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What Are the Side Effects of Long-Term Opioid Use?

The United States continues to be in an opioid epidemic with people dying every day from opioid overdose. In 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 50,943 overdose deaths. Of those, 41,744 involved an opioid. Unfortunately, another consequence of this public health crisis is the long-term effect of opioids on individuals, families, and communities. 

The Opioid Epidemic

A combination of factors fueled the current opioid epidemic including medical, social, and economic influences. One of the main factors was the overprescribing of prescription opioid pain relievers, most notably Oxycontin in the 1990s. This was due to aggressive marketing campaigns by large pharmaceutical companies who claimed these drugs were safe and effective for chronic pain.

People began to misuse prescription opioids and developed dependency. Opioid pills were easily available on the illegal market. Eventually, regulations were put in place that restricted access to these medications. Individuals with opioid addiction turned to heroin because it was cheaper and easily available on the street. 

Then, things went from bad to worse as drug dealers began to add powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl to heroin.  These substances are much more potent than traditional opioids and quickly lead to addiction with a higher risk of overdose. As the number of people with opioid use disorder grew, many did not have access to treatment.

The Long-Term Effects of Opioids

The long-term effects of opioids have become a major concern due to the impact of the opioid epidemic. Opioids have been associated with many adverse consequences when used over long periods. While prescribed opioids provide effective short-term pain relief, long-term use can lead to a range of physical, psychological, and social effects.

Understanding these long-term effects of opioids is essential in forming strategies for prevention and intervention. And also the challenges they pose for individuals, families, and society as a whole.

Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use on Individuals

Long-term opioid use wreaks havoc on a person’s body. Many adverse health effects are associated with chronic opioid use or abuse. First and foremost, is the risk of developing a dependence. Therefore, trying to cut back or stop using leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the long-term physical effects of opioid use include:

  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Immune system suppression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Cardiovascular effects
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Weakened bones

Effects of long-term opioid use on mental health include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Mood swings
  • Psychological dependence
  • Personality changes
  • Sleep disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Social withdrawal
  • Impaired judgment
  • Suicidal thoughts

Long-Term Effect of Opioids on Families

When physical dependence leads to active addiction it can have devastating effects on families. Addiction to opioids means that someone will take opioids compulsively, despite knowing that they are causing harm to themselves or their families. They might forgo many other areas of their overall health and well-being to get the drug. 

Additionally, they may go to great lengths and take risks like illegally buying medication or getting street drugs like heroin. Buying illegal drugs carries a significant risk of being in traumatic situations, getting arrested, or taking lethal doses of opioids. The impact on family members can be emotionally, financially, and socially challenging. 

Some of the long-term effects of opioid use on families include:

  • Emotional strain
  • Family conflict
  • Financial burden
  • Parenting challenges
  • Neglect and abuse
  • Stigma and shame
  • Trauma and stress
  • Interference with daily life
  • Caregiving strain
  • Impact on children
  • Legal issues
  • Loss of trust

Families need to seek support and education to cope with each long-term effect of opioids. Family therapy and support groups offer resources and strategies for handling the challenges of living with the effects of addiction. Encouraging the individual struggling with addiction to seek addiction treatment helps form the path to recovery and rebuilding family relationships.

Long-Term Effects of Opioids on Communities

The lasting consequences of opioid use go beyond just individual families and can have a substantial impact on communities and society as a whole. Communities are experiencing several long-term effects due to the opioid epidemic including the following:

  • A Public Health Crisis: Opioid addiction has transformed into a public health crisis. Thus, communities across the nation are being affected by rising numbers of overdose deaths and substance use disorders.
  • Burden on the Healthcare Systems: Opioid addiction places an overwhelming strain on healthcare systems, resulting in heightened hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and treatment expenses.
  • Economic Ramifications: The opioid epidemic carries serious economic consequences such as decreased productivity, escalated expenditure on healthcare, and burdening social services.
  • Increased Crime Rates: Opioid addiction has the potential to cause an upsurge in criminal activities, comprising drug-related offenses and theft to cater to addiction.
  • Reduced Workforce: The workforce can be negatively affected. Particularly by opioid addiction which results in decreased productivity and higher rates of absenteeism.
  • Stigma and Discrimination: There exists a societal stigma surrounding opioid addiction, leading to discrimination against those who seek help and impeding their access to crucial support systems and resources.
  • Family Disintegration: An essential consequence of opioid addiction is the disintegration of families, which in turn affects the overall structure of communities as well as the availability of support networks.
  • Foster Care and Child Welfare System Strain: Within the foster care system, there has been a noticeable strain due to increased cases involving children whose parents are struggling with substance abuse caused by the opioid epidemic.
  • Overburdened Criminal Justice System: The opioid epidemic has put a heavy burden on the criminal justice system, with increased arrests and incarcerations related to drug offenses.
  • Social Disruption: Opioid addiction leads to social disruption, with neighborhoods and communities facing challenges related to addiction-related behaviors.

Long-Term Opioid Use Treatment in Nashville

One dangerous long-term effect of opioids is developing an addiction. Detox is the first step of comprehensive treatment for long-term opioid use and other addictions. You or your loved one can get the treatment you need for every stage of recovery at a facility that provides medical detox, residential rehab, and aftercare services. Brentwood Springs Detox of Nashville, TN, is here to help you overcome opioid addiction and dependency from medical detox to the advanced stages of long-term addiction recovery.

Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.

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