Opiate Effects - Short Term, Long Term and Side Effects

Opiate Effects – Short Term, Long Term and Side Effects

Illegal use of opiates is a real issue. So is long-term use of prescription opiates. There are all kinds of side effects associated with opiates. A study conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration holds that eighty percent of the global supply of opiates is consumed in America alone. An opioid is narcotic drugs that function through the alteration of receptors in the brain, causing an extended high. Though some opiates are illegal, like heroin, others are prescription drugs provided by doctors for the alleviation of chronic or severe pain. Whether legally or illegally, opiate use can have an impact, if drugs are taken for longer periods of time, or in larger doses.

What is an Opiate?

Opioid class of drugs/medicines is a section of synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs obtained from poppy opium. These are drugs that are sourced from morphine, which in turn, is synthesized from opium. Morphine, for instance, is a painkiller used for eliminating a lot of pain. It is prescribed for medical use in homes and hospitals alike. Other opiate medications include hydrocodone and oxycodone-based drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, Norco, Lortab, and Percocet. Other powerful narcotic painkilling medications include Dilaudid and Fentanyl. Extreme chronic, end of life pain can be a real problem. Painkillers and opiates like carfentanil are used for veterinary practices. Illegal versions of the drugs are available in the black market due to opiate addiction being widespread in the US. Heroin is an opiate which was found to have zero medicinal value and allocated to Schedule 1 of the Drug Enforcement Administration list. On the other hand, legal painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone are allocated as Schedule 2, indicating their important value. They also lead to habit forming. Regulations around prescription painkillers have tightened, with people turning to heroin and illicit painkillers for illegal sale. Drug dealers cut heroin with narcotics like fentanyl to raise potency, leading to opioid overdose and cessation of life.

Opiate Effects
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How Do Opiates Lead to Habit Formation?

Opiates bind to the neurons called opioid receptors found in the spinal cord, nerve clusters in the stomach as well as the brain. The body’s opioid system acts in a natural way to dull pain or injury. This sensation does not last long. Opiates bind to receptors and lead to dulled pain for varying time periods. When drugs are bound to nerve cells, the brain reacts through the release of dopamine, causing euphoria and relaxation. Dopamine is linked to the risk and reward system of the brain. Addiction takes on as medications cause ingestion and persons feel rewarded.

Under medical supervision, a person can grow physical dependence and tolerance to opioid medications. These potent drugs, if taken to treat chronic pain, the body will rely on these medications to feel normal. One also stops responding to original drug levels, so the user needs to take on more. Under medical supervision, if the drugs are needed on a longer term, the patient can be monitored by physicians for addiction or abuse signs and adjust dosages where required. If addiction to opioid drugs results, cravings for opiates from other sources may result.

Once there is a struggle with addiction, withdrawal symptoms are experienced to cease taking the opiates. Opiate takers experience compulsive actions and cravings centered around ingesting the drug. Opiate withdrawal is rare, but the addiction’s consequences can cause a person to suffer a relapse post the detox. If a person experiences medical supervision at the time of withdrawal, relapse may not take place. Many analgesics are available, but opiates are provided to those undergoing extreme pain, such as surgery, cancer or massive injury. Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Ultram, oxycodone, oxycontin, codeine and morphine are just some of the opiates prescribed for medicinal use.

Opiates work by binding directly on to the brain receptors, leading to a feeling of a high post relaxation. The body builds up tolerance as a result of this, requiring more drugs to obtain the same outcome. Opiate effects of mental habit formation set in. Analgesics may be taken with prescription opiates for combating pain for a long period of time. If taken in massive dosages, the opiates can cease production of the natural painkillers namely the feel-good endorphins that lead to physical dependency on the drugs.

Opiate dependence includes spending massive amounts of time based on the drugs, especially how to obtain more of these. Mild or severe, depression may lead to suicide as well. Withdrawal from social interaction, inadequate attention to physical appearance and weight loss are some of the signs of the dependency.

Short-Term Effects

Short Term Effects
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Opiates have a wide range of clinical effects. This class of medicines is used to create a positive outcome in terms of pain relief. Other effects detected with opiate painkiller medicines include mood swings, euphoria, drowsiness as well as confusion. Other effects of these opiates include sedation, constipation, respiratory depression, nausea, intestinal bloating and vomiting. Opiates also have cardio effects and can lower the blood pressure, widening blood vessels and decreasing cardiac function. Opiates can have gastrointestinal, respiratory, musculoskeletal, endocrine, immune and central nervous system.

Impact of opiate use can be felt quickly once the drug is taken but the duration depends on the quantity and nature of opiates taken. The most short-term impact of opiate usage is a flushed feeling known as a high, along with relaxed and pleasurable feelings. Other short-term effects include dryness of the mouth, heaviness in the legs and arms, alternation between drowsy or alert state, impairment of mental functionality and more. There’s also nausea, constipation, itching of the skin and lowered respiration rates.

Most short term opiates impact the more elderly patients, particularly those plagued by CNS illness.

The advantages of using opiates are that they control pain and are relatively cheaper. Considering that morphine has been around for almost a century now, it is still used to control the pain. Opiates produce a high and offer faster acting action with higher intensity. Heroin leads to a short-acting high with a half-life between 15 and 30 minutes. Morphine lasts longer from 4-6 hours.

Short-term effects of opiates include pain relief, drowsiness, sedation, and euphoria. Opiates release the brain’s neurotransmitter dopamine which induces a feeling of pleasure and encourages further ingestion of the substance. Opiates come in varying strengths and drug types. Natural opiates like opium or semi-synthetic ones like oxycodone and synthetic opiates like Dilaudid produce the same impact across varying degrees.

Short-term impact of opiates can vary depending on the nature of drug use or abuse. The short-term effects of opiates impact the user in direct and indirect ways. During the early stages of extended usage, the short-term impact of opiates takes the form of physical symptoms. With abuse, the opiates start to impact the person’s psychological state.

Post usage, short-term effects of opiates signal physical dependence and addiction symptoms as per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Opiate dependence and addiction grow over time, but short-term effects of the drug only exacerbate long-term impact.

#1 Shallow Breath

Opiates work through the depression or slowing down of the chemical process through the central nervous system and the brain. As the CNS regulates the breathing process, shallow breathing can occur as a result of short-term opiate effects.

#2 Impairment in Cognitive Processes

Opiate abuse comes in the way of thinking and learning processes. An opiate high impairs cognitive functioning, leading to disoriented thinking processes, speech impairment and lack of ability to focus or concentrate.

#3 Lapse in Consciousness

Lapses in consciousness or nodding out results when a massive amount of opiates are ingested at a certain time. The drug beats the ability of the brain to maintain consciousness.

#4 Rising Levels of Tolerance

Opiates trigger the release of massive amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals from the brain cell groups. These impacts cause cell structure damage. As continued damage persists, increasingly large doses are needed to produce the required high.

#5 Weakening of the Immune System

Ingesting opiates can cause weakness in the immune system, causing tiredness and illness. Each successive opiate dose causes wear and tear in the body and brain from the effects of the opiate. Users can experience sickness on a frequent basis as immunity system functions weaken.

#6 Gastrointestinal Tract Malfunctions

Opiates can also cause depression of the GI tract and symptoms such as constipation which can result in long-term complications.

#7 Hot Flashes and Chills

With continuing use of opiates, chemical brain imbalances also occur. Post a certain point, users experience pronounced shifts in body temperature as the ability to maintain equilibrium is lost by the brain.

#8 Overdose

with a massive dose, opiates can slow down brain functions, as per studies conducted by New York University. When this takes place, the body’s heart or respiratory functions stop working, calling for instant medical attention.

#9 Drug Cravings

Post even short-term use, opiates can impact the drive and motivation of a person, causing a lot of cravings for the drug to develop.

#10 Mood Swings

A person’s emotional status is impaired by brain chemical imbalance with the impact of opiates.

Opiates don’t just control pain; they also produce a high for those using it. This also causes the experience to become addictive and enjoyable. Rapidly acting opiates like heroin are snorted, injected or smoked to get an instant high. While opiates like heroin produce a short duration intense high, morphine effects last longer from around 4-6 hours.

Opiates also come with sedation, euphoria and pain relief as well as drowsiness. With intense highs and relaxation resulting from the use of opiates, the mind can also lose its sense of immediacy, reducing reaction times causing driving to become extremely dangerous. The presence of a drug in the vehicle can even cost a person their license.

Users may experience paranoia, respiratory depression, and nausea. It comes with side effects such as pinpoint pupils that cause the irises to relax. Opiates are a class of strong narcotic drugs bringing freedom from pain and user feelings of intense high, regardless of whether the pain is physical or emotional in nature. Opiates like codeine, morphine, and heroin are some of the strongest and most addictive medications across the globe right now. Opiates like heroin are commonly acknowledged as detrimental, but their synthetic or analog versions such as Vicodin, oxycodone and hydrocodone work in the same way and bring about the common effects.

Given that opiates create euphoria and bring about addictive behavior patterns, the feeling of economic and social well being can be disrupted. Opiate users can also create a problem for those who are mentally ill. Opiates also work by holding on to specific receptors across the brain and the body. The short-term impact of opiates is felt quickly in the reward system of the brain called the mesolimbic region. Dopamine reaches the mesolimbic reward system with continuous drugs and produces dopamine naturally.

Long-Term Effects of Opiate Use

#1 Infectious Risks

Long Term Effects of Opiate Use
Photo by: NIDA/NIH/ CC BY

The biggest impact of opiate usage is infectious risks. Many addicts find that attaining the greatest euphoria or high in a short time of space can be induced by injecting the opiate into their system. This can be a problem depending on the nature of the injection used and can trigger diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and many more. Opiate usage can also lead to bacterial infections and abscesses or boils.

#2 Heart Damage

Another potent impact of opiates is the risk of heart damages. Chronic, long-term usage of opiates can cause heart lining and valve infections and greater risk of clogging in the blood vessels. This is more so if the opiates used are potent. For example, heroin can be mixed with materials like coffee powder and sugar, restricting blood flow to the heart. Complications like the kidney and liver disease, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and blood-based viruses can also result from extensive opiate use in the long term.

#3 Mental Health and Cognitive Deficits

Additionally, long-term usage of opiates can also bring about mental health and cognition problems. When opiates become addictive post long term usage, it can create a downward spiral. Depression can arise if opiates are mixed with drugs and addictive substances like alcohol. Cognitive deficits are seen in those who engage in chronic opiate use. These deficits stand in the way of effective employment and performance of essential tasks in everyday life.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness stresses the critical importance of handling opiate addiction and co-morbid conditions like anxiety and depression. Treating both together can be tough. Groups such as men, ex-military personnel and those with lower economic or social status are more likely to be at risk for opiate use and abuse.

#4 Physical Effects of Opiate Use

Long-term usage of opiate effects is not linked to addiction and drug tolerance, as physical symptoms can cause severe issues as drug use persists. Common effects of opiate abuse include lowered immunity, frequent GI tract problems and opioid endocrinopathy that causes infertility and lowered libido. Opiates can also induce hyperalgesia, making patients sensitive to pain.

As the impact of opiate includes impairment of mental functioning, the aim to stop usage of the drugs rarely comes through. When used as prescription drugs, legal opiates can also become a rapid problem. Consider that close to 467,000 Americans combated heroin addiction, but over two million were abusing prescription based painkillers.

Abuse of opiate-based medicines such as prescription painkillers can seriously impact health. Additionally, the dangers of excessive use of opioid painkillers can have its own perils too. Long-term use and abusing opiates can pose acute dangers for an individual. Even first time users can undergo respiratory arrest. Opiate-abuse therapy and  treatment can come in the way of continued usage and addressing health issues

Opiates are painkillers with side effects requiring additional stimulants to counteract. For example, profound drowsiness results from excessive or long-term ingestion of opiates. Long-term ingestion of painkillers increases the chance of a depression episode by 50 percent.

Opiates and Respiratory System

Overdosage of opiates can trigger shallow breathing and respiratory depression. This triggers a slow down of breathing and at specific doses, respiratory arrest can take away critical oxygen needed by the brain and body tissues. This can prove to be fatal or cause organ injury as well.

Opiates and Digestive System

The digestive system muscles are also impacted by opiates leading to slowing down of digestive processes and longstanding constipation as well as gastrointestinal motility which can place users at increased risk for serious conditions such as obstruction of the small bowel, peritonitis, and perforation and more. Nausea also takes place in many opiate users, along with abrupt and uncontrollable bouts of vomiting. For treating this, antiemetic medicines may be needed.

Opiates and Nervous System

Long standing use of opiates can trigger hyperalgesia development, leading to pain sensitivity that is heightened. Opiate use also leads to psychomotor impairment, slowing the actions or movements and leading to coordination loss.

Opiates and the Immunity

Opiate painkillers are associated with the suppression of immunity and involved with immunity regulation. The weakening of the immune system on account of opiate ingestion can take place.

Opiates and the Liver

As many opiate painkillers and opiates blend with acetaminophen, long-term use of these drugs can lead to toxicity and damage. Harm to the liver on account of acetaminophen toxicity poses a risk for those on excessive painkillers like Vicodin, Lortab, and Norco. Mixing alcohol to this can worsen the situation. It decreases the ability of the liver to process toxic acetaminophen and ethanol. Opiate abuse is something that can cause serious injury to the liver. Opiate abuse can have a mounting toll on the body.

Opiate Dependence

Long-term street drugs can lead to contamination and infections. Injection of heroin can enter the blood and reach the heart’s lining, leading to endocarditis. This is a swelling of the lining. Impurities in opiates like heroin can travel throughout the body and become coagulated within small capillaries resulting in clots or micro-embolism. This cuts off the blood supply and causes damage to a lot of organs in the body. Opiates can also lead to an inflammatory impact, abscess formation, and infection at the injection site. Successive injections can also cause vein damage, causing a collapse of the veins.

Sharing needles can also cause risks of HIV transmission and chronic liver diseases. The long-term impact of opiates is not limited to drug tolerance or even addiction. Physical symptoms may cause issues as drug abuse continues. Suppression of the immune system, frequent and severe constipation, opiate endocrinopathy and opioid-induced hyperalgesia can increase sensitivity to pain. Opiates can also induce impaired mental functioning and beating the addiction is important.

Opiate Dependence
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Long-term effects of opiate addiction can include vomiting, abdominal distention and even bloating. It can impact the digestive system adversely and also lead to constipation. Liver damage may also result if the person combines opiates with acetaminophen. The increased use of opiates can lead to oxygen deprivation or hypoxia and people can also develop a tolerance or dependence for the opiate, going on longer without taking it. The body adapts to the presence of drugs and adapts accordingly. It reacts to the absence of opiates as well, producing withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance also includes getting more of the drugs to obtain the same effect.

All the side effects are nothing as compared to an opiate addiction. This drug can impact health and social well being in so many ways. When three or more of these are present, dependence occurs:

  • Powerful compulsions to take on opiates
  • Poor impulse control and increased orientation towards the substance
  • Tolerance, with more narcotics needed to attain previous effects
  • Loss of interest in previous activities that provided pleasure for example anhedonia
  • Continued use of opiates despite negative effects.

Opiate overdose can be the result of dependence and tolerance. It results in shallow breathing, respiratory difficulties, and even death. Studies have also shown the side effects of opiates on the brain. Slowed breathing leads to lack of oxygen and the deprivation can affect nervous and mental systems, causing coma and consistent permanent damage. Other researchers have shown that opiate addiction harms the brain through deterioration of the tissue containing nerve fibers. This leads to decision-making difficulties, a fall in the ability to control behavior and lead to abnormal reactions triggering stressful conditions.

Opiates impact the brain, leading to addiction that has both physiological and psychological effects, causing withdrawal. Based on the length of the use and the number of drugs ingested, withdrawal requires trained medical personnel.

Side Effects

There are different types of side effects associated with opiate abuse or long-term use of opiates. This can change the body apart from impacting the brain.

#1 GI System

The gastrointestinal system can suffer on account of extended opiate use. Opiate prescriptions also sometimes accompany GI medication to help the digestion to function effectively. Long-term ingestion or abuse of massive opiate doses can initiate nausea, gastrointestinal bleeding, and vomiting. These symptoms are common in senior patients and common side effects like constipation occur in 40% to 95% of people.

#2 Respiratory Issues

Another major problem is respiratory problems such a shallow breathing or respiration-related depression/reduced breathing can be the result. When the physician monitors these, the person taking prescription opiates can receive help if significant deficits in breathing are noticed. It also leads to an overdose.

#3 Endocrine System

A person facing long-term opiate use or abuse can also undergo changes in the endocrine system. This is in relation to hormones regulating sexual functioning. Changes can occur in the sex drive and endocrine production leading to fatigue, infertility, and depression as well as reduced muscle mass, anxiety, loss of fertility and osteoporosis in women.

#4 Hyperalgesia

While prescription opiates are oriented towards treating moderate or severe pain, long-term or high abuse of opiates can lead to more sensitivity to painful stimuli. Opiate-induced hyperalgesia is another result of long-term opioid therapy. Post the opiate ingestion, the patient becomes more sensitive to pain. Extreme pain can result in post opiate use. The consistent presence of opiates in the brain can trigger increased pain signal sensitivity from different areas of the body, as it is in constant pain. This triggers the flight or fight response when attempts towards detoxification are made. It also leads to impairments and physical disabilities in those facing injuries. Research has shown that prescription of narcotic painkillers within 6 weeks of the injury increases the risk of disability one year later by as much as 2 times. The complex body brain interaction showcases how important it is to end addiction to or dependence on painkillers like opiates.

#4 Body Depression

Opiates can trigger body depression. This means drugs depress the systems of the body. The digestive system lacks immunity to it. This also means that opiates combine with additives and compact the bowels further slowing them down. When opiates are used, a surge of dopamine is released within the brain. Post long opiate use, additional dopamine receptors handle the excess neurotransmitters released. The drug is needed in increasing amounts to reach a certain level and normal doses are no longer adequate.

#5 Brain Chemistry Changes

An increase in these opiate-related neurotransmitters can cause the brain to stop making adequate dopamine. This means the brain chemistry changes from normal levels.

#6 Deterioration of White Matter

The toughest part of the opiate use is the white matter deterioration. This brain area regulates decision making, stress response, and behavior. Changes in brain chemistry can lead to healing and a return to homeostasis post a length of time, which is not the case with white matter.

#7 Diminished Capacity to Tolerate Pain

When you take painkillers or other opiates, instead of increasing the capacity to tolerate pain, the pain sensors in the body demonstrate sensitivity to pain, causing a drop in the pain levels that can be handled.

#8 Opiates and Pain

Besides just handling pain, the opiates actually create pain. Sans the constant numbing impact of the opiate, aches, and pains of life become tough to handle. Without opiates, the aches and pains experienced daily become excruciating.

#9 Lowered Libido

Another long-term effect of opiate use and overuse is the loss of libido. A lowered sex drive is also a side effect of the opiate.

#10 Respiratory Brain Damage

On account of its ability to induce shallow breathing, opiates limit the oxygen your brain receives. Lack of oxygen delivery causes permanent brain damage.

#11 Mood Stabilization

On account of receptor and neurotransmitter generation changes in the brain, with extended opiate use, mood changes result. From an increase in dopamine to neurotransmitter deficits, those facing addiction or long-term opiate use may have a problem with mood stabilization.

Because of dopamine and receptor changes that occur in the brain with long-term opiate use, it leads to changes in mood. From surges in dopamine to crashes, the ability to stabilize the mood is consequently compromised.

Close to 96% of those on long-term opiate use experience side effects of certain kinds. This includes not just tolerance or overdose. There are so many side effects of long-term opiate use.

#12 Sleep Linked Breathing Problems

Abnormal breathing or sleep apnea while resting is common in those on opiates at high dosages. In one study, 92% of those on a dose of more than 200 morphine mg equivalents experience irregularity or respiratory ataxia. This is as against a sizable percentage of people taking less than 200 milligrams and less than 5 percent of the people not opting for opiates.

#13 Cardiovascular Impact

Long-term opiate use, as against NSAIDS has been shown in research to indicate an increased risk for events such as heart failure and myocardial infarction. This is so for people taking codeine for 180 plus day

#14 Increased Fracture Risk

The rising risk of fractures is associated with intensive opiate usage, especially among elderly individuals. Opiates affect the CNS leading to symptoms such as lack of alertness and dizziness. This can also lead to falls. Senior patients taking opiates are found to be at a higher risk for a fall.

#15 Hormone Problems

Chronic opiate therapy can also impact the endocrine glands and the hormonal levels in women and men. For men, this emerges as hypogonadism, causing a decrease in hormones. It also causes a decrease in estrogen levels, along with low FSH and prolactin leading to osteoporosis and infertility or irregularity.

#16 Depression

Patients also suffer from excessive depression post opiate therapy. In one study, long-term usage of opiates has triggered moderate depression.


Thus, opiates can be useful for treating pain, but they do not exist as the only option. If side effects are experienced from long-term opiate treatment, the patients should seek pain relief without opiates and consult a pain management specialist for other procedures, therapies, and health care. If you like to know more, please visit AddictionToSobriety.com

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