Opioid Addiction and Methadone as a Treatment Option

Understanding the Destructive Effects of Opioid Abuse

risks of opioids

The opioid crisis is more destructive than many people realize. Each day, over 115 people die from an overdose in America.

In addition to the fatality rate, opioid abuse also wreaks havoc on addicts and has both short and long-term effects.

Some of the effects of opioid abuse are minor and will pass once a person goes through recovery. Unfortunately, others side-effects are more detrimental and may cause serious physical and psychological issues.

If you or a loved one has an opioid addiction, you need to get treatment immediately. It also helps to stay educated.

That’s why we’re going over some of the effects of opioid abuse.

Opioids: A General Overview

Opioids are painkillers, typically prescribed after surgery, injury, or other debilitating illnesses.

They bind to receptors in your brain, which is why they stop pain and produce a feeling of euphoria and relaxation. However, after extended use, a person begins to build up a tolerance. This means they need more and more of the opioid in order to get the original result.

When a person becomes addicted, their brain stops producing natural endorphins that act as painkillers. This is because their body is used to the opioid. They’re now dependent on the drug to act as an alternative to the endorphins.

Once a person becomes addicted, the effects of opioid abuse start to take their toll on the body and mind.

Short-Term Effects

The short-term effects of opioid abuse may start occurring fairly quickly after a person reaches dependency. Many of these side-effects are minor and disappear after the person discontinues use.

However, these side-effects can quickly lead to more damaging issues if a person continues to take opiates.


Drug abuse of any kind eventually starts to drain the user of energy. This is a result of a weakened immune system, stress, or lack of sleep.

Because opioids already slow down breathing, fatigue could be even worse during continuous use.

Mild Depression

Even in early stages of addiction, a person may experience mild depression. This could be a result of a general lack of motivation caused by the drug, or even a symptom of minor withdrawal.

One study found that out of 100,000 people, none of which had depression prior to the study, 10% developed depression after taking opioids.

Social Withdrawal

A person abusing drugs may begin to withdraw from social circles they once were very involved with.

This could be because they’re now devoting more and more time to drug use. It could also be a way to hide their growing dependence.

Nausea or Constipation

Opioids tend to cause stomach problems for the user. Often a user whose body isn’t used to the drug will experience nausea, upset stomach, or even vomiting.

These drugs also slow down the digestive process, often leading to constipation.


One of the short-term effects of opioid use for many people is itchy skin. This seems like a strange side-effect of a painkiller, but it’s quite common.

Doctors had originally thought this itchiness was a result of the drug interacting with the nervous system. However, research found that one of the receptors in the brain causes itchiness. When opioids bind to this receptor, some people start itching.

Long-Term Effects of Opioid Abuse

While many of the short-term effects discussed will disappear after an addict stops using opioids, there are long-term effects that are more detrimental. These effects continue long after detox treatment.

Long-term effects are typically associated with prolonged use of the drug. They take the form of both mental and physical side-effects and may require continued counseling and medical treatment.

Psychological Issues

During severe opiate addiction, a user may start to suffer from a wide range of behavioral issues. These could include:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Delirium
  • Lack of awareness

This increased instability in their behavior could be a result of many things. Heavy dependency puts a lot of strain on the body, which affects a person’s ability to handle everyday issues.

Depression may linger well after a person has gone through treatment and is no longer on the drug. Their mind has to acclimate back to sobriety.

A person may also experience guilt and regret their addiction, which may lead to depression.


Lack of sleep is a very common symptom of opioid withdrawal. This can be extremely difficult for a recovering addict, as insomnia effects every other aspect of their well-being.

Our immune systems recharge while we sleep, and when this doesn’t happen, we’re prone illness, stress, and even depression.

Even after an opiate addict goes through detox and has rid the drug from their body, they still may struggle with insomnia. Without the drug, they may not know what to do with the renewed energy.

In addition, although the physical withdrawal is over, the psychological one could last years. This may lead to trouble sleeping.

Decreased Sex Drive

Long-term opioid abuse can affect a person’s hormones, causing a drastic drop in their sex drive. This is due to an alteration in their endocrine system. This system carries hormones directly to the central nervous system.

A recovering addict may notice a lack of interest in sex or reduced occasions of sex. Women may notice changes to their menstrual cycle. Some people even experience infertility after long-term drug abuse.

Increased Sensitivity to Pain

After long-term abuse of opioids, a person may experience increased sensitivity to pain after recovery.

When a person constantly has opiates in their system, the brain starts to believe it’s constantly in pain. This is because other parts of the body are sending pain signals.

This long-term effect is very serious for people who started taking opioids to manage pain from an injury or surgery. They become hypersensitive to the pain, which can lead to disability.

Seek Help for Opioid Addiction

If you or a loved one suffer from opioid addiction, the faster you get help, the better. Prolonged abuse of opiates may lead to some of the long-term effects of opioid abuse we discussed above.

Before this happens, seek treatment. For more information check out our blog or give us acall at (855) 976- 2092.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 22). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

[2] Using Opioids Can Cause Depression – Citizens Commission on Human Rights, CCHR. (2016, June 14). Retrieved from https://www.cchrflorida.org/using-opioids-can-cause-depression/

[3] When They Become Tough to Stomach. (2016, January 27). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/opioid-stomach-problems#1

[4] Westly, E. (2012, March 1). Why Some Pain Relievers Cause Intense Itching. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/defeating-pain-without-the-itch/

[5] Katz N and Mazer NA. (2009, February 25). The impact of opioids on the endocrine system. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19333165

About the author

Dr. Michael Carlton, MD.

Leading addictionologist, Michael Carlton, M.D. has over 25 years of experience as a medical practitioner. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and returned for his MD from the College of Medicine at the University of Arizona in 1990. He completed his dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and his Fellowship in Toxicology at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

He has published articles in the fields of toxicology and biomedicine, crafted articles for WebMD, and lectured to his peers on medication-assisted treatment. Dr. Carlton was a medical director of Community Bridges and medically supervised the medical detoxification of over 30,000 chemically dependent patients annually.

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