Health Effects of Opioid Misuse and Addiction

Opioid addiction (known clinically as opioid use disorder, or OUD) affects millions of people each year.1 More than 6 million Americans ages 12 and older had an opioid use disorder in the past year, according to the 2022 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).1 This number reflects an increase from 2021, when 5.6 million people were estimated to have had an OUD within the past year.2

This article will discuss opioid addiction in more depth, including what opioids are, what health risks they can cause, and how obtaining comprehensive treatment can help you or a loved one stop actively using opioids.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that are directly derived from or mimic the natural substances found in the opium poppy plant.These substances bind to and activate opioid receptors throughout the body, modifying the perception of pain signaling and subsequently increasing dopamine release, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.3,4

Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and morphine, can be used medicinally by medical professionals to treat physical pain in patients.5 However, illicit opioids like heroin and illegally made fentanyl (IMF) have no medicinal purpose, but are often misused for the feelings of relaxation and euphoria they can produce instead.5

All opioids are highly addictive.6 Nonmedical use, chronic use, and use without proper medical supervision can put people at risk for experiencing several health problems, including the development of dependence and a potentially severe, associated withdrawal syndrome.7

Adverse Effects of Opioids

Opioids can have a variety of adverse effects, even when taken as prescribed.8 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common side effects of opioids can include:8

  • Sleepiness.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Sweating.
  • Tolerance.
  • Physical dependence.

Health Risks of Opioids

Individuals who misuse opioids, including both illicit and prescription opioids, run the risk of developing serious health problems, some of which may have lasting and potentially fatal consequences.5

Risks from Injection Use

Many individuals who misuse opioids do so through injection, which can add an additional layer of risk to an already dangerous situation.5 Those who inject opioids (also known as persons who inject drugs, or PWID), are at increased risk for both contracting and transmitting blood-borne infections like HIV, viral hepatitis, fungal infections, and bacteria that can cause endocarditis, or a heart infection.9,10 These infections can spread through sharing contaminated needles and using opioids in unsanitary conditions.1o

Misuse and Addiction

The repeated misuse of opioids makes opioid addiction more likely.5 Addiction, or substance use disorder, is a chronic medical condition characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and continued substance use regardless of the harmful, negative consequences that use can cause.5 Someone who becomes addicted to opioids can have a difficult time stopping, putting them at increased risk of overdose and death.5

Opioid Overdose

Those who misuse opioids or who are addicted to them face a substantial risk of experiencing an overdose, which can quickly turn fatal.5 Some opioid overdose situations involve other drugs, including benzodiazepines, which are central nervous system depressants.8 The combination of opioids and benzodiazepines is dangerous, as it significantly increases overdose potential.8

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid withdrawal may be experienced by those who have significant opioid dependence, which results from physiological adaptations to the repeated use of opioids.5 Therefore, when a person who has developed a dependence on opioids stops using them or dramatically reduces the dose they normally consume, they can experience unpleasant, uncomfortable, and distressing withdrawal symptoms, which can make ending their opioid use extremely difficult.5

Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:5,6

  • Restlessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Muscle and bone pain.
  • Uncontrollable leg movements.
  • Chills and goosebumps.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Severe cravings or urges to use opioids.

Professional detoxification treatments can help people struggling with opioid withdrawal by providing medical supervision and pharmacological symptom management with FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine and methadone.6

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Grand Prairie, TX

If you’re struggling with opioid misuse or addiction, or you know someone who is, seeking treatment can help you stop using opioids, start the path to recovery, and regain control of your life.

At Greenhouse Treatment, our Dallas/Fort Worth inpatient drug & alcohol rehab, we offer a complete continuum of care, including detox, residential treatment, and outpatient care. Please call our confidential helpline at to speak to an admissions navigator about our rehab options, or to learn more about the treatment process.

You can also learn more about types of rehab care we offer and start the treatment admissions process today. When you’re ready to reach out, we’ll be here for you.


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