The Long-Term Health Impact of Opioid Addiction

opioid addiction

The opioid epidemic currently has our nation clenched firmly in its grip, making it difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine, are also opioids. Addiction to opioids is a national crisis that is endangering public health and social and economic welfare. So, when a person decides to get help for their opioid addiction, it gives a glimmer of hope that there could be an end in sight to this crisis. But the health impact can remain. Here’s a look at what the long-term health implications are after using opioids regularly and how healing from an opioid addiction is possible. 


Impact of Opioids on Health


Physical Health

Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” Being physically healthy is one of our greatest gifts. Unfortunately, long-term use of opioids can put good health at risk, leading to adverse side effects across multiple organ systems. Some examples are:

  • Central nervous system: Dizziness and sedation, mental fog, increased sensitivity to pain
  • Respiratory system: Sleep-disordered breathing, respiratory depression
  • Cardiovascular: Bradycardia (heart rate less than 60 beats per minute), hypotension (low blood pressure), heart attack
  • Musculoskeletal: Increased risk of fractures
  • Endocrine: Decreased testosterone and sexual dysfunction in men; in women, decreased circulating levels of estrogen, low follicle-stimulating hormone and increased prolactin can lead to osteoporosis and infrequent periods
  • Immune system: Some opioids, like fentanyl and morphine, can suppress the immune system
  • Gastrointestinal: Nausea, vomiting, constipation
  • Integumentary: IV opioid use that leads to abscesses and severe skin infections (if not treated, these infections can become systemic and life-threatening)


Psychological Health

Long-term opioid use does not just affect physical health. Psychological health can also be affected. Opioids can numb the pain of uncomfortable emotions, which is one of the driving factors that can lead to addiction to opioids. When these drugs are used for this purpose, especially over an extended period, it can cause emotional confusion because the brain becomes unable to manage normal emotions in the absence of the drugs. 

Misuse and abuse are substantial physical and psychological risks of long-term opioid use. Misusing prescription opioids or using heroin can cause anxiety over getting caught and surrounding the consequences of use. It can also lead to intense feelings of guilt and shame. 


Long-term Effects of the Opioid Epidemic on Society

The burden placed on society by the opioid epidemic is considerable and has contributed to increased healthcare costs and deaths by overdose. As the prevalence of opioid use disorders increases, so will the costs of this epidemic. Here are some of the long-term effects on our society: 

  • This epidemic has contributed to an increase in IV drug use fueling the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. 
  • In some areas, paramedics struggle to keep up with the number of overdose calls.
  • Increases in drug activity can usher in an increase in violent crime. 
  • Heroin use has increased because it is cheaper and easier to find when prescription medications are not available. 
  • Costs to employers continue to increase due to absenteeism and decreased productivity.
  • Already overcrowded jails and prisons continue to be filled with people due to illegal activity related to opioid use. 

This epidemic affects people from all backgrounds and all walks of life. No facet of society has been shielded. Fortunately, treatment is available and recovery is possible.


Healing from Opioid Addiction is Possible

Although it can be physically and psychologically challenging, healing and recovery from an addiction to opioids is possible. Today there are more tools available for treating addiction than ever before. Multiple levels of care are available to meet each person’s different and changing needs on their recovery journey. 

Many people start with medical detox to safely clear the body of opioids. However, this is just the first step on the lifelong path of recovery, and most people will need continued support and treatment for healing and successful recovery. Options include residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP) and aftercare. Casa Palmera provides a wide range of treatments, combining the best in evidence-based medicine with holistic approaches to care. Addiction is not a choice but taking steps to begin healing is.  


The opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc on people from all walks of life; no facet of society has remained untouched. However, hope and healing are possible. At Casa Palmera, we believe that addiction is not a choice, but getting help is. We are dedicated to being a leader in providing both evidence-based treatment and holistic care. Our highly trained, dedicated clinicians take pride in helping guide our patients through the treatment and recovery process.  We believe in treating the whole person, not just the presenting substance use disorder. Every patient receives an individualized, comprehensive treatment plan. Our care and support does not end once treatment is completed. We keep in touch through our alumni app and various alumni outings and events. If you or a loved one is ready to accept the opportunity to overcome opioid addiction, call Casa Palmera at (855) 508-0473.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.