Long Term Effects of Narcotics Abuse

Narcotics is a term that refers to opioid drugs, such as heroin and prescription painkillers like oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Narcotics are often misused and abused for their desirable effects, such as pleasure and relaxation. Individuals may use them in a number of ways, including snorting, injecting, swallowing, and smoking. Chronic narcotics abuse can be harmful and dangerous, leading to many physical and mental health risks. Some long-term effects of narcotics abuse are similar no matter which narcotic you misuse or how you misuse it, while other long-term consequences are related to method of administration.1

The Consequences of Long-Term Narcotics Abuse

Long-term narcotics abuse can lead to a range of mental and physical health issues, such as:2

  • Constipation
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Depression
  • Sleep-disordered breathing problems, such as sleep apnea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow breathing rate
  • Heart attack
  • heart failure
  • Increased risk of falls and accidents, especially for elderly people
  • Hypogonadism
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Infertility
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Decreased levels of testosterone in men
  • Osteoporosis in women
  • Infrequent menstrual periods in those who menstruate
  • Weakened immune system

The above effects of chronic narcotics abuse could apply to anyone using heroin or prescription opioids, regardless of method of administration; however, some long-term consequences are related to how the person is using the drug. For example, snorting narcotics could lead to:3

  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Sinusitis
  • Perforated nasal septum
  • Irritation of the nasal mucosa

On the other hand, injecting narcotics could increase your risk for the following:3

  • Track lines
  • Collapsed veins
  • Peripheral edema
  • Cellulitis
  • Abscesses
  • Scars
  • Tetanus
  • Infection of the heart lining
  • HIV
  • Hepatitis C
  • Tuberculosis

Tolerance to the Effects of Narcotics

Tolerance to narcotics abuse builds up over time, which means you need to take higher and higher doses to experience the same effects you previously felt with lower doses. Narcotics tolerance is dangerous because the more narcotics you use, the higher your risk of overdosing. A narcotics overdose occurs when you’ve used a toxic amount of the drug and the body cannot properly process it, resulting in life-threatening consequences. Signs of a narcotics overdose include:1

  • Clammy skin
  • Profound confusion
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Convulsions
  • Extreme drowsiness or unconsciousness
  • Slowed or stopped breathing

A narcotics overdose is a medical emergency. Call 911 right away and stay with the person until first responders arrive. Provide as much information as you can over the phone. If you or the person has naloxone (Narcan) on them, administer it. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that rapidly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. However, its effects don’t tend to last as long as those of opioids/narcotics so you still need to call 911 and you may need to administer a second dose if they begin overdosing again.

If you know someone who misuses narcotics or is at risk of an opioid overdose, most states allow you to buy naloxone over the counter at pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens. You can buy a Narcan nasal spray that’s extremely easy for the layperson to administer. Make sure to keep it in the house and anywhere where you may be with your loved one.4

Physiological Dependence and Narcotics Withdrawal

Long-term narcotics abuse can lead to a physical adaptation known as dependence. This means that your brain and body have adjusted to the presence of narcotics and now need the drug in order to function optimally. If you are dependent on narcotics and suddenly quit or reduce use, you will experience narcotics withdrawal symptoms, which are unpleasant and often painful. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on several things, such as:1

  • How much you were using
  • How frequently you were using narcotics
  • How long you were using narcotics
  • Whether you were using other drugs
  • Method of administration (i.e. snorting or injecting)
  • Your physical and mental health

Narcotics withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:3

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Runny nose
  • Teary eyes
  • Muscle aches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Goose bumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia

If you are struggling with narcotics abuse and want help quitting, you may want to seek out a detox program. A formal narcotics detox program can provide you with withdrawal medications to ease your symptoms and alleviate cravings while you withdraw from opioids. Much like rehab, detox can occur on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Those with severe narcotics withdrawal symptoms may benefit from inpatient whereas mild symptoms can typically be managed in an outpatient setting.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal abstinence syndrome refers to a newborn baby with opioid dependence and withdrawal symptoms. This occurs when the gestational parent uses opioids during pregnancy. Narcotics pass from the pregnant parent’s bloodstream to the fetus through the placenta. Much like dependence in people who use narcotics, this condition occurs from long-term narcotics abuse. Symptoms may appear within one to three days after birth, but in some cases, they may not emerge for a week. Newborn babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome need to be kept at the hospital for monitoring and treatment.

Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome include:5

  • Diarrhea
  • High-pitched crying
  • Excessive sucking
  • Blotchy skin coloring
  • Fever
  • Poor feeding
  • Irritability
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sleep issues
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Slow weight gain
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Sneezing

If you are pregnant and want to quit using drugs like opioids, recovery is possible. Call our helpline at 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) to speak to a caring and compassionate rehab support specialist. We can help you find a rehab program that’s right for you.

Narcotics Addiction

Chronic narcotics abuse can lead to an opioid addiction. A narcotics addiction is a complex condition characterized by uncontrollable narcotics abuse regardless of negative effects in your life. Signs of a narcotics addiction include:3

  • Using narcotics in greater amounts or over longer periods than planned
  • Wanting to quit or control narcotics abuse but failing to do so
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining and using narcotics, as well as recovering from the effects
  • Experiencing strong cravings to use narcotics
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work
  • Continuing narcotics abuse despite interpersonal or social consequences caused or worsened by use
  • Neglecting previously enjoyed hobbies in favor of narcotics use
  • Using narcotics in dangerous situations
  • Continuing narcotics abuse despite psychological or medical problems caused or worsened by use
  • Developing tolerance
  • Experiencing narcotics withdrawal symptoms

Prevent Long-Term Risks by Entering Rehab

Though many people are able to quit using narcotics on their own, others may find that they need the support from a professional addiction treatment program. Long-term narcotics abuse can cause significant physical and psychological harm, but entering a rehab program can help prevent these consequences. Narcotics addiction treatment occurs on an inpatient or outpatient basis and often includes various therapies and interventions, such as:

  • Group counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Individual therapy, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal process groups
  • 12-step or non-12-step meetings
  • Drug and psychoeducation groups
  • Recreational activities
  • Holistic interventions, such as creative arts therapy
  • Medication management (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone)

For help finding a rehab program that meets your needs, call our 24/7 helpline at 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) . Change is just a phone call away.


1. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2020). Narcotics.
2. Baldini, A., Von Korff, M., & Lin, E. H. (2012). A Review of Potential Adverse Effects of Long-Term Opioid Therapy: A Practitioner’s Guide. The primary care companion for CNS disorders, 14(3), PCC.11m01326.
3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription Opioids DrugFacts.
5. National Library of Medicine. (2019). Neonatal abstinence syndrome.

the Take-Away

Long term use and abuse of narcotics can have a number of consequences for the health and well-being of users.