How Do You Deal with Opioid Side Effects?

Sabrina Cavanagh
4 min readDec 5, 2022

According to a report by The U.S. Surgeon’s General Spotlight on Opioids, opioid-related deaths increased by six times in 2016 compared to 1999. This is because now, along with poppy-derived opioids, pharmaceutical companies have flooded the market with synthetic opioids. They have been in high demand because they are the world’s most effective and powerful painkillers. Unfortunately, they are also highly addictive.

There are few alternatives that are as effective which is why they are so easy to abuse. In fact, the world is still reeling from the opioid crisis that started in the 90s. Today, more infrastructures are dedicated to understanding how therapy, check-in rehabs, and awareness groups can help in the opioid crisis. Medication bags can also help in the opioid crisis by preventing illicit access to opioids.

So how do you manage the side effects and prevent yourself from developing an addiction? Let’s break it all down.

Why are Opioids Addictive?

Endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that we naturally produce, bind with the receptors in our brains to reduce pain. Opioids, when injected into our bodies, bind much more strongly and for longer with these receptors. Therefore, drugs containing opioids can reduce more severe pain over longer periods of time.

This, in turn, triggers the production of dopamine, which causes the “high” during drug use, and reduces the production of noradrenaline, which causes us to feel drowsy, lethargic, and cold.

Over time, the body develops a resistance to opioids, which is when individuals start to increase the dosage to experience the “high.” By then, the addiction has already settled in.

What are the Side Effects of Opioids?

Like most drugs, even normal dosages or opioids have a few common side effects, which become worse with dependency.

  1. Constipation: Because of noradrenaline, the digestive system is affected, which means food is not processed as effectively in the body. This leads to indigestion and constipation.
  2. Nausea and vomiting: In the same vein as digestive issues, nausea and vomiting are common side effects of almost all opioid compounds.
  3. Drowsiness: With the increase in noradrenaline levels, the body is in a state of lethargy and drowsiness. Further, the longer the person uses opioids, the body starts to increase its number of noradrenaline receptors.
  4. Breathlessness: An overdose of opioids can decrease the heartbeat and breathing rate to dangerously low levels. This can be accompanied by dizziness, black spots in vision, and loss of consciousness. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.
  5. Mental health issues: Suffice it to say, for a drug that leads to such a complex mechanism of hormones and neural receptors, continuous use can create mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

While you can address each side-effect by itself, it does not resolve the problem at hand. The only way to prevent the more adverse side effects is to prevent addiction.

How Can We Prevent Opioid addiction?

There are several ways to prevent addiction.

  1. Keep your medication in a locked container: It is recommended to keep medication in a locked container such as a locking medication bag to prevent illicit access and theft. It will also help reinforce self-control and not overmedicating.
  2. Do not self-medicate: Surveys have shown that most opioid addicts between the ages of 20 and 35 have, at some point, self-medicated with opioids. Not only is this very dangerous, but not all kinds of pain require prescription opioids. For non-chronic pain, other over-the-counter pain medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, and mefenamic acid would suffice.
  3. Only follow the prescription: Opioids are very powerful and can cause addiction in a short amount of time. Therefore, you must talk to your doctor and follow the prescribed amount and period of the medication. Almost all prescription windows are very short-term and do not have a high risk of causing addiction.
  4. See a therapist: If someone has a chronic illness, they may also suffer from mental health-related problems such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc. Such individuals are more likely to abuse opioids. Therefore, it is recommended that they see a therapist.
  5. Do not crush the medication: Crushed opioids are much easier for the body to accept and bind to the opioid receptors faster. Consequently, the effects are more intense but also wear off sooner, meaning the receptors seek more. Instead, swallow the medicine whole for a slow release.
  6. Know the risk factors: People with a personal or family history of addiction, be it to cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs, stand a higher chance of developing opioid dependency. You must disclose this to your doctor, and they may opt for non-opioid medications or alternative forms of treatment.
  7. Reduce interaction with high-risk people: If you have a family history of opioid abuse or are afraid of having one yourself, one of the best things you can do is, reduce interactions with high-risk individuals, as they can be very powerful triggers.
  8. Stress management: Most often, individuals with prescribed opioid medication start abusing it as a way to deal with the stress in their lives. In fact, you would be surprised at how many drug addictions start as a way to combat stress. This is why stress management is so vital.

With all of the above, a supportive community goes a long way. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to lead a healthy lifestyle and become the best version of yourself.

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Sabrina Cavanagh

Scientific geek and cat person who enjoys adult colouring books, going to the movies and jigsaw puzzles. Loves seafood but allergic to it.