Love them and hate them: When you’re suffering from severe or chronic pain, you will find love your opioid medications. They will be your deliverance from otherwise abject misery.

But, as will inevitably happen, over time your body will develop a tolerance and dependence and the drug will lose its effectiveness. The erstwhile blessing will become a curse, a process that can take from days to weeks. When this happens you’ll hate the drug and yourself for being a slave to it.

If this is you, you are not alone. About nine percent of the population is believed to misuse opiates over the course of their lifetime1, including illicit drugs like heroin and prescription pain medications like OxyContin. It’s these prescription opioids that are the number-one cause of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.2; in 2010, prescription opioids accounted for 44 percent of all U.S. overdose deaths3.

With the regular use of opioids, two unfortunate things will happen:


  • Tolerance: This is what happens after repeated use of a drug. Your body diminishes its response and adapts to the continued presence of the drug. Higher doses will be needed to achieve the same effect. Your tolerance will depend on the particular drug, dosage, and frequency of use.
  • Dependence: Dependence also occurs with the repeated use of a drug. It develops when the neurons of the brain adapt to repeated drug exposure and only function normally in the presence of the drug. Without the drug, symptoms of withdrawal begin. Depending on the substance and dosage, the symptoms can range from mild to serious and even life-threatening.

Dependence is also exacerbated by the periodic increasing of the dosage. Patients will complain to their doctors that after a length of time they feel their pain again. Doctors will respond by increasing the dose. These increases over time can create a condition called hyperalgesia where the user will become more sensitive to pain than when they started on the drug.

For many opioid users, the fear and distress of withdrawal can be worse than the experience itself. Not that the distress is entirely misplaced: withdrawal is unpleasant. Its symptoms have been compared to the worst case of the flu – the very, very worst. You will feel body aches down to your bones, you can’t get comfortable and you can’t sleep. There can also be diarrhea and vomiting.

Interestingly, people often withdraw from opiates after receiving them for pain while in the hospital. Since they don’t know what is happening to them, they think they have the flu. Because they don’t realize that opioids would fix the problem, they don’t crave the drugs.

Examples of opioid drugs:


Opioid overuse can lead to another phenomenon called the “drug-opposite” response. After repeated use of a drug, cessation can cause the drug to have the opposite effect than is intended. Instead of the expected effects of euphoria, analgesia, and constipation, these are replaced by dysphoria, hyperalgesia, and diarrhea. People with a history of opioid use for pain management can become hypersensitive to certain kinds of pain during the time they are under the drug’s influence.

Another consequence of repeated opioid use is its powerful impact on the production of sexual hormones – testosterone for men and estrogen for women. The result of lower hormone production is about much more than just growing hair or sexual performance. It affects your energy level: opioids deplete energy.


Clearly, opioids are powerful drugs. An estimated 30 percent of those using opioids benefit in terms of pain relief for long-term use, but as many as 20 percent of those prescribed narcotic medications may start abusing the drugs or develop other serious side effects. Studies have also shown that prescription opioids can become in many cases a gateway to heroin use, a drug with a street value often less expensive than prescription opioids.

Taking the drug in non-standard ways increases its addictiveness and side effects. Smoking or injecting larger amounts of the drug can lead to heart problems including infections and pulmonary embolisms. If the injection site gets infected, it’s possible to contract gangrene. If the wound becomes infected it can cause a massive blood infection. This can be life-threatening.

Long-term effects can include nausea and vomiting, abdominal distention and bloating, constipation, liver damage, brain damage, and a development of a tolerance and dependence.


In general, the best expert’s advice for those who suffer from chronic or severe pain is to use opioids in as low to moderate doses as possible. Always make sure your use of medications is monitored closely by a doctor to ensure you are still benefiting for the drugs in terms of pain relief and physical function. If this is not the case, it may be time to seek professional help.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.



  1. The New York Times. Opiate Withdrawal. Retrieved May 11, 2016
  2. The Journal of the American Medical Association. Pharmaceutical Overdose Deaths, United States, 2010. Retrieved May 11, 2016
  3. Popular Science. How Do You Make a Painkiller Addiction-Proof? Retrieved May 11, 2016


Long-Term Effects of Opioid Addiction