How do opioids make you feel?
The way opioids affect you depends on many factors,
- how much you use
- how often and how long you use opioids
- how you take them (e.g., by injection, orally)
- your mood, expectations and environment
- your age
- whether you have certain pre-existing medical or psychiatric
- whether you’ve taken any alcohol or other drugs (illegal,
prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).
Low doses of opioids suppress the sensation of pain and the
emotional response to pain. They may also produce euphoria, drowsiness,
relaxation, difficulty concentrating, constricted pupils, a slight decrease in
respiratory rate, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite and
sweating. With higher doses, these effects are more intense and last longer.
The speed and intensity of the effects of opioids vary
depending on how the drugs are taken. When taken orally, the effects come on
gradually, and are usually felt in about 10 to 20 minutes. When injected into a
vein, the effects are most intense and are felt within a minute.
How long does the feeling last?
When opioids are taken to relieve pain, the duration of the
effect varies somewhat depending on the type of opioid taken. For many opioids,
a single dose can provide pain relief for four to five hours.
Are opioids dangerous?
Yes. Opioids can be dangerous if they are used without
medical supervision. Here are some of the reasons:
Opioids are depressant drugs, which means that they slow
down the part of the brain that controls breathing. All opioid drugs are
dangerous when taken in large quantities or when taken with other depressants,
such as alcohol or benzodiazepines. Signs of overdose include slow breathing,
bluish skin and coma. Death can result, usually because breathing stops. If
caught in time, overdose can be treated with drugs such as naloxone, which
blocks the effects of opioids, including the effect on breathing.
People who use opioids regularly for their pleasurable
effects soon develop tolerance to these effects, which means they need to use
more and more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. As the amount taken
increases, so does the risk of overdose. If people with tolerance stop taking
the drug, they lose their tolerance. If they then resume taking the same amount
they took before they stopped, the risk of overdose is extreme.
Some people inject opioids to increase the intensity of the
euphoric effect. Using dirty needles and sharing needles carries a high risk of
infection and disease (e.g., HIV, hepatitis). When pharmaceutical tablets or
capsules are dissolved for injection, non-drug substances contained in these
products can permanently damage veins and organs.
Regular use of large quantities of opioids during pregnancy
can increase the risk of premature delivery and infant withdrawal. Pregnant
women who are addicted to opioids are treated with the long-acting opioid methadone to prevent
Are opioids addictive?
They can be.
When opioids are used as directed under medical supervision
in the general population, there is little risk of addiction. However, the risk
appears to be higher in people with a history of abuse or addiction. Addiction
is when a drug becomes central to a person’s thoughts, emotions and activities,
and he or she feels a craving or compulsion to continue using the drug.
Anyone who takes opioids regularly will develop physical
dependence. Physical dependence is the result of the body adapting to the
presence of the drug, and is not the same as addiction. A person who is
physically dependent will experience withdrawal symptoms about six to 12 hours
after last taking a short-acting opioid, such as hydromorphone, and about one
to three days after last taking a long-acting opioid, such as methadone. With
short-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on quickly and is intense; with
longer-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on more gradually and is less intense.
Symptoms of withdrawal include uneasiness, yawning, tears,
diarrhea, abdominal cramps, goosebumps and runny nose, accompanied by a craving
for the drug. Symptoms usually subside after a week, although some, such as
anxiety, insomnia and drug craving, may continue for a long time. Unlike
alcohol withdrawal, opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening.
What are the long-term effects of taking opioids?
Long-term use of opioids can cause constipation, decreased
interest in sex, menstrual irregularities and mood swings. Addiction to opioids
can have devastating long-term social, financial and emotional effects.
Copyright © 2003, 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health