Chronic Opioid Use for Pain Management – Long Term Affects

opioid side effects on the body- internal medical issues

Chronic opioid use for pain management has been commonly increasing amongst healthcare patients seeking immediate pain relief. Opioids are addictive —presenting signs of dependence in less than three consecutive days of use. Taking opioids to manage chronic pain is a dangerous, slippery slope for those who are seeking relief. Not only are these medications highly addictive, but they are the number one cause for drug overdose deaths currently in America. We have reached an opioid crisis larger than the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s. For those who do not suffer an overdose from using these medications, there are several medical conditions that develop in the body when using for extended periods of time.

Less is More

When using opioids for pain management, one may find that the pain is not fully going away. Perhaps the body will respond better to other forms of pain management, or perhaps the medications are becoming less effective with use over time. Using more of an opioid isn’t necessarily going to make you feel better or in less pain. Increasing a dose of opioids will sometimes only increase the side effects. It may even cause hyperalgesia, a condition where the pain gets worse instead of better. Upping an opioid dosage also increases the risk for overdose. Opioids should be respected as powerful medications. Using more than prescribed can make them as dangerous as illegal drugs.

Some of the side effects associated with opioids which increase with dosage are:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Paranoia
  • Respiratory Depression
  • Laziness

Long Term Effects for Chronic Opioid Use

While many are drawn to using opioids for their short-term effects such as euphoria, sedation, pain relief and drowsiness, the long-term effects of chronic use are alarming. The chronic use of opioids can cause many changes to the body such as:

  • Chronic constipation
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal distention
  • Sleep disorders
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Lowered sex hormones
  • Decrease in bone health and strength
  • Brain damage (from hypoxia caused by respiratory depression)
  • Kidney damage
  • Rhabdomyolysis (rapid break down of muscle tissue)
  • Liver damage (this is worse when combining other drugs)
  • Tooth decay
  • Dry mouth
  • Physical dependence
  • Tolerance (making the dosage higher for the same desired effect)

In addition to the long-term effects listed above, those who abuse opioids, or take more than they are prescribed, are at a higher risk for developing pneumonia. This is because opioids suppress one’s breathing and interfere with lung functions. If a person’s chronic opioid use has reached the point of abuse, the increase in dosage will exacerbate the long-term effects. For example, not only will an abuser suffer from constipation, but it will become such an issue that laxatives will be required for the bowels to move. There are also a variety of gastrointestinal disorders that are associated with opioid abuse. Opioids increase the sensitivity of the nerves in the stomach as well, so if they are used to manage stomach pain, they will likely increase the pain instead.

If you’re living with chronic pain and opioids are part of your treatment protocol, it may be time to seek alternate forms of pain management. The significant detriments chronic opioid use has on your internal system shows that they can do more harm than good.  There are many other options available for pain relief that do not cause the same damage or side effects including: electrotherapy such as H-Wave, physical therapy, stretching / guided exercise and yoga.

Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon, Dr. Michael Dempewolf on physicians over prescribing opioids which results in an excess of narcotics in our communities.