Opioid Side Effects
Opioids have many side effects that can be problematic for users. Abusing opioids can cause these side effects to become more pronounced or to be more dangerous. Make sure you discuss all the possible side effects of opioids with your doctor before you begin treatment with a certain type of opioid medication.
According to a study from the NCBI, “medications which bind to opioid receptors are increasingly being prescribed for the treatment of multiple and diverse chronic painful conditions.” Their use in this sense is “well accepted,” and they are prescribed for both terminal and acute pain. Because these medications are so widely prescribed, they can often be found in the medicine cabinets of any household.
While they are prescribed to many patients, both with acute pain and chronic pain issues, the “their role in the long-term treatment of chronic noncancer pain is… controversial for many reasons.” This is because there are so many side effects involved with the use of these drugs. There is also a high chance of addiction involved in the use of prescription opioids. Considering your needs and your doctor’s advice, as well as all the possible side effects that may occur, is very important as a part of your opioid medication treatment.
Physical Side Effects Caused by Opioids
There are many possible physical side effects that can be caused by opioids. Drowsiness is one of the most common. The NIDA states that when opioids attach to the opioid receptors in the brain, spinal chord, and other organs, “they reduce the perception of pain.” This is what causes the drowsy state that opioid users experience, as the drug slows down reactions in the brain and body. While good for pain relief, this effect causes other issues throughout the body.
Some of the physical effects of opioid use are:
- Stomach pain
- Issues with coordination
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Slowed reflexes
- Dry mouth
- Loss of appetite
- Flushing of the skin
The NLM states that “you can relieve itching by reducing the dose or talking to your doctor about switching medications.” Issues like headache and constipation can be helped with over-the-counter medications for such problems, but you should get your doctor’s approval before taking another medication in addition to opioids. Vomiting and nausea can be helped by eating when you take your medication. While uncomfortable, many of these side effects can be treated easily.
Although these symptoms are fairly mild, there are other symptoms which may be indicative of a worse condition. These symptoms can be experienced by someone taking prescription opioids like oxycodone. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fast or slow heartbeat
- Slow or laborious breathing
- “Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs” (NLM)
- Chest pain
- Drowsiness that lingers or is very extreme
- Lightheadedness caused when getting up or changing position
Opioids may cause respiratory depression which is why problems with breathing or slow breathing are very serious. Respiratory depression can possibly lead to coma and death. Swelling of body parts or face, in addition to itching, may be indicative of an allergic reaction, meaning that you must be switched to a different medication as soon as possible. Seizures are very serious and you should see your doctor right away if you experience them as a result of taking opioids.
While there are many physical side effects of opioids, there are also behavioral ones as well.
Behavioral Side Effects Caused by Opioids
According to NIDA Teen, “opioids also can change the part of the brain that controls emotions and cause a person to feel relaxed and extremely happy (euphoric).” A person who is taking opioids will behave differently because of these side effects. The psychological and behavioral side effects of opioids, according to the DOI, are:
- Mood changes
A person who is using opioids will experience mood swings which will affect his or her behavior. Being on opioids can make a person feel euphoric, relaxed, and calm, whereas, after the drug wears off, the person may begin feel depressed.
Mood swings and behavioral problems can be mild or severe, depending on the individual. If the use of opioids is making it difficult for you to live your life, discuss your options with your doctor, as he or she may want to switch you from one type of medication to another. Most behavioral issues are mild unless a person is abusing or addicted to opioids.
Opioid use can cause other behavioral problems that are associated with abuse and addiction. They are:
- Withdrawal and dependence
A person who becomes dependent on opioids does not necessarily have to be abusing the drug. Dependence can come from taking opioids for a long period of time, and many people start to feel that they need the drug. Withdrawal symptoms will also occur in this state if the individual stops taking the drug.
Both opioid abusers and those who do not abuse the drug become tolerant to the effects of opioids. Doctors can often help those who become tolerant to a specific medication by changing their dosages or prescribing a different type of opioid medication. The problem often comes when an individual starts to take more of the drug without consulting his or her doctor in order to feel the effects.
- Drug-seeking behavior
Those who become addicted to opioids will do anything to get more of the drug, even if it requires putting themselves in harm’s way. This is called drug-seeking behavior, and it is highly dangerous as individuals will continue it no matter what happens if they are addicted.
The side effects caused by opioid use can be severe. It is important to discuss any side effects you experience with your doctor. While understanding that some side effects are not indicative of more serious issues and may be treated with over-the-counter medications or other methods, also know that some side effects are part of a more dangerous issue associated with opioid use.