Understanding Opiate Side Effects

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Opiates directly affect the brain, heart, and other organs and results in both short-term and long-term side effects. The amount someone ingests and how often opiates are taken will factor into the reaction people experience and the severity of which it is felt. Common opiate side effects may include: paranoia, nausea, drowsiness, or feeling sluggish.

Other noticeable side effects of opiates are slow reaction times, dilated pupils, and abnormal shaking or sweating. In cases of longtime abuse, opiates can cause damage to the liver and brain. There are serious consequences when not administered correctly. Opiates in all forms are highly addictive and can become habit-forming more easily than you might think.

Opiates often come in the form of prescribed painkillers and are typically taken for after an operation, to manage chronic pain, or to cope with pain from an injury. Over time you can build up dependence which can lead your doctor to prescribe a higher dosage to successfully manage your pain. In some cases, patients will self-medicate and take more than the recommended dose at more frequent intervals. It is this type of opiate use that leads to more dangerous, dependent behavior.

People who have used opiates before feel a “buzz” and once addicted, there’s a need to chase this euphoric feeling. Any of these side effects may occur even if the person has been prescribed medication, which is why it’s important to be mindful of certain limitations. When you are prescribed opiates for post-surgery pain relief, you are instructed with strict guidelines for how much and how often a you can take the drugs.

How Long Do Opiate Side Effects Last?

The side effects of opiate abuse tend to subside over a short period of time. However, withdrawal from opiates can take days or up to a week or more to fully recover from. The initial days of withdrawal take the biggest toll on the body because of the intense changes. Symptoms of withdrawal aren’t all that different than opiate side effects themselves.

People who are going through opiate withdrawal often experience:

  • Diarrhea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Increased sweating;
  • Trouble sleeping; and/or
  • Loss of appetite.

Unfortunately, these are only a few of the symptoms that may occur during the withdrawal period. Although the pain decreases over the course of a week, the lack of appetite and insomnia may still be lingering problems. It is also common to experience cramps and shivers. It may feel like a bad case of the flu or an intense cold you can’t shake.

It’s not a fun situation, to say the least. In fact, it can feel downright miserable and never-ending. However, with the right support system in place, at a treatment center, for example, you can work through the pain in a positive environment as the drugs are eliminated out of your system.

There’s a reason they say to take sobriety “one day at a time.” Each day is new and with it comes its own surprises – good and bad. It’s helpful to not look too much forward or too far back, but address life in the present and take the time necessary to recover. While part of recovery might require a person’s reflection on past choices, no one has to sit in the past or dwell on mistakes.

After the body goes through opiate withdrawal, it usually takes a week before you start to feel relatively normal again. The side effects are often less intense or vanish altogether. Your health matters above all else and the first step towards overcoming addiction is to rid the body of the drugs that have affected it so poorly. This is the starting point and working through withdrawal a major step in the right direction.

We don’t recommend going through withdrawal or detox alone, as the body and mind can be unpredictable. In this timeframe, people often relapse and return to drug use because they didn’t have the proper support in place. However, when met with a safe, secure environment where medical help and assistance is available round-the-clock, there is a higher chance of success.

The next step following the withdrawal period is to enter a treatment program to help stay on course to sober living. Many times detox and treatment will occur in the same facility over a dedicated period of time. During detox, recovery, and beyond, allow yourself to envision a life full of activities and aspirations without drugs. Recovery centers are set up to provide a healthy combination of medical attention, education about drugs and addiction, and group and/or one-on-one counseling sessions to help people feel as engaged, comfortable, and healthy as possible.

During the first few days or weeks, a treatment center, or recovery for that matter, may not feel like a true fit. That’s normal since the environment is a new one. It can be challenging to adapt to this norm, but eventually, you’ll find a rhythm and routine that works for you.

Types of Opiate Withdrawal

There are two main types and side effects associated with each. First, there is acute withdrawal. At this phase, symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. These may include diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and anxiety.

Second, there is protracted withdrawal which is associated with similar symptoms, but this phase occurs after acute withdrawal. Studies have suggested people who are recovering from heroin or another form of opiate addiction may experience protracted withdrawal with side effects that may last for months.

Such symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, inability to focus, and depression. These kind of withdrawal symptoms will set in at around the same time the body is expecting its next dose. Since the body is now on a cycle of addiction, it’s dependent on drugs to keep it going.

There’s no way to tell how severe side effects will be or exactly how long opiate withdrawal will last, but you can prepare for the side effects by surrounding yourself with support. While we can’t downplay how serious addiction, withdrawal, or recovery is, we also want to emphasize that with the right support system in place recovery is possible. Starting a new life drug-free can be in your future, if you want it to be.

Long-Term Side Effects of Opiate Abuse

Understanding the long term opiate use side effects is key as some last longer than others. Ongoing opiate abuse can result in vomiting or nausea, constipation, and damage to vital organs in the long-term. In short, opiate addiction has the magnitude to wreak serious havoc on your entire system which is why understanding the effects it can have is so important.

It’s not outwardly appearances alone that changes when a person begins continues with long-term opiate use. Addiction changes the physiology of the body as it learns to adapt to taking drugs on a consistent basis. When people refer to “chasing the high,” they are trying to match the feeling of their very time taking the drug. However, once you’ve become dependent on drugs, reaching the same high with the same dosage is not usually possible.

The reason is because the body now knows how to function with the drug consistently in the system; it builds up a bit of a tolerance. While opiates still do damage internally to the body, it may take more to get high than before.

If a you continue to use more and more of the drug in shorter spans of time, this proves to be dangerous because of the likelihood of overdose. The body may not be able to process the drugs quickly enough. In the case of an overdose, someone may experience seizures, coma, stroke, and in the worst case scenario, death. There are no rules when it comes to protection against drug abuse. It can affect anyone at anytime without warning. However, with the right treatment it may be possible to rid the body and mind of this harmful habit.

It’s difficult to watch a loved one fight this battle. Alternatively, it is difficult for the person who is experiencing it. Addiction is not a disease that should be considered or handled lightly. It’s not something a person can fix right away. But fortunately, there is help available to heal and to find a way to a more positive future.

Call the Above it All team to start the healing process.
(888) 325-1995

Heroin Side Effects

Since heroin is categorized as an opiate, it will have the side effects listed above, but may also come with symptoms of its own. It’s the way heroin is ingested that leads to its own set of risks. There is quite an extensive list of long-term side effects that can result from taking heroin. These include:

  • Inflammation of the gums;
  • Constipation;
  • Cold sweats;
  • Weakened immune system;
  • Respiratory (breathing) conditions, and/or;
  • Loss of appetite.

People may also begin to feel depressed and battle with other mood disorders as the drug takes over their body. Because of its addictive nature, overdose can be a serious risk. These are grave realities of the danger of what heroin can do. Especially when heroin is injected directly into the veins, it goes into the bloodstream and affects the brain right away.

Also, since heroin is often administered intravenously, there is risk of using shared or dirty needles. People who inject heroin are at risk for blood-related disease such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Confronting these types of issues can be scary for people struggling with addiction but with a team of medical professionals available they can feel safe knowing their health is now being put first.

Opioid Epidemic in America

It’s not only heroin that is causing an upswing of overdose in America. As of 2014, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services have reported an epidemic of prescription opioid overdoses. However, treatment centers have never been better prepared than they are today to help those struggling with addiction get on the path to recovery.

Not everyone who uses or abuses opiates will face overdose. Not everyone will experience all the side effects associated with the drug(s). But everyone who uses opiates puts themselves at risk. There are several reasons that have contributed to this increase, but we are here to prevent this trend from continuing.

We don’t want drugs to continue controlling or taking people’s lives.  Our goal is to promote education, prevention, and assistance to those who need it most. Preventing addiction and overcoming it are two separate matters and requires different approaches to each. Addiction affects everyone: friends, family, neighbors, and most of all, the person who is battling this disease.

Although opioid overdose has been a growing problem in America, there is a potential solution, which we want to be part of. Something as large as this doesn’t happen overnight, it grows with time. Same goes for recovery. It will not happen overnight, but you will only grow stronger in your sobriety; it takes time.

Seeking Help, Finding Guidance

It can be tough to acknowledge an addiction problem, whether you are the one who is using or the friend or family member who is concerned about your loved one. It’s important to remember that opiates affect people differently. If side effects are minimal, it doesn’t mean the drug isn’t affecting your body in the same way. It is. Your body is just reacting differently than someone who has to endure much stronger side effects.

There isn’t a specific level where it becomes the turning point in which you can seek help. Many times people begin the withdrawal process, only to relapse and have to begin anew. Some may be experiencing addiction for the first time. Others may have been in opiate addiction treatment before and need extra support to refrain from turning to drugs once more.

Every addiction story is unique. An individual’s experience can’t be generalized or summed up into what one’s perception of what addiction looks or feels like. People who have experienced it firsthand know this is all too true. Addiction is personal and wavering and may require different things from different people.

Recovery allows you to heal. It allows people to uncover the root of where the addiction lies to confront it at its base. Seek help in a space that is qualified, knowledgeable, and readily available to attend to your needs. Addiction must be approached from all sides: medical, emotional, psychological, in order for their to be a truly successful outcome.

There are both inpatient and outpatient options available to match comfort and convenience levels. The choice is ultimately up to you to take advantage of the resources available and find the will to fight. Hopefully, it becomes a bit easier knowing you have a team ready to stand by your side who will battle with you.


  1. WebMD, Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications. Accessed March 15, 2016.
  2. WebMD, Treatment Options for Prescription Drug Addiction. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.
  3. WebMD, Pictures: Opioids: Uses, Dependence, and Addiction. Accessed Feb. 2, 2016.
  4. Patafio, Michaela. WebMD, “Methadone – Purpose, Uses, Side Effects, and Risks.
  5. WebMD, Common Drug Side Effects: Types & FDA Regulations. Accessed April 2, 2016.
Learn how to get on the path to opiate addiction recovery at Above it All. Call today and get started.
(888) 325-1995

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