Opioid Side Effects, Complications, & Warnings

Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

on December 2, 2022

The warnings of opioid use include increased side effects, developing opioid use disorder, and experiencing a life-threatening overdose. In Ohio, the effects of opioid misuse claim thousands of lives each year.

Prescription opioids are strong medications used to help manage pain relief. Opioid medications are useful for pain management, whether a person is struggling with acute or chronic pain.

Opioids, however, are Schedule II controlled substances according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Opioid painkillers can be habit-forming and may cause a wide range of side effects when abused.

Opioid Pain Medications

There are a number of opioid medications that may be prescribed to you by your doctor to assist with pain management. Examples of opioids include:

  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • morphine (Kadian, Avinza)
  • codeine
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • fentanyl (Actiq, Abstral, Duragesic, Fentora)
  • oxymorphone (Opana)
  • tramadol (Ultram)

In addition to these opioid pain relievers, the illegal drug heroin is also considered an opioid.

Opioid Side Effects

Opioids are powerful, causing a variety of short-term and long-term side effects.

Short-Term Side Effects

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), common side effects of opioids may include:

  • drowsiness
  • sedation
  • constipation
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting

A person may also suffer severe stomach pain due to the fact that opioid receptors and nerve cells are not only in your brain, but also in your gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system (CNS). 

Constipation has a high incidence and can become severe enough that you may be prescribed a laxative by your healthcare provider to assist with bowel movements.

Long-Term Side Effects

The long-term use of opioid pain medicine may lead to a number of serious side effects. Those who have chronic pain may require long-term prescriptions of opioids.

However, some may participate in drug abuse by taking higher doses of the drug or partaking in illegal opioid use. This type of drug abuse can lead to a number of long-term side effects such as physical dependence, addiction, and withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioid misuse can lead to a condition known as hypoxia. If this occurs, less oxygen reaches your brain and can result in life-threatening issues such as a coma, permanent brain damage, or death.

Opioid Complications

Those who require opioid medications for severe pain after surgery may only take the medication for a short period of time. 

However, due to the habit-forming nature of opioids, a person taking the drug as prescribed or even those who abuse the drug illegally may suffer from severe complications.

Opioid Use Disorder

One complication of long-term opioid use is developing opioid addiction or opioid use disorder. This chronic brain disease is characterized by an inability to stop taking opioids despite harmful consequences.

Once someone develops opioid addiction, it can be hard to stop use without professional help due to physical dependence and withdrawal.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Harm to your body can be caused when one abruptly stops taking opioids. In fact, serious withdrawal symptoms can take place and may include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • tremors
  • muscle pain
  • cold flashes

Opioid Warnings

For many, opioids help with acute pain and even non-cancer pain. However, there are a number of warnings for those who take opioids.

Opioid Overdose

Naloxone can be used to help reverse an opioid overdose. Despite this, taking high doses of opioids can result in serious health concerns. If an overdose takes place, a person may experience the following symptoms:

  • respiratory depression
  • blue fingernails
  • increase in vomiting
  • unresponsiveness
  • clammy skin
  • loss of muscle movement

If you suspect an overdose has occurred, contact 911 immediately. Naloxone is a drug used to help reverse the effects of an opioid overdose according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Polydrug Abuse

Those who up their dosages of opioids or abuse the drug in other ways to experience more intense side effects of euphoria or sedation can be more likely to suffer from an overdose. Those taking opioids should avoid the following:

  • benzodiazepines
  • alcohol
  • other opioids
  • sleeping pills
  • certain antidepressants
  • barbiturates
  • any CNS depressants
  • certain antifungal medications

Avoiding these drugs while taking an opioid medication can help prevent adverse events which can occur if certain medications are combined.

Opioid Addiction Treatment In Ohio

If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid use disorder, it’s time to find a treatment program to assist you. Contact Ohio Recovery Center today and speak with one of our healthcare providers who can help you discover the treatment options that best fit your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Opioids Affect Your Eyes?

Taking high doses of opioids tends to constrict (shrink) one’s pupils and may cause drooping eyelids, abnormal eye movements, or increase one’s risk of eye infections. Opioid addiction is also strongly linked with eye damage and vision loss.

Learn more about How Opioids Affect Your Eyes

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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