If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.

Long-Term Effects of Medications

Taking a medication long-term can have side effects that go beyond those you may experience when taking that medication for a short period of time. What is considered long-term use varies by the type of medication and the reason it is being taken. For example, taking an opioid medication for longer than three months or a muscle relaxer for more than 2-3 weeks are both considered long-term use. Long-term use of medications can have physical and mental effects on your body. Some of these include:

Tolerance – when your body gets used to a medication and will need a higher dose to have the same impact as before because the normal dosage will start to have a reduced effect. This can happen with opioids, prescription and over-the-counter sleep medications and muscle relaxers.

Physical dependence – when you need a medication to function. This can happen without developing an addiction. Physical dependence can also lead to tolerance for a medication. Suddenly stopping a medication when dependent on it can lead to withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be life-threatening such as seizures or kidney failure. Physical dependence can happen with medications for chronic conditions like diabetes, depression and epilepsy. However, this can also happen with medications intended for short-term or irregular use including opioids, sleep medications and muscle relaxers.

Addiction – when you need to take a medication even if it is harming you and causing problems in your everyday life. Addiction can also lead to dependence on a medication. Like dependence, being addicted to a medication can cause withdrawal symptoms if a person suddenly stops taking it. Opioids, prescription sleep medications, ADHD medications, other controlled substances and some muscle relaxers are the most common types of medications for people to become addicted to.

Sleep issues – Using some medications long-term can affect your ability to have a good night’s sleep. This includes symptoms such as sleep apnea (when breathing repeatedly stops and starts while sleeping) or insomnia. These symptoms can occur with sleep and non-sleep medications like opioids and benzodiazepines (depressants that produce sedation and hypnosis, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and reduce seizures).

Digestive system issues – Your digestive system helps you break down food. Long-term use of pain medications may have some effects on parts of this system. Liver damage may occur from long-term use of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, especially when using over the recommended amount. Long-term use of acetaminophen may also lead to liver failure if taken in doses higher than the recommended amount. Because acetaminophen and ibuprofen are in a variety of prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, it is important to check the active ingredients’ list to prevent an accidental overdose.

Cognitive issues – problems with mental processes such as making decisions, remembering things, reasoning skills or learning. Using benzodiazepines, opioids and alcohol regularly may lead you to have a slower response time, memory loss or impair your ability to think.

Nervous system issues – Your nervous system is made up of your brain, spinal cord and nerves located throughout your body. Using opioids long-term could increase your sensitivity to pain and cause tremors.

Illegal (illicit) drugs effects – Using illegal drugs is prohibited for Service members. Many of the same long-term effects with prescription and over-the-counter medications are seen with illegal drugs.

What You Can Do

Your first step if you have any concern with a medication is to talk to your health care provider. If you’re taking a medication, do not stop taking it or take it differently than as directed without first discussing it with your health care provider. Also, do not take any prescription medications that have not been prescribed to you by your health care provider.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line at 988 and press 1, or Text 838255. You can also call 911.