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Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications

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Opioid Side Effects

One of the reasons why your doctor needs to manage your pain medications so closely is that they can potentially cause side effects, such as:

  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting

Opioids can be dangerous if you take them with alcohol, or with certain drugs such as:

  • some antidepressants
  • antihistamines
  • sleeping pills

Make sure your doctor knows all of the other medicines you're taking. That includes:

  • prescriptions
  • over-the-counter drugs
  • herbal supplements

Opioid Tolerance and Addiction

After taking opioid pain medication for a while, you might find that you need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect in reducing your pain. This is called tolerance. It's not the same as addiction, which involves a compulsive use of a drug.

When you use opioid medication over an extended period of time, you can develop dependence. This can occur when your body becomes so used to the drug that if you abruptly stop taking it, you get withdrawal symptoms such as:

You can also develop an addiction to opioid pain medications. People who are addicted to opioids compulsively seek out the pain medications. They typically have behaviors that lead to negative consequences in their personal lives or workplace.

If you are having a problem with addiction, you might need to see an addiction specialist.

Should You Take Opioid Pain Medications?

Opioids can make a dramatic difference to people with moderate to severe pain. These drugs can be an effective therapy -- as long as you use them safely and follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 17, 2012
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