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Can Opioid Use Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

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Opioid use has become a public health crisis in the United States. It’s estimated that 2.1 million Americans struggle with opioid misuse and abuse. Many people understand the impact opioid use has on society, but few understand the impact it can have on nearly every aspect of life – including your sex life.

Sex may seem like the most natural thing in the world, but it takes a complicated chain of events to go from arousal to orgasm. As Chris Woolston puts it in an article on HealthDay News, you must “be focused, your nerves have to be sensitive, and blood must flow to all the right places.” Unfortunately, there are many things that can break this chain – and one of them is opioids.

If you’ve been prescribed opioids, then it’s time to learn about the dangers they present to every facet of your life, including your sex life.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a term for drugs derived from the poppy plant that bind to opioid receptors in your body. This class of drugs includes prescription drugs such as hydrocodone, fentanyl, morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. It also includes illegal drugs such as heroin.

They’re often prescribed to treat pain. In fact, many people begin taking them because their doctor prescribes them. The problem is that opioids are highly addictive. They work by altering the chemistry of your brain and the function of your central nervous system. This is how they can impact your sex life, making orgasms more difficult to achieve or preventing orgasms from happening entirely. Opioids are also the leading cause of erectile dysfunction in men.

Opioid Addiction

The problem with opioids is they are often prescribed by doctors first for legitimate pain management. Regardless of why they’re prescribed, it’s not difficult to become dependent on them. This is one of the ways opioid addiction has reached the level of a public health crisis in the United States. Overprescription of opioids by doctors has created a problem that has only intensified with access to cheap heroin and other synthetic opioids.

The opioid epidemic has become so widespread that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, opioid overdoses killed over 47,000 people in 2017 – that’s 130 people every single day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that life expectancy for Americans has decreased over the last several years due to the number of people dying from opioid overdoses.

Opioid use isn’t simply killing people, it’s also impacting communities. In 2016 and 2017, it’s estimated that 11.4 million people abused prescription opioids and 2.1 million of those people have an actual opioid use disorder. Chances are, you or someone you know are a part of those statistics.

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is one of the most common sexual problems experienced by men. It’s thought to impact the lives of over 30 million men – and there are a variety of reasons why.

ED is defined as problems achieving or maintaining an erection firm enough for sex.

It’s not rare for a man to experience problems getting and maintaining an erection from time to time, but with ED the issue occurs often and is progressive, meaning it starts to happen more and more frequently.  

The symptoms of ED include:

  • Reduced sexual desire
  • Problems getting an erection
  • Problems keeping an erection

Your age, lifestyle choices, blood sugar, heart health, mental health issues such as anxiety, and even smoking can contribute to ED. Talk with your doctor about treatments and lifestyle changes to help prevent ED from becoming an issue in your life.

Medications and ED

If you’re having trouble becoming aroused, getting and keeping an erection, or having an orgasm, then it might be because you’re taking certain medications that increase your chances of experience ED. Some common groups of drugs that cause ED in men include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Diuretics
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Antiepileptics
  • Antihistamines
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
  • Antiarrhythmics
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Heartburn medications
  • Pain medications such as opioids

If you are taking medications and think it may be causing your ED, then talk to your doctor. If you’re using or abusing opioid drugs, it’s even more important to talk with a medical professional to get help.

How Opioids Cause ED

A review of 10 studies published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine determined that the risk of erectile dysfunction in men goes up by significantly if they use opioids in high doses for several months. Basically, if you use opioids consistently for six months or more, then you’re almost guaranteed to experience erectile dysfunction at some point.

How does this happen? Researchers have found that long term use of opioids leads to a condition called hypogonadism. This means your body doesn’t produce enough testosterone, the male sex hormone. Testosterone deficiency makes it more difficult for you to become aroused, get an erection, and maintain it.

Another study in India found that heavy opioid users can experience other problems that also contribute to sexual dysfunctions such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Social isolation
  • Decreased performance at school or work

These issues can also contribute to the abuse of drugs such as opioids, too. If you think you may have an underlying health issue contributing to drug abuse and erectile dysfunction, make sure to reach out for help.

What’s Being Done to Deal with Addiction?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes how serious the opioid crisis has become in this country. That’s why they’ve begun to focus on a few key areas to help people deal with opioid addiction. They are:

  • Working to improve access to treatment
  • Making recovery resources widely available
  • Promoting the use of drugs to reverse an overdose
  • Bolstering the understanding of the epidemic in the population at large
  • Providing support for new research on pain management alternatives and addiction treatment
  • Advocating for other pain management practices

When it comes to opioids, you don’t have to be an addict for it to impact your sex life and cause erectile dysfunction. If you’re dealing with chronic pain, then you should work with your doctor to try to find alternative treatments for pain management that both help you find relief and help keep your sex life satisfying.

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