Medical Conditions Associated With Higher Risks of Opioid Use Side Effects


Some physicians prescribe more opioids for certain medical conditions and for longer durations compared to others. Paradoxically, the indiscriminate abuse of painkillers instead of providing a permanent cure has been found to increase the severity of the medical condition or cause unwanted side effects – the commonest being drug abuse, dependency and addiction.

Some of the disorders where painkillers are prescribed routinely ignoring the harmful consequences are listed below.

Sleep Apnea: Sleep disorders like sleep apnea are common occurrence in the United States, with an estimated 22 million Americans living with the condition. It is also estimated that a further 80 percent of instances of moderate or severe sleep apnea are undiagnosed. During sleep apnea, the individual suffers from pauses in the intake of breath. As the sleep cycle suffers from repeated interruption, the individual ends up feeling fatigue during the day. In many instances, people suffering from the condition are prescribed prescription painkillers to combat anxiety and pain. However, studies have proved that these drugs only make the condition worse. In a letter published in the Cleveland Journal of Medicine, author Aaron Geller points out the risks of opioid consumption. It caused the cessation of breathing, ultimately resulting in death. It also increased the number of episodes of obstructive and central sleep apnea per hour, as a result people were more likely to die in their sleep.

Anxiety: Sadly, while people with mood disorders and anxiety are more likely to abuse opioids, they are also the ones more likely to be prescribed these addictive medications for their pain and discomfort. Opioids, at best, can provide temporary relief from the pain. But they increase the risks of permanent damage to the brain manifold and up the risks of addiction. Anxiety-prone individuals who have resorted to opioids are known to experiment with drugs such as heroin at a later stage. Some of the common ameliorative strategies for coping with anxiety include therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, and behavioral modification strategies. In case of a comorbid disorder, which could arise after prolonged exposure to opioids, an integrated treatment module is considered worthwhile.

Depression: Depression is also associated with the increased abuse of opioid medications. It has become a practice for doctors to hand out opioids even when one has a case of minor blues. More so when the patient happens to be a woman. Though opioids could bring relief from pain initially, in the long run these only aggravate the condition. As the individual’s life revolves more around the drug, he/she has less inclination to participate in routine activities. The natural feel good hormones get depleted, and the individual takes a less positive view of life. He/she feels sad and sullen most of the time. Though prescription medications like antidepressants and opioids are required in case someone goes through a bereavement and finds it hard to cope on his/her own, these should never be used as a crutch. Instead, as soon as one feels even slightly better, these medications should be stopped (with doctor’s approval) and shift gears toward a healthier lifestyle. Proper exercise, healthy food and sound sleep provide long lasting relief and ensure the free flow of natural endorphins.

Obesity: Obesity is as much a psychological condition as a physiological one. While a person who is comfortable even when he/she is overweight is less likely to require help, someone who is obese and is not comfortable with it may go through cycles of depression or anxiety or both. Such patients might be prescribed opioids for the pain. However, it interferes with the natural production of endorphins, which are produced naturally when one walks briskly or does some exercise.

Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by pain in all parts of the body, emotional distress and fatigue. People who suffer from this condition perceive more pain than others because of the faulty pain perception and processing. It is estimated that 4 percent of the American population lives with the condition. As the pain is for life and opioids at best provide relief only for a short duration, and have high risks of abuse and addiction, one could check with the doctor if alternate medications (off the label) are productive. While therapeutic measures such as CBT are extremely helpful for relieving emotional pain, muscle strengthening exercises, yoga, massage and good sleeping habit can deflect the physical pain considerably.

Addiction prevention

Though opioids should best be avoided, in case the person suffers from a condition where its use is relevant, it is necessary that he/she follows the doctor’s recommendations. Practices such as crushing medications or using more than the standard dosage must be avoided.


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