A study by the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that more than 2 million people in United States experienced prescription opioid use disorder or opioid addiction in 2012-2013. Misuse of prescription opioid painkillers by adults in the U.S. more than doubled from 2001 to 2013.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are powerful substances that carry a high potential for dependency and abuse. Opioids are a class of drugs that are similar to opiates. Opiates are drugs derived from the poppy plant and include morphine and codeine. Synthetic opiates, called opioids, include heroin, fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), hydrocodone (Vicodin), meperidine (Demerol) and buprenorphine. Heroin is the most commonly abused opioid.
Opiates and opioids are used to treat pain and are considered narcotic substances. If taken heavily, even for just a few weeks, withdrawal symptoms may result if a person attempts to discontinue use. How long it will take to develop an opioid addiction depends on the person, the amount of opioids taken, and for how long the opioids were taken.
What are the Short-Term Effects of Opioid Addiction on the Body?
Opioids have a wide range of clinical effects, but mostly are prescribed because they are highly effective for pain relief. Other effects that are seen with opioid painkiller medications include euphoria, mood swings, drowsiness and confusion.
Other effects of opioids include respiratory depression, constipation, sedation, nausea, vomiting and intestinal bloating. Opioids also have cardiovascular effects and can decrease blood pressure, widen blood vessels and decrease cardiac function.
Opioids can harm the respiratory, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, immune, endocrine and central nervous systems.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Opioid Addiction on the Body?
Long-term use of opioids leads to dependence. When three or more of the following are present at the same time, dependence has occurred:
- Powerful desires/compulsions to take opioids
- Hard to control substance-taking behavior
- Tolerance, where more of the narcotics are needed to achieve previous effects
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed pleasurable activities or interests due to opioid use
- Continuing to use opioids despite the evidence of harmful consequences
Studies have shown that opioid overdose, which can easily occur once dependence and tolerance are present, typically results in slowed breathing that can lead to death.
Studies have also reported that opioids have side effects on the brain. Since slowed breathing deprives the brain of critical oxygen, the short- and long-term effects of oxygen deprivation can affect the mental and nervous systems, causing coma and permanent brain damage.
Other research has shown that opioid addiction harms the brain by deteriorating the brain’s tissues that contain nerve fibers. This can lead to difficulties with decision-making, a decline in the ability to control behaviors and cause abnormal reactions to stressful conditions.
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Withdrawal from opioid drugs without medical supervision is very difficult and could be dangerous. Professional treatment for opioid addiction is recommended, which typically includes medications, counseling and support.