What are the long term effects of Opioids?

Opioids are a type of medication normally prescribed to treat chronic pain, acute pain or active cancer treatment. Opioids can be natural or lab-created substances. Recently, there has been a rise in opioid prescribing by medical professionals. The increase in opioid availability has also led to the development of long-term opioid use, addiction and opioid use disorder. With this new trend in medication prescribing, the long-term effects of opioids can lead to risky and dangerous outcomes.

A silhouette of a person raising a pill to their mouth as they wonder what are the long term effects of opioids.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are natural, semi-synthetic or synthetic chemicals that interact with the opioid receptors in the brain and body. This interaction helps regulate functions such as pain, mood, stress and reward. It can reduce the reception of pain and enhance the feelings of reward. Examples of common opioids include prescriptions for oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl.

Sometimes the word opiates is used interchangeably with opioids. They are similar substances. However, an opiate refers specifically to natural compounds derived from the poppy plant. These drugs include heroin and morphine. All opiates are opioids, but not all opioids are considered opiates.

Opioid is an umbrella term that represents all of the different compounds that bind to opioid receptors in the brain. Opioid receptors are found throughout your entire central nervous system, peripheral nervous system and even in your gastrointestinal tract.

There are three main categories of opioids:

  • Long acting – Oxycontin, Methadone, Butrans
  • Short acting – Codeine, Morphine, Hydrocodone
  • Rapid onset – Intranasal Fentanyl, Sublingual Fentanyl

Opioids are one of the most addictive substances. Aside from its availability and accessibility, opioids are addictive because they relieve the sense of pain. It creates feelings of euphoria, intense happiness and other pleasurable sensations. The addictive nature of the substance often leads to opioid use disorder (OUD).

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder is a chronic mental health disorder in which a person develops a problematic pattern of opioid use despite the negative outcomes. OUD is one of the most common long-term effects of opioid use.  According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), if a person can answer yes to at least two of the following criteria within the past 12 months, they could have an OUD.

  • When you take larger amounts of substances or take the substances over a longer period of time that originally intended
  • Persistent desire with unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use
  • You spend a significant amount of time obtaining, using or recovering from the effects of opioids
  • You have strong cravings and urges to use opioids
  • You have problems fulfilling obligations at work, school or home
  • You have given up activities and hobbies you once enjoyed
  • You use opioids in physically dangerous situations
  • You continue using opioids despite physical or psychological problems that have been caused or worsened by using
  • You have developed a tolerance
  • You begin to experience withdrawal symptoms when you abruptly reduce usage or stop taking opioids and you continue to use them to avoid withdrawal
  • Your opioid use has disrupted professional and personal relationships resulting in serious health and legal consequences

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What are the long-term effects of Opioids?

Long-term opioid use can result in a wide range of lasting physical and psychological effects. Some studies have shown that chronic opioid use is often associated with problems of constipation, sleep-disordered breathing, hormone disruption and overdose.

Research has found that an estimated 40-45% of long-term opioid users experience GI issues such as constipation. In cases like this, opioids increase the risk of intense bowel obstruction. It causes abdominal cramping, bloating and vomiting. Severe intestinal blockage can result in hospitalization and death.

Respiratory issues such as sleep apnea and ataxic breathing are common side effects of long-term opioid use. Intense opioid use is often associated with depression of the respiratory system. In extreme cases, a person’s breathing is slowed down to the point where they can stop breathing. This often occurs during an opioid overdose.

Opioids also affect the central nervous system. It can cause dizziness, sedation and a disorder called hyperalgesia. This is the development of sensitivity to feeling pain and having an extreme response to pain. Because opioids react with the pain receptors in the body, it becomes dependent on the substance to regulate that feeling. Once the substance is removed, the body is thrown into chaos and unable to naturally self-regulate feelings of pain.  

Long-term opioid use can play a significant role in the endocrine system. Opioids interact with the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis in the body, which affects how hormones are created and regulated. The growth hormone, thyroid hormone and other aspects such as infertility can be affected. Other major side effects of long-term opioid use include immunosuppressive effects, insomnia, collapsed veins, depression, and cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases.

How long do Opioids stay in your system?

The length of time in which opioids stay in the body depends on many factors. These factors determine the impact the substance has on the body and how quickly it is able to adapt to or heal from opioid use.

  • The type of opioid substance taken
  • The formulation of the substance
  • How much of the substance was taken
  • How often you are taking the substance
  • The speed of metabolism of the individual
  • Body mass and weight
  • Body fat content
  • Method of administration
  • Other medical conditions such as the health of liver and kidney
  • Age, Gender and Ethnicity
  • The presence of other substances
  • Any medical conditions that can affect drug elimination

Reach out to Hotel California by the Sea

We specialize in treating addiction and other co-occurring disorders, such as PTSD. Our Admissions specialists are available to walk you through the best options for treating your addiction.

Long-term opioid use ultimately leads to addiction and OUD. Professional behavioral health programs such as Hotel California by the Sea, provide high-quality care for OUD. The increase in opioid use, overdose and addiction has become a public health crisis. The drug and alcohol rehab center offers a wide range of options for treating and addiction to opioids.

Inpatient and outpatient programs consist of medication management and intensive psychotherapies. Unique treatment methods such as CBT, DBT and EMDR Therapy allow clients to get to the root cause of their addiction. Clients are guided through a customized treatment plan created to address all aspects of their addiction.

Opioid use disorder and long-term opioid therapy can be treated with medication assisted treatments as well as rigorous cognitive therapy. Through a combination of the two treatment methods, clients have a greater risk of overcoming their opioid addiction.