Chronic pain is often associated with other conditions that can affect an individual’s quality of life, which is why medications like opioids are often utilized in severe or chronic pain treatment.
Unfortunately, like other medications, opioid use for pain treatment can come with some unwanted side effects. Many people who take these medications wonder, “do opioids cause erectile dysfunction?” and with good reason. As a drug rehab in Illinois, we know what these drugs can do to the body, and today, we’re looking into opioid-induced erectile dysfunction.
Understanding Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition in men in which they’re unable to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. According to research, ED affects about a third of men.1 One 2019 review found that the global prevalence of ED ranges between 3% and 76.5%.2 Although it’s normal for men to have trouble getting or keeping an erection from time to time, worsening or more frequent occurrences may indicate ED.
How an Erection Occurs
During sexual arousal, nerves release chemicals that increase blood flow into two erection chambers in the penis. During an erection, the spongy muscle tissue in these chambers relax and trap blood. The blood pressure in the chambers then firms the penis, producing an erection.
Common causes of erectile dysfunction include:
- Limited blood flow to the penis
- Damaged nerves in the penis
- High stress or fluctuations in hormones
- Early warning of a more serious condition, such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar
- Relationship issues
As you can imagine, ED can have a serious impact on a person’s life, affecting not only their relationships but also their self-esteem. ED can also serve as an early warning sign of a more serious problem, which can be scary. However, among the many causes of ED, the one that’s least talked about is drug abuse.
Do Opiates Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Yes, opioids can cause erectile dysfunction. Otherwise referred to as Norco erectile dysfunction or opioid-induced erectile dysfunction, ED is a possible side effect of opioid medications and may occur in some patients even if they’re taken as prescribed. If you’re currently in this situation, it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor about possibly switching to an equally as effective medication that won’t cause this side effect.
On the other hand, ED can also occur as a result of opioid abuse. Many people believe that taking certain drugs will elevate their mood, sociability, and sex drive, contributing to any of their sexual escapades. However, while certain drugs may produce these desired changes in the first few uses, over time, the results may be less desirable.
Why Do Opioids Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Although many people claim a relationship between opiates and sex drive, diminished libido and impaired sexual performance are common side effects of long-term opioid use. Research on opioid-induced erectile dysfunction actually claims that opioids cause erectile dysfunction because they interfere with sex hormone secretion, making it more difficult for men to get and keep an erection.
One study found that the use of heroin (an illicit opioid) can cause acute suppression of the luteinizing hormone (LH), which is produced by your pituitary gland to help your reproductive system.3 Specifically, this hormone is present in a woman’s ovaries and a man’s testes.
In addition to suppression in LH, heroin has also been found to cause an additional drop in testosterone levels.3 Testosterone is a hormone produced by the body, mainly in men by the testes. It can affect everything from a person’s appearance to their sexual development. When testosterone levels are low in a man, their sex drive and even their sperm production are impaired, which may contribute to ED.
An additional study offers more evidence regarding the connection between opioids and erectile dysfunction. Specifically, the study found that among the 57 participants who used illicit opioids, 25% of them were younger than the age of 40 and experienced erectile dysfunction, far higher than that reported in the general population.4
Treatment for Opioid Addiction
Not only can opioids cause erectile dysfunction, but long-term abuse of these drugs can also lead to physical dependence and addiction. Opioids are dangerous drugs to quit cold turkey, specifically because of their withdrawal symptoms. That’s why our Banyan rehab in Gilman, Illinois recommends that patients undergo opioid detox before receiving any other treatment for their addictions.
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