Research shows that chronic opiate use can cause opiate-induced hypogonadism, a condition that can result in markedly reduced testosterone levels in men. From these changes, a person’s health may become drastically out of balance. This is only one of many serious adverse health effects that can result from opiate addiction.
Fortunately, with the help of the right treatment program, an individual can begin regaining improved physical and mental health while working to overcome their addiction.
What Are Opiates?
Opiates are directly derived from the opium poppy and include codeine, heroin, morphine, and opium. The term opioid includes these and synthetically-produced opioids which also bind to the opioid receptors in our brains and bodies.
It is this binding effect that creates the pain relief opioids are known for and also the euphoric state which many drug abusers seek. Taking opioids in greater than prescribed quantities to achieve this effect can quickly lead to addiction, as can self-medicating pain issues.
While prescription opioid painkillers can be safely used to manage pain, they are widely abused in ways that lead to addiction.
- fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze)
- hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, and Lorcet)
- hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- meperidine (Demerol)
- methadone (Dolophine and Methadose)
- morphine (Duramorph)
- oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, and Percocet)
- oxymorphone (Opana)
Should an individual use these drugs on a chronic level they could develop certain side effects, including significant decreases in testosterone.
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Testosterone is the principal male sex hormone, or androgen, though women’s bodies do produce and rely upon this hormone as well, albeit in more limited amounts and instances.
Testosterone plays a vital role in regulating men’s health and overall physical functioning. As explained by Mayo Clinic, this hormone is essential within the production and upkeep of masculine physical characteristics.
In men, according to Mayo, testosterone is responsible for the following functions:
- bone: density and red cell production in bone marrow
- brain: aggression and sex drive (libido)
- male sex organs: erectile function, prostate growth, and sperm production
- muscle: mass and strength
- skin: body hair, facial hair, and baldness
When testosterone levels fall, these functions and processes can malfunction and/or slow down, leading to adverse health effects, illness, and disease.
In women, testosterone also affects sex drive, bone strength, muscle mass, and strength.
When an individual becomes addicted, the urge to use a substance begins to outweigh all else, including an individual’s pursuit of self-care and good health. A main characteristic of addiction is when a person continues to use a drug despite the knowledge that it’s creating physical or mental health problems.
Unfortunately, many individuals do not realize the impact that opioid drugs can have on testosterone levels, and in turn, other aspects of their health which are regulated and influenced by this hormone.
The Link Between Opiate Addiction And Low Testosterone
When an individual takes opiates over a prolonged period of time, either through prescribed use or within patterns of addiction, their principal sex hormones may be disrupted, especially testosterone.
Studies show that all opioid drugs have the capacity to prevent testosterone from reaching normal levels. Using opioids on a daily basis for more than a month may begin to imbalance a person’s endocrine system, the system which regulates hormonal function.
The exact way that an opioid drug impacts a person’s hormones is dependent on many factors, including, but not limited to a person’s unique physiological makeup and the amount and frequency of opioid abuse.
It is believed that opioid-induced low testosterone can happen to either men or women, though research suggests the effects are more pronounced and life-altering in men. In fact, “Testosterone is suppressed by nearly 50% in opioid-using men,” as reported by journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
When this happens it’s termed opioid-induced endocrinopathy. “Opioid-induced endocrinopathy, specifically hypogonadism, is a physiological side effect in which opiate use suppresses the sex hormones, among other substances,” explains Practical Pain Management. Hypogonadism is clinically defined as low testosterone.
Some research refers to these circumstances as opioid associated endocrinopathy or opioid-related endocrinopathy, or even more specifically, opioid associated androgen deficiency (OPIAD).
Side Effects And Dangers Of Low Testosterone
While many of the side effects of low testosterone (low-T) are in themselves not debilitating, the cumulative effect of several experienced together can drastically reduce a person’s quality of life. Further, research illustrates that low testosterone may cause a greater risk of death, specifically premature death, in men.
In men, symptoms of low testosterone include:
- bone loss
- decreased facial and body hair
- decreased libido
- delayed ejaculation
- erectile dysfunction
- fertility problems
- hot flashes
- increased fat deposits
- low energy
- night sweats
- poor concentration
- osteoporosis (may lead to bone fractures)
- reduced bone density
- reduced muscle mass and size
- reduced muscle strength
- reduced sperm count
- disrupted sleep, including insomnia
- weight gain
Women may experience some of these symptoms as well, aside from those which are specific to the male anatomy.
The mental effects of low-T, such as depression and poor concentration, could potentially impair an individual’s performance on the job or within a school, as could insomnia. Some people may encounter intimacy or relationship issues as they experience sexual dysfunction.
Beyond these effects, low testosterone may even jeopardize your life. ABC News reports that “Men with low testosterone had a 33 percent greater death risk over their next 18 years of life compared with men who had higher testosterone.”
One study found that low testosterone may also increase an individual’s risk of heart disease, a factor which has been shown to contribute to low-T’s role in premature death.
Elaborating on this, ScienceDaily reports that within the period of study, nearly two times the number of men with low-T died versus those who had normal levels of the hormone.
Opioid abuse carries has its own side effects and dangers, some of which can be even more debilitating and dangerous than those associated with low testosterone. For this reason, both comprehensive medical and addiction treatment is often necessary.
Treating Low Testosterone And Opiate Addictions
If an individual is believed to have low testosterone, laboratory tests may be ordered to confirm these suspicions, so that the appropriate treatment may be administered. Low testosterone may be treated with androgen (testosterone) replacement therapy.
If you or a loved one is suffering from low testosterone caused by opioid addiction, your treatment plan should focus on treating both the addiction and the hormonal imbalance. Opioid abuse, especially that which accompanies patterns of addiction, can be life-threatening, as opioid drugs are very potent and hold a great potential for overdose.
Because of this, it’s critical that you seek treatment as soon as possible. In addition to low testosterone, opioid addictions can lead to brain damage and cognitive difficulties, organ damage and failure, transmissible diseases, and a host of other side effects and dangers.
Some individuals may determine that they wish to treat the addiction before addressing the low testosterone, whereas others may desire to treat both at the same time; the exact order of treatment should be determined by the specific circumstances surrounding your health and addiction.
It’s important to speak with a physician and addiction specialist to ensure you’re making the best decision for your unique health needs. Doing so will help to ensure that you receive thorough and timely care for each condition.
Not every treatment facility will be equipped to treat hypogonadism and low testosterone. A limited number of facilities offer medical support and the proper therapies to treat hypogonadism. When selecting a treatment program you should take into account this condition and any other health and medical concerns that could influence your treatment needs.
When health and medical issues are present alongside addiction, an inpatient drug rehabilitation center is quite often the best choice. If low testosterone is causing anxiety or depression, a dual diagnosis treatment program should be considered so that these co-occurring disorders are effectively managed. The
Contact our highly trained addiction specialists at Vertava Health today for more information on treatment programs that address health and medical needs.