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The Effects of Opiates on the Body

Table of Contents


They’re potent, they’re dangerous – and they could be in your medicine cabinet. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for painkillers, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Opana, were written in the U.S. When used improperly, these legal opioid drugs can present some of the same risks as illicit heroin sold on the street. While 467,000 people in the U.S. struggled with heroin addiction in 2012, over 2 million were estimated to abuse opioid painkillers.

Abuse of opiates, whether prescription painkillers or heroin, can have a serious impact on your health. In addition to the hazards of overusing opioid painkillers, sharing needles for the injection of heroin or injecting crushed pills poses its own dangers. These substances and practices can affect almost every part of your body, potentially leading to permanent damage to your health. Read on to learn how the human body reacts to abuse of opiates and heroin.

A multitude of health consequences can accompany long-term opiate abuse, but many of the dangers are seen more acutely. Even a first time user can experience respiratory arrest, for example. Opiate abuse treatment can put a stop to the risks of continued use and address health issues that may have already arisen. Place a confidential call to  to speak with a treatment support team member about your opiate recovery options.


The Effects of Opiates on the Brain


Opiate painkillers are known to have side effects such as daytime sleepiness, which could consequently require additional stimulant medication to counteract. Heroin use can elicit profound drowsiness as well, with abusers frequently experiencing intermittent bouts of ‘nodding off’ as they slip in and out of consciousness. The long-term use of painkillers was also found to be associated with a heightened risk of developing major depression: Patients using painkillers in excess of six months had more than a 50 percent greater chance of developing a depressive episode.


The Effects of Opiates on the Respiratory System


Overdosing on opioid painkillers or heroin can lead to respiratory depression, a slowing of breathing. At sufficient doses, respiratory arrest can deprive the brain and body tissues of oxygen. This can easily prove fatal, or result in debilitating organ system injury.


The Effects of Opiates on the Digestive System


Opiates affect the muscles of the digestive system, leading to constipation due to a slowing of digestive transit. The slowed gastrointestinal motility and chronic constipation associated with opiate abuse can also place users at heightened risk for more serious conditions, such as small bowel obstruction, perforation and resultant peritonitis. Nausea also occurs frequently in many users of opioids, along with sudden, uncontrollable vomiting; antiemetic medication may be required in order to treat this.


The Effects of Opiates on the Nervous System


Surprisingly, the chronic use of opioid painkillers can lead to the development of hyperalgesia, a syndrome of increased sensitivity to pain. Opioid use is also associated with psychomotor impairment, an overall slowing of a person’s physical movements and loss of coordination.


The Effects of Opiates on the Immune System


Opioid painkillers are known to be associated with suppression of the immune system, as opioid receptors are involved with regulation of immunity.


The Effects of Opiates on the Liver


Because many opioid painkillers are combined with acetaminophen, excessive use of these drugs can cause liver damage from acetaminophen toxicity.

Damage to the liver from acetaminophen toxicity is an undeniable risk of taking excessive doses of many prescription painkillers such as Lortab, Norco and Vicodin. Adding alcohol to the mix – as many opiate abusers do – makes an already risky situation worse, as it further decreases the liver’s ability to process the toxic combination of ethanol and acetaminophen. It’s safe to assume that no one embarks upon opiate abuse with the intention of experiencing painful and serious liver injury, but the risks are quite real. Don’t wait for the potentially life-altering consequences of opiate abuse to mount – call to speak with a compassionate treatment support specialist at , 24 hours a day, to hear more about opiate addiction rehabilitation.


The Effects of Injecting Opiates


Illicit street drugs such as heroin are frequently diluted and can contain contaminating and infectious particles. The injection of contaminated heroin can lead to infections entering the blood and reaching the lining of the heart, causing endocarditis, an inflammation of this lining. As street heroin can be cut with any number of impurities, these contaminating particles can travel through the body and become trapped in small capillaries, resulting in microembolism or clots, which can cut off blood flow and cause progressive damage to various organs. Intravenous administration of opiates can lead to inflammation, infection and abscess formation at the site of injection. Repeated injections can also lead to cumulative vein damage, which may eventually cause veins to collapse.

Sharing needles when injecting heroin or crushed pills can spread a number of bloodborne pathogens, including the hepatitis C virus – one of the largest causes of chronic liver disease – as well as the lung infection tuberculosis. Further, this can also spread HIV, and injection drug users are one of the highest risk groups for transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Facing Opiate Addiction

Opiate painkillers and heroin are among the most addictive drugs, and the consequences of abusing these drugs can be deadly. In 2012, the CDC estimated that 46 people died from overdoses of prescription painkillers every day. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to prescription painkillers or heroin, contact Rehabs.com today to find a facility tailored to your needs. With the proper opiate help and treatment, you can escape the trap of addiction and get your life back.




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