Opioid Drug Addiction: Long-Term Effects

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Chronic opioid use can result in dangerous long-term health effects, lasting mental issues, addiction, and physical dependence. A person with an opioid use disorder may be able to stem the severity of some long-term side effects through a rehab program.

Long-Term Side Effects Of Opioid Abuse & Addiction

The short-term impact of opioid addiction presents severe consequences for a person’s mental and physical well-being.

And the long-term effects of prolonged opioid use present significant health effects including withdrawals, risk of overdose, and permanent mental health effects.

In general, a person that uses opioids over a long period of time will experience effects like:

  • constipation
  • mood swings
  • permanent behavior changes
  • insomnia
  • sexual dysfunction
  • itching
  • physical withdrawal symptoms (vomiting, shaking, fever)

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Opioid Abuse

People that use opioids may experience damage to the heart and brain due to the changes in blood oxygen and blood pressure. Long-term opioid use may also lead to liver and kidney disorders.

Many people take opioids in ways that can cause long-term physical impact.

The following common opioids are usually ingested by smoking, injecting, snorting, plugging, or swallowing pills/capsules.

Common opioids of abuse:

  • codeine
  • fentanyl
  • morphine
  • heroin
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
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Long-Term Damage From Opioids By Route Of Administration

Over time, opioids that are ingested through methods meant to fast-track effects can produce uncomfortable, and even life-threatening effects.

Damage From Smoking Opioids:

  • lung damage
  • chronic respiratory issues (labored breathing, asthma)

Damage From Injecting Opioids:

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

Damage From Snorting Opioids:

  • deviated septum
  • nose bleeds
  • lung/sinus infections

Damage From Plugging Opioids:

  • diarrhea
  • bloody stools
  • increased HIV/AIDS risk
  • bowel irregularities

Opioid Dependence, Addiction, And Withdrawal

Continuous opioid abuse creates a tolerance — meaning that more of the drug will be needed to achieve the same result and keep withdrawal symptoms from occurring.

This can lead to people searching for more potent opioids, or different formulations that include fentanyl to achieve an expected feeling.

A person that has built up a tolerance to opioids will often experience negative symptoms when the drugs are absent from their system. This dependence means that opioid drug use becomes a regular part of their day-to-day life.

Addiction is the psychologically-driven craving for drug use, which can accompany physical dependence and can persist even after a person detoxes from opioid use.

When opioids are absent, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms like:

  • shaking
  • fever-like symptoms
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Long-Term Effects Of Opioid Abuse On The Brain

Opioids affect a person’s behavior and ability to think clearly and interact with stability after immediate and prolonged use.

However, when opioids are consistently abused, brain chemistry can change.

Chronic opioid abuse can lead to issues like:

  • poor response to stress
  • antisocial personality disorder
  • depression
  • problems with decision-making and behavior
  • behavior regulation
  • altered pain perception
  • chronic discontent

Getting Treatment For Opioid Abuse And Addiction

Recovery from long-term opioid addiction can help reduce and even reverse some symptoms of prolonged opioid abuse. In general, inpatient treatment will provide the best environment for detox and early-stage recovery.

On a case-by-case basis, outpatient therapy and care management can help ensure a successful rehabilitation recovery.

Some detox programs and outpatient facilities may use medications to help ease withdrawal symptoms. These medications include:

If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, help is available. Call one of our treatment specialists to learn more about the best treatment option for your needs.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

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