What Are the Long-Term Effects of Opioids?

What are the Long-Term Effects of Opioids and What Should I Know?

Opioid use, both legal and illegal, has been rising in the U.S. for decades. If you use opiates or know someone who does, you have likely wondered what are the long-term effects of opioids? Most people will ask themselves this question eventually, whether they are a chronic pain patient taking medication as prescribed, or a person addicted to heroin. In this article, Harmony Health Group will take a careful look at both the side effects of opioid use, long-term health implications and solutions to opioid addiction.

What is an Opioid?

Most people know the answer to this question, but if we are asking what are the long-term effects of opioids, it’s important we define the term for clarity. Simply put, opioids are chemicals which act on opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects. Morphine-like effects include pain relief, cough suppression and sedation. Opioids also produce euphoric effects and a sense of warmth and well-being. It is these side effects and the physical dependence which make opioid addiction so dangerous. Opioids may be semi-synthetic, naturally derived or fully synthetic. Most often they are used for moderate to severe pain relief. Because they have a high addiction potential, all opioids are a controlled substance in the United States and most other countries.

What are the Side Effects of Opioid Use? 

Opioids have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. For most of that time, the unprocessed gummy resin of the opium poppy was the only reliable source. Today there are dozens of different sources. Side effects are what we call effects of a medication which fall outside of the intended results. Opioids are primarily for pain relief, so anything outside of those purposes would be a side effect. Before we dive into the long-term effects of opioids, let’s first look at the side effects of opiate use in the immediate and short term.

Here are the side effects we see from the use of opioids in general:

  • Euphoria
  • Constipation
  • A sense of warmth and well-being
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Respiratory depression
  • Death (usually due to respiratory depression)

The use of certain opioids, such as heroin, include additional risks. Intravenous drug use adds the additional risks of diseases like hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, abscesses and accidental overdose. Accidental overdose has become tragically common in recent years as fentanyl appears in street heroin more and more.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Opioid Use to Mental and Physical Health?

Like any powerful psychoactive compound, opiate have side effects and long-term effects on human health. Most of these effects come from the drug itself and how it interferes with the normal, healthy functioning of mind and body. Others are a direct result of opioid use and the behaviors and conditions that accompany it.

Here is a list of potential long-term effects of opioids:

  • Physical dependence/addiction
  • Bowel obstruction and similar issues due to chronic constipation
  • Hormonal imbalances (especially lower levels of testosterone)
  • Sleep-disordered breathing issues, including apnea
  • Ataxic breathing and hypoxemia
  • Increase risk of heart attack or heart failure
  • Hyperalgesia (extreme sensitivity to pain)
  • Immunosuppression (weakened immune system)

This is far from a complete list. For example, it doesn’t include the specific consequences of IV heroin use or the indirect effects of an addict lifestyle.  But in considering the long-term effects of opioids, the list above should give you food for thought.


Whether a person is taking opioids as prescribed or is misusing them, it is important to know about the long-term effects of opioids? Anyone who uses opioids for an extended period of time, even as little as a couple of weeks, will develop physical dependence on the drug. This means stopping the drug abruptly will result in uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms which are both mental and physical. Fear of withdrawal is one of the most common obstacles to initiating recovery for opioid-dependent people. Do not let that discourage you from seeking help though. The fact is that treatment for opioid addiction is more effective than ever before. If you or someone you love is dependent on opioids, the programs at Harmony Health Group can help. Reach out to us via our contact page here, or just give us a call at (866) 461-4474. We will be happy to help in any way we can.