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What Are the Long-term Effects of Opioid Use?

woman discusses long-term effects of opioid use with doctor

Opioid painkillers work very well in limited situations. If you’re experiencing intense pain after an injury or medical procedure, taking opioids for a few days might be a great idea. However, they were never intended for long-term use, even if they have often been prescribed for long periods. Many people with chronic pain believe opioids are the best way to manage it, but that’s usually not true. Using opioids for prolonged periods may cause the following problems.


Physical dependence and addiction are the greatest risks from prolonged use of opioids, and once you become dependent or addicted, the other side effects are much more likely. Opioids are among the most highly addictive drugs, second only to tobacco. They are so addictive that the Centers for Disease Control now recommends opioid prescriptions be limited to seven days to prevent dependence. Many people have become addicted to opioids by taking them as prescribed following an operation, medical procedure, or wisdom tooth extraction.


There is some evidence that suggests prolonged opioid use, even as directed, can increase your risk of depression. One study found that the rate of depression among people on long-term opioid therapy was about 38 percent, compared to a depression rate of about seven percent in the general population. This picture is complicated, since many people on long-term opioid therapy will have chronic pain or conditions like cancer that also lead to depression. There is also a strong possibility of developing depression as a result of opioid addiction, since addiction often makes people feel ashamed, helpless, and anxious.


Ironically, opioid painkillers may end up causing more pain. First, there’s a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which can make you more sensitive to pain and even cause pain in places where there was none before. And when you build a tolerance and especially when you quit opioids, the pain is worse than before, since your brain learns to experience normal sensations as being painful.

Health problems

There are a number of health problems associated with long-term opioid use. For example, about 75 percent of long-term opioid users will experience sleep-disordered breathing, such as sleep apnea. This can cause a number of problems including fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, and even brain damage from lack of oxygen. Using opioids long-term also increases your risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack. Other problems include low testosterone and sexual dysfunction in men and suppressed immunity, leading to greater risk of infection.


The gravest risk of long-term opioid use is overdose, which can be fatal. People typically assume overdoses only happen to people who are pushing their limits chasing a high or using unreliable street drugs. The problem is actually that you build a tolerance to the pain-relieving qualities of opioids much faster than you develop a tolerance to the central nervous system suppression that can stop your breathing. So by increasing your dosage to manage pain, you may be creeping into the danger zone.

Arbor Behavioral Healthcare offers an integrative and holistic approach to treat substance abuse and a wide variety of addictions, as well as underlying mental health and psychological issues. All of the addiction recovery programs offered by The Arbor are designed to heal the mind, body, and spirit leading to a lifetime of sobriety, health and wellness. If you’re ready to find healing and restoration in a peaceful, loving environment, please call us today at 844-560-7269.