Let’s say you have a cold or a mild illness and you have access to opiates. Maybe you’re wondering if taking them would help you feel better. Because opiates can relieve minor aches and pains that come with a cold or the flu, you might think they can help you get more rest until you’re feeling better.

However, before you reach for opiates when you have a cold or the flu, there are some important things to know.

How Do Opiates Affect You?

Before exploring the possible adverse effects of taking opiates when you have a cold, it’s a good idea to have a general understanding of how these drugs affect you. When you take opiates, they create a euphoric rush at first, and they can also contribute to extreme drowsiness. Opiates impact almost every area of the body including the digestive system, nervous system and immune system.

Opiates and the Respiratory System

The most critical thing to know about taking opiates when you have a cold is their potential impact on the respiratory system.

Prescription opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin work in a way that may slow down the respiratory system. During an overdose, these medications depress the respiratory system in a manner that slows breathing, and that’s what makes overdose deaths such a common occurrence with opioids. If your respiration rate becomes too slow, you could experience serious consequences, such as organ failure and ultimately death.

Drug Interactions

Another reason you should avoid taking opiates when you have a cold is because of the potential for dangerous drug interactions. While opioids can be safely used with most prescription agents, opioids that contain acetaminophen have the potential for adverse reactions with over-the-counter cold and pain medications that also contain acetaminophen.

Opioids and the Immune System

Finally, if you have a cold and you’re considering whether or not you should turn to opioids for relief, you should also know they can potentially impact your immune system. When you use opioids — especially those ingested through injection — they can impair your body’s ability to fight off infection. In many cases, people who take opioids, particularly if they abuse them, have been shown to be at a higher risk of developing health conditions like the flu, pneumonia and bacterial infections.

It’s best to err on the side of caution when considering taking opioids while you have a cold. While some results could be beneficial, such as symptomatic relief of bronchitis, they can also range from minimal, such as a weakened immune system that can make it harder for you to recover, to something incredibly serious or even deadly.

If you are considering opiates when you have a cold, the best thing you can do is contact a physician for their professional advice.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.