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Here's What Happens If Your Prescription Opioid Abuse Goes Untreated

By Manjari Bansal
Does someone you know abuse prescription opioids? Find out the long-term effects of prescription opioid abuse and how to get help.

Opioids are claiming lives at an overwhelming rate, and overdoses on these drugs are drastically reducing the life expectancy of Americans. Luckily, treatment can help if you do it before it's too late. Learn how prescription opioid abuse affects your health when it is left untreated.

Effects on The Respiratory System

According to the American Addiction Centers, opioid drugs have the ability to suppress breathing and may cause respiratory issues if used for a long time. It may worsen existing lung problems like emphysema, asthma, and bronchitis. There is also an increased risk of developing pulmonary edema or fluid collection in the lungs, which may cause death if left untreated. Over the long-term, damage to important organs like the brain, liver, and heart can occur due to reduced oxygen supply.

Effects on The Brain

People who misuse drugs have almost twice the risk of developing mood and anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Continued opioid use may alter the function of multiple brain pathways that control decision-making, stress, impulse control, and memory. It may also cause mental health issues like depression, anxiety, paranoia, aggression, and hallucinations.

“Misuse of opioids can have devastating effects on the brain. Opioid overdose leads to a profound decrease in oxygen delivery to the brain. If this process is not reversed in time, vital brain structures can be irreversibly damaged, which most often culminates in death,” Harshal Kirane, MD, medical director at Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research in New York, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Effects on Physical Health

Long-term side effects of opioid abuse on physical health may include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Sleep issues
  • Mood swings
  • Neglecting personal care and hygiene
  • Dental health problems

“Whether or not there has been a previous issue with addiction, the psychological and physical effects of opioid use do not spare anyone,” Sue English, LCSW, a licensed family therapist and owner of English Meadows Counseling Services in Illinois, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Effects on Heart Health

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most drugs adversely affect your heart health and may lead to:

  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Heart attack
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections of blood vessels and heart valves

“Some opioids can cause cardiac dysfunction by affecting the pace of electrical signals of the heart leading to cardiac arrhythmias and potential death,” Monty Ghosh, MD, addiction specialist at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

Don’t Wait. Get Help Now.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

Treatment & Resources for Prescription Drugs