Effects of Opioids

Table of Contents


The effects of opioids occur as the substance stimulates the natural opioid receptors in the brain.

There are several forms of opioids, including:

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  • Prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone)
  • Heroin
  • Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids

When you ingest opioids, this reduces the amount of pain signals transmitted in your system, leading to an altered perception of pain. In addition to these primary pain-relieving qualities, opioids also cause feelings of euphoria.

All opioids have a strong potential for abuse and addiction in the form of OUD (opioid use disorder). 

What are the effects of opioids, then? 

An image of a couple who is struggling with with the effects of opioids, both physically and relationally

What Are the Side Effects of Opioids?

It is common to encounter side effects from opioids, whether as part of opioid therapy or when using illicit opioids or synthetic opioids. 

Evidence suggests that up to 80% of those undertaking opioid therapy experience unpleasant side effects. The most common of these adverse outcomes are as follows:

  • Drowsiness and sedation: During the first phase of opioid treatment or when the dosage of opioids is increased, this often causes sleepiness and drowsiness. If you find you are also experiencing disordered thoughts or confusion, consult your physician immediately. When this occurs, dosage can be tweaked, another medication introduced, or opioids discontinued completely.
  • Constipation: Taking opioids can often cause constipation. If this occurs, increase exercise levels, dietary fiber, and fluid intake. You could also use laxatives or stool softeners.
  • Nausea: Nausea frequently presents during the first few days of opioid use. This is sometimes accompanied by vomiting. Anti-nausea medications can help to mitigate these opioid side effects.
  • Slowed breathing: High doses of opioids can cause breathing to slow down. This issue usually resolves when you are accustomed to opioids in your system.

Short Term Effects of Opioids

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), taking opioids triggers these immediate and short-term effects: 

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Respiratory depression

These side effects mean it is inadvisable and potentially hazardous to operate machinery or drive a vehicle when using opioids. 

Although the short-term effects can be dangerous in certain situations, it is the long-term effects of opioid abuse that cause most harm. 

Long-Term Effects of Opioids

What are the long term effects of opioids?

Among the most serious adverse outcomes is opioid use disorder, the clinical descriptor for opioid addiction. 

SAMHA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH 2020) shows that 2.7 million over-12s in the U.S. have substance use disorders related to opioids. The opioid epidemic in the United States is far from resolved. 

In many cases, opioid use disorder involves both physical dependence and a fierce psychological aspect. This occurs due to the effect of opioids on the brain. 

The long-term use of opioids can also lead to the following issues: 

  • Legal problems
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Financial stress
  • Relationship problems and divorce
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Impaired personal and professional performance
  • Reduced life expectancy

Effects of Opioids on the Body

Using opioids can lead to the presentation of both short-term and long-term physical effects. 

The sustained use of opioids causes tolerance to form. Resultantly, you will need more opioids to get the same rewarding effects. Alternatively, you will need to use opioids more frequently. Taking opioids in higher dosages is known to cause many negative outcomes, including:

Using opioids can lead to the presentation of both short-term and long-term physical effects. 

The sustained use of opioids causes tolerance to form. Resultantly, you will need more opioids to get the same rewarding effects. Alternatively, you will need to use opioids more frequently. Taking opioids in higher dosages is known to cause many negative outcomes, including: 

If you take high doses of opioids, this will suppress your central nervous system so much that breathing slows dramatically, sometimes stopping completely. If this occurs – the condition is known as hypoxia, you could experience brain damage or life-threatening coma.

Beyond this, opioids can also cause problems in your digestive system, from nausea and vomiting to constipation and swelling in the abdomen. Bloating and discomfort can also accompany long-term opioid use. 

Using opioids can affect the liver. This is especially damaging if you combine opioids with acetaminophen.

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Opioid Addiction Treatment at California Detox

If you need treatment for opioid use disorder, we offer a variety of programs here at California Detox at all levels of intensity. 

Before you engage with therapy to address the psychological aspect of opioid addiction, you must first detox. Most people addicted to opioids, whether prescription painkillers or heroin, benefit from detoxification at a licensed medical detox center. Here at our beachside facility in California, you can take advantage of medications to streamline opioid withdrawal and minimize cravings. Clinical and emotional care on hand 24/7 will minimize your chance of relapse. Opioid detox usually lasts for seven to ten days. After this, you will be ready to choose from one of the following programs for opioid use disorder: 

  • OP: outpatient program providing 2 to 3 hours of therapy sessions each week.
  • IOP: intensive outpatient program providing 12 to 15 hours of therapy sessions each week.
  • PHP: partial hospitalization program providing 30 to 35 hours of therapy sessions each week.
  • Inpatient program: residential rehab lasting for 30 to 90 days.
  • Virtual IOP: remote rehab program providing virtual therapy sessions.

For all those with co-occurring addictions and mental health disorders, our dual diagnosis treatment programs deliver simultaneous evidence-based treatment for both conditions. 

If you have a co-occurring mental health condition like anxiety disorder, depression, or PTSD, our dual diagnosis treatment program helps you deal with both conditions simultaneously. 

Unlike some substance use disorders – stimulant use disorder, for instance – OUD responds favorably to MAT (medication-assisted treatment). Here at California Detox, your treatment team can prescribe FDA-approved medications to encourage abstinence and minimize opioid cravings. 

MAT is always most effective when it’s delivered together with psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and counseling, in both individual and group format. 

To start moving toward a life free from the effects of opioids, reach out to California Detox today by calling 949.567.8790.


Naloxone is an opioid overdose medication used to block the opioid receptors and restore respiration.
The most common effects of mile opioid intoxication includes drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, and an overall lack of focus.


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