A Dose of Truth | The Dangers of Prescription Opioids

The Dangers of Opioids

Opioids are really powerful drugs that can get anyone dependent or addicted, and even lead to overdose and death. Learn the risks to protect yourself and others.

Who Is At Risk?

ANYONE can develop an opioid addiction, even those without a history of substance use. It’s not because someone is weak, these drugs are just that strong. Take caution when using prescription opioids and only take them as prescribed. Learn more about the risks below.

What Are The Risks?

Prescription opioids can be taken without negative consequences if their use is limited in dose and duration. But taking too much, or for too long, can lead to:

  • Dependence*: A physical reliance on the substance to feel “normal.” This can develop in as little as five days of use.
  • Addiction*: A pattern of seeking and taking drugs despite negative consequences. This can develop in as little as seven days of use.
  • Overdose: Opioids slow your breathing rate which can deprive your brain of oxygen and make your heart stop. This can lead to coma or death.

These risks can be prevented and treated. Learn more about warning signs and available resources and support if you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use.

Learn More

*The terms “dependence” and “addiction” are often classified under “opioid use disorder”, or OUD, which refers to a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.

How Does 
Addiction Develop?

As you take opioids, your body starts to chemically adjust to expect more and requires increased amounts to feel the same effect. It’s like building tolerance to any other substance. The more you take, the more you feel you want, and quickly it can feel like a physical need. Feelings of intense cravings soon follow, and not taking more can cause withdrawal—a seriously unpleasant experience that includes severe pain which can feel worse than your initial injury. While you will not die from opioids withdrawal, it can feel so terrible that you seek out more and more of the drug just to make the feeling go away. Addiction is no joke and it CAN happen to anyone.

What Is An Overdose?  
How Does It Work?

Opioids are depressants, which means that they have the effect of slowing (or depressing) your respiratory system. When taken in large amounts, opioids slow your breathing to the point that your brain, heart, and other organs don’t get enough oxygen. That’s an overdose, and if respiratory function is not restored immediately, it can result in coma or death.


Prescriptions for opioids instruct use at levels lower than the amount needed to cause organ failure and overdose. But, when opioids are taken in ways NOT as prescribed, including taking doses prescribed to someone else, dangerous amounts can be consumed at once and cause overdose.


Alcohol is another depressant, and when taken in combination with opioids (or other depressants, like benzos), the dangerous effects are multiplied. That’s why your prescription opioids come with directions to abstain from drinking alcohol.


Overdosing can happen to anyone. It does not require a history of substance use or even the use of prescription medications. Taking too much can have dire consequences.


Why Can’t I Drink Alcohol While Taking Opioids?

Prescription opioids and alcohol are both types of depressants, which are drugs that slow your heartbeat and your breathing. This makes it harder to get oxygen to your brain. On their own, opioids and alcohol can be used safely, but when combined their dangerous effects increase dramatically. Mixing your prescription opioids and alcohol can slow the flow of oxygen to the brain which can cause you to lose consciousness and can put you at risk for an overdose.


Risks Can Apply to Anyone

Because opioids are so powerful, these risks CAN happen to anyone. Yes, even you. But prescription opioids can be taken safely if managed responsibly and carefully. Know the signs of problem use and addiction to protect you and your loved ones.


NEXT:Safely Managing Your Prescription

If you get a prescription for opioids, there are easy and important ways to manage your pills that will protect you and your loved ones.

VIEWimage arrow