How Opioid Addiction Affects The Body

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Opioid use impacts the body and mind in the short term and over time. Extended opioid abuse can lead to addiction and dependence that can impact the body through withdrawals and other chronic use concerns.

How Opioid Addiction Affects The Body

Opioids work as a strong central nervous system depressant that attaches to mu receptors in the brain. These receptors facilitate the release of dopamine.

A person then associates the dopamine rush and feelings of calm with the drug — which is the basic feedback mechanism of opioid addiction.

The most commonly abused opioids include drugs like:

  • morphine
  • codeine
  • heroin
  • fentanyl
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)

These opioids impact the body primarily as a central nervous system depressant.

It most immediately decreases:

  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • respiratory rate
  • mental sharpness
  • coordination

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How Opioid Abuse Affects The Body Short-Term

A person that abuses opioids will exhibit near-immediate physical reactions to ingesting the substance.

When smoked, snorted, or injected, the effects of opioids can be felt within seconds. Oral ingestion may take up to 15 minutes.

The two most apparent physical effects are pinpoint pupils and “nodding” in a semi-conscious state. The “nod” is a hallmark of heroin addiction, although it is present in people addicted to other strong opioids.

Some other short-term side effects include:

  • feelings of heavy limbs
  • drowsiness
  • intense calm/euphoria
  • flushed skin
  • dry mouth
  • nausea/vomiting

Long-Term Effects Of Opioids On The Body

A person that has used opioids regularly for years may suffer from issues like constipation, insomnia, and malnutrition.

And while these issues can be uncomfortable and concerning, a person that is physically dependent on an opioid will suffer from the absence of the drug in the form of withdrawals.

Addiction, Dependence, And Withdrawals

The psychological addiction to opioids results in cravings and anxiety for the next dose.

A person who is physically dependent can experience a highly unpleasant state where symptoms can include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • vomiting
  • high blood pressure
  • irritability
  • body aches
  • cold flashes
  • mood swings
  • insomnia

Physical Damage From Opioid Ingestion

Beyond the physical effects of taking opioids, people experience negative side effects associated with the intake of opioid substances.

The following long-term effects can result from long-term opioid use.

Common methods of ingestion include:

  • oral ingestion (pills)
  • smoking
  • snorting
  • injecting
  • plugging (rectal administration)

Damage From Injecting:

  • scars (track marks)
  • abscesses
  • HIV/AIDS (needle sharing)
  • bruising

Damage From Snorting:

  • deviated septum
  • lung/sinus infections
  • nose bleeds

Damage From Smoking:

  • lung damage
  • chronic respiratory issues

Risk Of Opioid Overdose

An overdose happens when the body cannot process the number of opioids administered. This can happen by taking too much of a drug or taking opioids laced with stronger opioids (like fentanyl or carfentanil).

Overdose can also happen when CNS depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines are mixed with opioids — which can dangerously slow a person’s breathing and heart rate.

The body reacts strongly and in some cases, almost immediately. For people going into overdose, a timely administration of naloxone can reverse overdose symptoms.

However, for some people, naloxone can cause very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms to occur.

A person going through an opioid-related overdose may experience symptoms like:

  • blue fingernails/lips
  • slowed breathing
  • gurgling or irregular breathing
  • loss of consciousness
  • unresponsive pupils
  • slowed heart rate
  • muscle spasms

Getting Treatment For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

Prolonged opioid abuse can take a toll on a person’s physical and mental well-being. But recovery is possible.

Inpatient recovery from opioid abuse may involve a combination of:

  • supervised detox
  • individual or group therapy
  • medication (buprenorphine, methadone, benzodiazepines)

If you or a loved one is battling opioid abuse, it’s not too late to get help. Call our treatment helpline for more information on the right inpatient or outpatient rehab program.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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