Doctors frequently prescribe opiates because of the therapeutic effects the drugs have on pain. Opiates act on the nervous system by changing the way the brain interprets pain signals arriving from various parts of the body. Aside from pain relief, opiates cause other temporary neurological changes including sedation, relaxation, and euphoria. These pleasant effects make opiates popular among recreational drug abusers.

Opiate abuse affects users’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and can have lasting neurological impacts. These neurological alterations can make it difficult to think clearly, identify and control emotions, and behave in a socially appropriate manner.  Highlighted below are some of the negative effects of opiate abuse

Cognitive Impairment

Opiate abuse clouds thinking, interfering with a person’s ability to perform at work or school and other areas.  Continual opiate use may prevent users from making rational decisions about their own health and safety, and may prohibit them from making reasonable choices regarding the well-being of others in their care.

Emotional Impacts

Opiates can make it difficult for users to identify their own feelings and respond appropriately in emotional situations.  Opiate abuse may cause users to express inappropriate emotions given the circumstances—rage at a wedding, or manic laughter at a funeral, for example.  Chronic opiate consumption can cause emotional disconnections between the abuser and those closest to them.

While many people abuse opiates to cope with stress or physical or emotional pain, long-term opiate abuse can actually heighten anxiety and cause hypersensitivity to stress. Over time, anxiety and stress coupled with the real-life consequences of opiate abuse, like social isolation, illness, and even homelessness, can lead to serious emotional issues, including depression and paranoia.

Behavioral Changes

Opiate abuse changes how a person behaves. A normally punctual and reliable person may begin to stay out all night to get high and develop a pattern of tardiness at work or school. Users may lose interest in things they once enjoyed or felt passionately about in favor of getting high.

Substance abuse can derail even the most promising careers as students fall behind in their studies and professionals perform poorly at work. In the worst-case scenarios, opiate abuse leads to anti-social behaviors such as violence and criminal activity.

Social Consequences

Left unchecked, the cognitive, emotional, behavioral and physical effects of opiate abuse result in serious social problems. Emotional disconnect can tear families apart, even bringing about divorce and loss of child custody. Job loss can cause financial hardship and homelessness. Opiate abuse can sometimes lead to incarceration, as it is illegal to possess most opiates without a prescription.

Physical Effects

The physical effects of opiate abuse include digestive problems such as constipation and nausea. Opiates also slow breathing, heart rate and brain function. Anyone who uses opiates regularly for more than a few weeks can become physically dependent and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drugs.

Opiate abuse may lead to overdose. In 2008, 14,800 people in the United States died from prescription opiate overdose.

Indirect physical effects of opiate abuse include diseases caused by malnutrition and poor living conditions. Intravenous opiate abuse, as with heroin or crushed oxycodone pills, increases the risk for contracting and spreading infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Opiate abuse can result in physical dependence and long-term abuse can lead to permanent damage to the body and brain. Continued abuse can lead the body to become dependent on opiates just to feel normal, a condition referred to as opiate dependence. When an opiate-dependent person stops using drugs, his body struggles to recover from the effects in a process doctors call detoxification. This process causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and goose bumps.

Fortunately, rehab treatment centers are skilled at reversing many of the effects of opiate abuse. Professional treatment can help restore the ability of opiate addicts to think, feel, and interact with others in a positive, healthy way.