depression, or a state of dangerously slowed breathing. Other signs of an overdose may include chest pain and swelling of the tongue or throat.

    Risk factors that can increase your chances of an overdose include high dosings or mixing opioids with alcohol.

    Treating Opioid Use Disorder

    Many opioids are approved prescriptions. Well-known prescriptions include Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin. However, these prescriptions come with risks and dangers, just like any other drug. 

    As the risks of opioids become more well-known, so does knowledge on how to combat and avoid these risks.

    Treatment options are available for opioid abuse and dependence, and more treatments are being developed. To learn more about the risks of opioid use and potential treatment options, talk to your healthcare professional or contact us today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - Opioid Treatment for Chronic Pain | Effective Health Care Program
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription Opioids DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration - Oxycontin - FDA

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on March 5, 2021
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