Several months ago, Simon suffered an injury to his back when he fell on the ice during a hockey game. After that, though he was young and in shape, Simon began to experience chronic pain, so his doctor gave him a prescription for painkiller medication. While the painkillers helped to control the pain and made daily life seem more manageable, Simon soon found that he was less interested in sex than before. His wife noticed, too.
Now Simon is worried that painkillers—and opioids in particular—can affect a person’s sex life. He’s especially worried about this issue because he has come to depend on the prescription and does not know what to do.
Simon isn’t alone in experiencing a decrease in libido from painkillers. In some cases, prescription painkiller abuse can lead to sexual dysfunction. Studies have shown that 50-90 percent of men affected by painkiller abuse have lower testosterone levels as a result. Women who use painkillers may also experience reduced interest in sex.
Painkiller Use: An American Problem
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in 10 Americans use prescription painkillers. In 2017 alone, 191 million opioid painkiller prescriptions were written for U.S. patients. While it’s quite true that painkillers can have an effect on a person’s libido, that’s only one part of the problem. Roughly 46 people each day in the U.S. die as a result of a prescription painkiller overdose.
Doctors have recognized the negative impact that opioid painkillers have on individuals and the population at large. The over-prescribing of prescription painkillers and the recent clampdown on them has helped to fuel the increase in heroin abuse as many people reliant on painkillers have turned to street drugs.
Unfortunately, once a person becomes reliant on opioid painkillers, they can find it difficult to stop using them. For this reason, the medical community is looking at new and different medications for the treatment of chronic or long-term pain. Opioids are extremely effective at reducing pain, which makes them a powerful drug in the world of pharmacotherapy, but increasing numbers of physicians are choosing to try other less addictive drugs first and turning to opioids when there are few or no other good options.
What Impact Do Painkillers Have on the Body?
Opioid painkillers have a calming effect on the brain and body. While they relieve pain, they also tend to slow down processes in the brain, which affects things like sexual desire and performance. Since opioids, especially when taken habitually, can alter brain chemistry, they can impact sexual function by shutting down sex drive. Some people experience a delay in orgasms or may no longer experience orgasms at all. Some men report experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Opioids can depress hormone production. Reduced levels of hormones such as testosterone result in reduced libido. Suppressed sexual desire and function can have a serious effect on people’s relationships and intimacy levels. While some people are turning to other medications such as Viagara or over-the-counter sexual lubricants for help, others are considering altering their painkiller use, by either reducing their dose or attempting to stop using painkillers altogether.
Quitting Painkillers to Improve Libido
Opioid painkillers can be extremely helpful in treating pain in the short term. Over time, however, their use can lead to the development of health problems such as reduced libido and the heightened risk for addiction. Making the decision to stop using prescription painkillers is often the right decision for many patients, but the process of quitting can be challenging. Getting off opioids, including prescription opioids, is difficult for a few reasons.
If you’ve only taken opioid painkillers for a couple of weeks, you may be able to stop using them without any need to taper off your dose. When we’re talking about opioids and libido disruption, however, we’re usually talking about individuals who have been using painkillers for longer than two weeks. Some people may have used these powerful drugs for months, even years. Discontinuing their use by quitting cold turkey is not advised (and, if addiction is present, medical detox may be recommended).
Patients who are taking prescribed painkillers under a doctor’s care—(as opposed to obtaining them on the street or from some other source)—should discuss libido issues with their doctor and reduce their painkiller use as directed by their doctor. In most cases, doctors will begin a process of gradually reducing the dose, so that patients can slowly and carefully discontinue their use.
This process can still prove difficult. People may experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms such as headaches or nausea. But that’s not all. There can still be the problem of the chronic pain that the opioids were addressing.
Doctors may prescribe alternative medications or treatments to address these individuals’ ongoing pain issues. The fact is that pain can also reduce libido. Consequently, the goal for physicians is to prescribe an effective, alternative pain treatment, so that the individual can find relief from their pain and successfully get off painkillers.
Will Libido Recover When Painkiller Use Is Discontinued?
While it may take some time, the libido does generally recover once a person stops using prescription painkillers or greatly reduces their dose. Fortunately, opioids do not suppress the libido permanently. Once a person stops using them and their mental and physical processes gradually return to normal, they should experience a return to their normal sexual function.
How Can FHE Health Help?
Getting off prescription painkillers can be downright difficult. Painkillers like Percocet, Vicodin, and oxycodone are associated with a strong physical dependence. The body will crave them as their dose is reduced. FHE Health can help individuals stop using painkillers carefully. We monitor individuals’ health and are able to treat any withdrawal symptoms that arise by reducing their severity.
Tapering off opioid use is an inexact science that varies from person to person. A slow, careful tapering process helps minimize risks to a person’s health. At FHE Health, we strive to ensure that our clients are safe and as comfortable as possible when they go through this process.
If you or a loved one are experiencing problems like low libido because of painkillers, FHE Health can help. Remember that these drugs don’t simply interrupt sex drive. They are extremely addictive and can alter a person’s physical and mental health in other ways, too. Talk to your medical provider or call FHE Health today.