Effects of Opioids

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The effects of opioid addiction are triggered by the substance stimulating opioid receptors that occur naturally in the brain.

  • Opioid definition: Opioids are a class of drugs that act on the CNS (central nervous system) to produce a range of effects, including pain relief, relaxation, and euphoria. Opioids are derived from the opium poppy plant or made in the laboratory. The most common types of opioids include prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), heroin (an illicit semi-synthetic opioid), and fentanyl (a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than morphine).

When you ingest any type of opioid, this disrupts the transmission of pain signals, leading to an altered perception of pain. In addition to relieving pain, opioids also induce feelings of euphoria.

All opioids have a high potential for abuse and addiction in the form of opioid use disorder.

What are the effects of opioids, then?

Common Side Effects of Opioid Use

It is common to encounter side effects from opioids, whether as part of opioid therapy or when using illicit opioids or synthetic opioids.

Evidence suggests that up to 80% of those undertaking opioid therapy experience the negative effects of opiates. The most common opioid side effects include:

  • Drowsiness and sedation: During the first phase of opioid treatment or when the dosage of opioids is increased, this often causes sleepiness and drowsiness. If you find you are also experiencing disordered thoughts or confusion, consult your physician immediately. When this occurs, the dosage can be tweaked, another medication introduced, or opioid therapy may be discontinued completely.
  • Constipation: Taking opioids can often cause constipation. Increase exercise levels, dietary fiber, and fluid intake if this occurs. You could also use laxatives or stool softeners.
  • Nausea: Nausea frequently presents during the first few days of opioid use. This is sometimes accompanied by vomiting. Anti-nausea medications can help to mitigate these opioid side effects.
  • Slowed breathing: High doses of opioids can cause breathing to slow down. This issue usually resolves when you are accustomed to opioids in your system.

Opioid Side Effects List

Opioid effects can be both short-term and long-term. The presentation of adverse side effects may vary according to the type of opioids, the dosage, and the individual’s health status.

What are the short-term effects of opioids?

  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Confusion
  • Respiratory depression
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Hormonal changes
  • Reduced libido
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Seizures (rare side effect)
  • Loss of consciousness (rare side effect)

What are the long terms effects of opioids?

  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Addiction (opioid use disorder)
  • Social problems
  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Respiratory problems
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Hormonal changes
  • Organ damage

Effects of Opioids on The Brain

Opioids have short-term and long-term effects on the brain.

What do opioids do to you in terms of short-term effects on the brain, then?

Short Term

The most common short-term opioid effects on the brain include:

  • Pain relief: Opioids attach to the opioid receptors found chiefly in the brain’s nerve cells. This mechanism of action disrupts the transmission of pain messages from the brain to the body, reducing your perception of pain.
  • Euphoria: Opioids work on the area of the brain known as the reward center – the nucleus accumbens. This triggers a euphoric high. Opioids also cause the overproduction of dopamine in the brain, leading to many people wanting to take more opioids to recreate these feelings of euphoria and pleasure.
  • Drowsiness or dizziness: Both dizziness and drowsiness are common short-term opioid effects.
  • Suppressed breathing: Opioids suppress areas of the brain that govern breathing rate. This may cause breathing to become slow and shallow. Suppressed breathing can also cause an insufficiency of oxygen in the brain, potentially triggering permanent brain changes and life-threatening comas.
  • Reduced awareness: The effects induced by opioids mean that many people who experience breathing problems caused by opioids remain unaware of their respiratory distress.

Long Term

Are opiates bad for you? According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), long-term use of opioids, even when used as prescribed, may cause the following long-term effects on the brain:

  • Tolerance: The sustained use of opioids causes tolerance to form. When this occurs, the effects of opioids diminish, prompting many people to take more opioids or more frequent doses to achieve the initial effects. Any abusive patterns of opioid consumption will accelerate the development of physical dependence and psychological addiction.
  • Dependence: Long-term use of opioids triggers changes in nerve cell activity. When physical dependence on opioids occurs, you will require the substance to function normally, and you will experience intensely unpleasant opioid withdrawal symptoms if you moderate or discontinue use. Physical dependence often but not always leads to addiction.
  • Addiction: Opioid addiction (opioid use disorder) is a chronic brain condition characterized by an uncontrollable desire to use opioids regardless of adverse outcomes. Addiction can result in permanent changes to the function and structure of the brain, impairing cognition.
  • Mental health complications: Long-term opioid use heightens the risk of major depressive disorder.

What do opioids do to the body?

Effects of Opioids on The Body

What effects do opioids have on the body?

Opioids produce both therapeutic effects and adverse side effects. The short-term effects of opioids on the body will depend on the type and dose of opioids, as well as the individual’s tolerance. 

Short Term

Some of the most common short-term effects of opioids on the body include:

  • Pain relief: Opioids are often prescribed to relieve pain, and their analgesic effects can be felt within minutes to hours after taking the drug.
  • Respiratory depression: One of the most dangerous short-term effects of opioids is respiratory depression. This can sometimes trigger respiratory failure and death.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Opioids frequently cause nausea and vomiting, especially when taken in high doses or by those who are not used to the drug.
  • Dizziness and confusion: Opioids can cause dizziness, confusion, and impaired cognitive function, which can make it difficult to perform tasks requiring mental clarity.
  • Sedation: Opioids can bring about drowsiness and sedation, impairing physical coordination and reaction time.
  • Constipation: Opioids slow the digestive system, leading to constipation and other gastrointestinal problems.
  • Itching: Opioids can provoke itching and other skin-related symptoms.
  • Hormonal changes: Opioids can interfere with the body’s production of hormones, leading to changes in mood, energy levels, and sex drive.

What can opioids cause in terms of long-term physical effects, then?

Long Term

The sustained use of opioids causes tolerance to form. As a result, you will need more opioids to get the same rewarding effects. Alternatively, you will need to use opioids more frequently. Taking opioids in higher dosages is known to cause many negative outcomes, including:

If you take high doses of opioids, this will suppress your CNS (central nervous system) so much that breathing slows dramatically, sometimes stopping completely. If this occurs – the condition is known as hypoxia, you could experience brain damage or a life-threatening coma.

Beyond this, opioids can also cause problems in your digestive system, from nausea and vomiting to constipation and swelling in the abdomen. Bloating and discomfort can also accompany long-term opioid use.

Using opioids can affect the liver. This is especially damaging if you combine opioids with acetaminophen.

Among those taking injectable opioids, there is a significant risk of contracting hepatitis C. Seniors who use injectable opioids may be at increased risk of infectious endocarditis, a potentially life-threatening heart infection.

The most severe long-term effect of opioids on the body involves overdose. Data from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) indicate that opioids were implicated in over 80,000 of the 107,000 fatal drug overdoses in the United States in 2021.

Fortunately, all opioid addictions are treatable, and we can help you initiate your recovery without needing to pack your bags and head to residential rehab.

Get Treatment for Opioid Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

Whether you are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin, or fentanyl, Ohio Recovery Centers specialize in treating all alcohol and drug addictions in Cincinnati.

If you require a supervised medical detox, we can help connect you with licensed medical detox centers in your area. Medications can streamline the intensity of opioid withdrawal and reduce cravings during detox. After a week or so, you can engage with an intensive outpatient treatment program at our treatment facility in Cincinnati.

All opioid use disorders respond positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment), both during detoxification and ongoing therapy. At Ohio Recovery Centers, MAT is delivered alongside behavioral interventions like psychotherapy and counseling to produce the most favorable outcomes.

During your opioid addiction treatment, you will identify what triggers you to use opioids, and you will develop healthy coping strategies to use in your ongoing recovery. All Ohio Recovery Centers’ treatment programs include a robust aftercare component due to the high relapse rates of opioid use disorder.

When you are ready to start living free of opioids, we can help you from detox to discharge and beyond. Call (877) 679-2132 today for immediate assistance.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn