Opioid Use Affects Body In A Bad Way

In 2013, the American Academy of Pain Medicine released a study showing the long term effects of opioid use for patients who had been using them for more than 10 years.

Many studies before it tested how opioids affected the body, but this one was rare in its duration and scope of the research. In particular, they looked at non-cancer pain patients who had been taking high doses of opioids–that is, more than 100 mg day–for more than ten years.

The effects it showed was conflicting–while long-term opioid use was correlated with less pain and better mood, there was also evidence of negative hormonal suppression and elevated serum levels. 

These altered hormone levels may be due in large part to the underlying inflammatory damage that hasn’t been fixed by the opioid use. Altered hormonal levels, however, can lead to:

  • Decreased libido
  • Infertility
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of muscle strength or mass
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis
  • Menstrual irregularities

The research by the American Academy of Pain Medicine adds to the research we have on the effects of opioid use. Besides the findings here, other studies have found increased risks of infection and hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to pain.

While these is still research that needs to be done, much of the problem with identifying key risks of opioid use is that many of its effects are similar to those of chronic pain. For example, while opioids may present an increased risk of infection, so too does chronic pain negatively impact the immune system.

Another major concern of long term use of opioids, however, is the incidence of addiction, tolerance, and dependence it can cause in some patients. Over time, patients often become used to the effects of an opioid drug, thereby necessitating higher doses of the drug in order to feel a result. This is called tolerance and occurs more often the longer an individual is taking opioids.

The body may also experience symptoms of dependence. If dependence occurs, when long-term opioid use is stopped or decreased rapidly, the body may undergo withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, diarrhea, or vomiting.

For many with chronic pain, the best answer is to discuss opioid use with a trusted healthcare professional and actively monitor your symptoms if you do use them.

If you notice that your pain isn’t any better or that the dosage that once helped your pain is no longer working, consult with your doctor about better alternatives or treatment techniques. Moreover, constantly evaluate your own mental awareness, health, and general quality of life to ensure that the opioid use continues to have a positive, rather than negative, impact on your life and chronic pain.

Image by Charles Williams via Flickr


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