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How Pills Can Hurt: The Effects of Painkillers on the Body

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An assortment of brightly colored pills on a table.
Painkillers are often medically useful, but can easily lead to addiction. Even if taken properly, they can adversely affect your health.

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We’ve all come to understand in the last decade that painkillers are serious business. Yes, they can be obtained legally through a prescription, but painkiller abuse is rampant and often deadly.

Even if you use them properly, painkiller use can still affect your physical health. Here’s how:

  • The Liver. Like all drugs, painkillers are broken down and processed by the liver. When painkillers are abused, it places heavy stress on the liver, which then stores toxins from the breakdown process. But the real damage is from the acetaminophen that is included in painkillers such as Vicodin, Lortab and Percocet.
  • The Stomach and Intestines. Painkillers are opiates, which are well-known for causing severe constipation. This can set in only a day or two after use begins and can cause abdominal distention and bloating, as well as more serious side effects such as hemorrhoids and bowel obstruction.
  • Hormone Levels. Painkiller use can cause low levels of testosterone or estrogen, which may result in erectile dysfunction, reduced libido, fatigue, hot flashes, menstrual irregularities, weight gain and depression. More serious complications, such as infertility and osteoporosis, can also occur.

The Effects of Painkillers When Abused

We’ve heard it said that painkillers have a “thin margin of error” and it’s true. People sometimes tend to think of these drugs as inherently safe because, when used properly, they are legal.

The thing is, people who abuse painkillers tend to use them in ways they were not intended (including injecting them and mixing them with other drugs). When that happens, the drugs can become deadly quickly.

Some addicts grind pills up, mix them with alcohol or water and inject them. Because the body is not designed to handle powder in the bloodstream, this can lead to long-term heart infections and pulmonary embolisms.

The other thing to avoid is mixing painkillers with alcohol. That’s because both slow breathing by different mechanisms. The result is that breathing can stop altogether.

The short-term effects of painkiller abuse can include nausea, slowed-breathing and even unconsciousness.

Let us Help You

Painkiller addiction can be treated. At The Raleigh House, located in Denver, we embrace a whole-person approach to healing that addresses physical health, mental and emotional health. Interested in learning more? Fill out our form or call today.

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