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:
- 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
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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
- intense calm/euphoria
- flushed skin
- dry mouth
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:
- high blood pressure
- body aches
- cold flashes
- mood swings
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)
- plugging (rectal administration)
Damage From Injecting:
- scars (track marks)
- HIV/AIDS (needle sharing)
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)
Published on June 14, 2021
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Addiction Science & Clinical Practice — Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Opioid Overdose
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Opioid Addiction
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Drug Facts: Prescription Opioids
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA – Heroin Research Report
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Opioids