Heroin and other strong opioids can cause opioid-induced constipation (OIC) and other bowel disorders.
Opioid-induced constipation can occur with any intensity of opioid use — from medically supervised prescription opioid use to chronic heroin drug abuse.
Heroin Abuse And Chronic Constipation
Chronic constipation is defined as passing three or fewer bowel movements in the span of a week.
People with chronic constipation that is induced by opioid use may strain to pass stools and have painful, hard stools.
Many people with chronic constipation may need to manually disimpact or remove stools with assistance.
How Does Heroin Cause Constipation?
Because opioids like heroin attach to mu-opioid receptors, heroin blocks pain receptors to the brain. However, mu receptors are also present in the bowel, which opioids can also attach to.
When opioids attach to mu receptors in the bowel, muscles in the bowel may stop or slow down, and regular bowel motility may be affected.
People that regularly take opioids like heroin may also be less likely to hydrate appropriately and eat enough fiber for healthy bowel function.
Even with proper hydration and fiber intake, constipation can still be an issue for people that use heroin.
Opioids can also cause partial paralysis of the stomach, which can make the intestines absorb excess water — leading to hardened stools and worsening an already difficult problem.
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Dangers Of Chronic Constipation From Heroin Use
If a person using heroin experiences chronic constipation for more than three months, serious and painful conditions may occur.
Some effects from chronic constipation may require surgical repair and extended medical attention.
Some dangers of untreated chronic constipation include:
- fecal impaction – hardened stool that accumulates in the intestines
- perforated bowel – tearing of the intestines
- anal fissure – tearing of the anus
- pelvic floor damage
- hemorrhoids and rectal prolapse – caused by straining to have a bowel movement
Relief For Heroin-Induced Constipation
For people with severe opioid-induced constipation, a simple increase in water and fiber intake may not be enough to remedy the problem.
Some people with OIC may respond to laxatives, but many do not.
With medical supervision, some people find relief with medications like naldemidine (Symproic) and naloxegol (Movantik), which work as opioid receptor antagonists in the bowel.
Many medications that can help facilitate bowel movements work best when a person has not taken opioids recently.
The most successful remedy for constipation caused by heroin or other opioid use is to stop taking the drug and allow the intestines to work without activated opioid receptors.
Physician-directed protocols and medication work best without opioid use.
Getting Help For Heroin Abuse
Heroin abuse can cause lasting damage to your mind and body. If you or a loved one suffers from the effects of opioid abuse, then rehab can help.
Call our helpline for more information about the best heroin rehab program for your needs.
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- Gastroenterology – American Gastroenterological Association Institute Guideline on the Medical Management of Opioid-Induced Constipation
- Mayo Clinic – Constipation
- U.S. National Library Of Medicine – Spontaneous Recurrent Pneumoperitoneum due to Opioid-Induced Constipation: A Case Report