Risks of opioid use

Like all medications, opioids have risks. Here are just a few. You should speak with your doctor about these risks before starting an opioid:

  • Constipation: This is a very common side effect of opioid treatment and can be severe.
  • Dry Mouth
  • Problems breathing while asleep
  • Lung and heart problems: This happens due to lack of oxygen over time from your brain not signaling your body to breathe.
  • Sleepiness: This raises the risk of falling and accidents. You should not take these medicines when driving or using heavy machinery.
  • Low sex hormones: This can cause low sex drive and loss of your menstrual cycle.
  • Increased sensitivity to pain: After being on an opioid for a long time, the body becomes extra sensitive to things that are usually not painful. This makes you want to increase your dose even more.
  • Dependence: Your body begins to rely on these medications. If you stop taking the drug too quickly, you will go through withdrawal.
  • Addiction: According to The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAABT), addiction is strong cravings and an inability to control drug use. It means you continue to use even though you know you are doing harm to yourself or others..
  • Accidental overdose or death: The risk is even higher when combined with alcohol, muscle relaxers, sleep medicines, or drugs for anxiety or seizures.

What does opioid dependence look like?

Opioid dependence is when your body starts to rely on the drug to feel normal. If you stop taking the drug too quickly or reduce your dose, you may have withdrawal symptoms. These can include:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Seeing things that aren’t there

If you think you may be dependent on opioids, speak with your doctor about how to slowly reduce your dose safely to avoid withdrawal.