Opioid painkillers are very potent drugs that are classified as Schedule II Controlled Substances, which means that they have a high risk of being abused. Opioids are typically used for patients who are suffering from moderate to severe pain – either acute, like pain following surgery, or chronic – when other pain medications are not working. Besides the potential for developing an addiction, which is a serious problem, opioids affect the body in other negative ways that can be very risky for the people taking them.
While opioids are effective as painkillers, they can create adverse effects within the bodies and brains of the patients who take it. These effects can become extremely serious to the organs in the body in a relatively short period. The following is a list of exactly how opioids can affect a patient’s body, brain, organs, and well-being.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect The Body
Primarily used for their pain-relieving capabilities, opioids are often abused for their euphoric highs. However, they can also come with some unpleasant side effects, including:
- Drowsiness and dizziness
- Trouble sleeping
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic and severe constipation
Patients who use opioids over a period of time will develop a tolerance to the drugs. That means that in order for the medication to have the same effect over time, higher doses must be taken. Increasing tolerance is not only a sign of physical dependency, but it’s also one of the major causes of addiction to the drug.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect the Brain
These types of painkillers are opioid agonists, which means that they work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and digestive tract. As this happens, it blocks the delivery of pain messages to the brain. It can also affect the brain’s respiratory and cough centers, which may cause respiratory depression, which can be quite dangerous.
Opioids affect the activity in the brain’s reward and pleasure pathway. They increase the release of dopamine levels more effectively and longer than the body can do naturally. That is why opioids have such a high potential for abuse and addiction.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect the Nervous System
The nervous system is extremely susceptible to the effects of opioids. Several nervous system disorders can occur and be directly attributed to the use of the medications, even when taken as prescribed. Of course, when the drugs are abused, the incidence and severity of these disorders also increase. Some of the commonly diagnosed nervous system disorders that can be affected by the use of opioids include:
- Memory loss or amnesia
- Unsteady gait
- Inability to focus and hyperactivity (hyperkinesia)
- Increased tension in the muscles (hypertonia)
- Decreased ability to feel physical sensation (hypoesthesia)
- Headaches and migraine
- Tingling sensation (paresthesia)
- Trouble with speech
- Tremors or shaking
How Opioid Painkillers Affect Vital Organs
Opioids can affect the major organs of the body in some potentially dangerous ways.
Heart – Opioid painkillers increase the heart rate during withdrawal, which is why they should never be stopped abruptly. Instead, they should be tapered to avoid the risk of heart attack. Additionally, if a patient takes more than prescribed, he or she runs the risk of endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart’s inner lining, affecting the heart valves.
Liver – Opioids, in any dose, can be potentially damaging to the liver – even in patients whose liver was previously healthy. If a patient already has liver problems prior to taking opioid painkillers, those issues can be exacerbated.
Lungs – Opioid painkillers should not be prescribed for people who have respiratory issues like asthma. They can cause shortness of breath and depressed breathing, which for someone with lung-related conditions can become life-threatening.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect Blood Pressure
Opioids, in general, lower blood pressure and can cause a condition called hypotension. Even a slightly higher dose than what is prescribed can be extremely dangerous for someone whose body has difficulty maintaining a normal blood pressure.
Conversely, if opioids are discontinued suddenly, blood pressure may increase rapidly and dramatically. A sharp rise in blood pressure is a common withdrawal symptom that requires close monitoring to prevent further complications. This dramatic increase is just one reason that a medically-supervised detoxification is recommended for people who are trying to overcome an addiction to opioids.
How Opioid Painkillers Affect Behavior and Personality
When someone develops a dependency or addiction to opioid painkillers, he or she will likely exhibit some common behaviors – characterized by the uncontrollable use of the drugs. Some of those behaviors include:
- Anxiety and depression
- Increased secrecy
- Confusion or disorientation
- Mood swings
Loss of interest in previously enjoyed people and activities
Opioid Painkiller Detox Must Be Medically-Supervised
People who want to stop using opioid painkillers, even those who have not been misusing them, need to have a medically-supervised detox. The symptoms of opioid withdrawal are not only uncomfortable, but they can also be dangerous and life-threatening.
If you or a loved one are dependent on opioid painkillers, you must consult with your doctor to discontinue use. If you are abusing opioid painkillers, an inpatient detox may be your best option. It will help you manage withdrawal symptoms as you detox and provide you with valuable information about addiction and recovery. Intervention 365 offers help with drug and alcohol addiction and is located in Philadelphia, Pa.
Intervention hotline: 877-885-5925