Side Effects of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction affects every part of a person’s life. What might start as a legitimate prescription to handle an injury, post-surgery recovery, or a chronic illness can quickly become a life-consuming dependency. What are the side effects of misusing these drugs? There are physical, mental, and social implications to this type of addiction. Here are some of the direct consequences of misusing opioids. 


Physical Symptoms of Opioid Misuse

Misusing opioids physically alters the way the brain operates, making it both a physical and psychological addiction. With opioid addiction, the brain no longer works properly. This impacts memory, decision-making, impulse control, and other mental processes. However, the human body has an incredible capacity to recover, even when it comes to brain function. When someone who uses methamphetamine stops for 14 months, their brain recovers much of the lost function. The same improvements can happen when someone recovers from opioids.


Other physical signs that someone has a problem with opioids include cravings, drowsiness, poor coordination, shallow breathing, and flu-like symptoms. Someone struggling with addiction may also suffer physical agitation, constipation, slurred speech, and weight loss. 


person under blanket

While these symptoms are unpleasant, withdrawal symptoms are usually worse, and someone who uses drugs regularly will fear this. Withdrawal may include sweating, nausea, chills, diarrhea, pain, and depression. Many people don’t realize that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs help to minimize these withdrawal symptoms, so they continue to use drugs rather than suffer through withdrawal.


Mental Consequences of Opioid Addiction

Because opioids directly affect the brain, there are a lot of mental consequences of addiction. One of the most dangerous is drug tolerance, which means that a person has to take more of the drug over time in order to get the same results.This is the root of overdoses, where someone accidentally takes so much of a drug that their breathing slows or stops, leading them to become unconscious or die. Other mental effects of opioid dependence include problems fulfilling daily obligations, such as work, school, or home tasks. Someone struggling with addiction may also display poor decision-making, mood swings, euphoria, irritability, low motivation, anxiety, and depression.


Although these mental issues are problematic, they quickly become less important to the opioid abuser than getting the “high” feeling back. Unfortunately, this is why those struggling with addiction to opioids see their life slowly fall apart. If your loved one is struggling through these issues, encourage them to get help. Recovery works best when the opioid user understands their need and doesn’t feel forced into treatment.


Social Impacts of Opioid Addiction

The social changes in someone who struggles with addiction are often significant. While some who abuse opioids are able to hide their addiction and manage a job and family without missing a beat, most cannot.


Socially, a person with addiction may isolate themselves from family and friends who do not enable their habit. They may take advantage of those who are willing to supply them with pills or money. As a friend or family member, it’s important not to get drawn in to an enabling role. You might notice your friend or family member hanging around new friends, or frequently reporting financial distress. Consistent, difficult-to-explain financial problems can be a sign of drug addiction. 


A person struggling with addiction may also find themselves in trouble with the law for possession of opioids, forging prescriptions, or theft. They may also steal from family or friends in order to get the money to support their habit. Someone with opioid addiction may struggle to hold down a job or manage other usual responsibilities. They might forget important appointments or lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. 



Seeing someone you love struggle with opioid addiction can be heartbreaking. The best thing you can do is to be supportive, not enable their habit, and encourage them to seek treatment. 


Medication Assisted Treatment is a great option for patients with work and family obligations that make more intensive treatment less feasible. Often a patient will delay seeking treatment due to concerns regarding losing their job or being away from family. These obstacles are removed when enrolled in a MAT program.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

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