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The Long-Term Effects of Opioids

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The impacts of opioid use on physical and mental health are widespread. Short and long-term effects can impact how you feel and think, and the consequences are complex and extensive. Understanding the impact of short-term and chronic opioid use will help you identify it in yourself and others. Getting professional help with detox and treatment is crucial when addressing an issue with such depth and intricacy. 

What Are Opioids?

Made from poppy plants, opioids are a class of prescription drugs that are made both naturally and synthetically. They are commonly prescribed for pain relief and are highly addictive. Due to the frequent use of opioids for pain relief, people from all walks of life can find themselves addicted to them.

Slipping into addiction from safely using them as prescribed is easy to do. Taking medication in higher dosages or against how it is originally prescribed, a medication that is not yours, or simply using them to get high rather than utilizing them for pain relief are all examples of ways opioid prescription becomes an addiction. 

How Opioid Use Impacts The Brain

The brain is a complex organ that we rely on to maintain physical functioning, emotional processing, and decision-making. Opioid use impacts the brain, creating abnormalities that occur from chronic use of opioids. Some of these changes occur due to dependence on opioids. This results in withdrawal symptoms if you do not continue to take the drugs. These specific abnormalities tend to change quickly after a safe detoxification process, within days or weeks after ceasing usage of opioids. 

However, other abnormalities related to addiction are long-lasting and more complex. This is why you can stop taking opioids, get past the detoxification process, and then return to opioid use even after extended periods of not using them. Many factors play into addiction, including stress, the context of original use, mental health, and genetic predisposition to addiction. These abnormalities can lead to cravings far after initially detoxing.

Health Impacts of Opioids

Opioid use has a wide range of consequences that impact both physical and mental health. Below we will outline how research has shown that each bodily system is impacted due to opioid usage. Each of these systems impacts your physical and mental health. These risks associated with opioid use look different for each person and situation. 

Respiratory System

Adverse impacts on the respiratory system have been found from chronic use of opioids. For example, disordered breathing during sleep—like sleep apnea, ataxic breathing, hypoxemia, and increased carbon dioxide retention—are found in higher prevalence with opioid usage. The impact on the respiratory system can also be life-threatening by decreasing blood pressure and overall respiratory depression. This can cause accidental overdoses as a result of not being able to breathe. 

Gastrointestinal System

Issues that occur in the gastrointestinal tract from opioid use are well known. Constipation is very common, which can result in negative effects on overall health. It is associated with a higher likelihood of visits to the emergency room. Constipation at its most severe level can increase the risk of a bowel obstruction that can cause hospitalization or death. In addition, opioids are also known to cause vomiting, nausea, cramping, and bloating. 

Musculoskeletal System

While it is not well understood and more research is needed, opioid use is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures. This is likely due to the impact on the central nervous system (CNS), which can create dizziness and decreases alertness. 

Immune System

Multiple types of opioids can impact your system differently. However, several types are known to decrease overall immune function. More research is needed to understand this specific mechanism. 

Endocrine System

The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and organs that impact the following:

  • Metabolism
  • Energy level
  • Reproduction
  • Growth
  • Stress response
  • Injury response
  • Mood

Opioid use impacts the endocrine system, and as you can see above, this can affect you in many ways. Common endocrine issues associated with opioids include:

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased testosterone
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Insulin resistance 

The Importance of Getting Help

Opioids can wreak havoc on your body, causing dysfunction in multiple systems that impact your physical and mental well-being. While some may be tempted to detox at home, doing so poses many dangerous risks. The changes that occur in your body and brain due to opioid use can be complicated and even life-threatening. Some of them can be addressed by abstaining, while others may require additional help. 

Detox and treatment that includes psychotherapy and physical health intervention can help mitigate the risks of potential relapse. The human body is complex, with systems that function both on their own and impact each other. Recovery in a professional setting provides you with the resources and support you need to achieve and maintain recovery. 

Taking the first steps to address addiction is intimidating and requires bravery. Every client has a different experience with addiction; however, substances can impact how you feel, think, and function. Opioids affect multiple systems in the body, and the ramifications are complex and wide-ranging. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, our professional staff can help address your individual needs. We support each client with focused care that takes their goals, current life circumstances, trauma, and many other factors into account. Personalized recovery, therapeutic modalities, and detox are available to you as we monitor your recovery progress. For more information on how we can help you on your recovery journey, call (949) 426-7962


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