The effects of opioids and opioid analogs on animal and human endocrine systems

Endocr Rev. 2010 Feb;31(1):98-132. doi: 10.1210/er.2009-0009. Epub 2009 Nov 10.


Opioid abuse has increased in the last decade, primarily as a result of increased access to prescription opioids. Physicians are also increasingly administering opioid analgesics for noncancer chronic pain. Thus, knowledge of the long-term consequences of opioid use/abuse has important implications for fully evaluating the clinical usefulness of opioid medications. Many studies have examined the effect of opioids on the endocrine system; however, a systematic review of the endocrine actions of opioids in both humans and animals has, to our knowledge, not been published since 1984. Thus, we reviewed the literature on the effect of opioids on the endocrine system. We included both acute and chronic effects of opioids, with the majority of the studies done on the acute effects although chronic effects are more physiologically relevant. In humans and laboratory animals, opioids generally increase GH and prolactin and decrease LH, testosterone, estradiol, and oxytocin. In humans, opioids increase TSH, whereas in rodents, TSH is decreased. In both rodents and humans, the reports of effects of opioids on arginine vasopressin and ACTH are conflicting. Opioids act preferentially at different receptor sites leading to stimulatory or inhibitory effects on hormone release. Increasing opioid abuse primarily leads to hypogonadism but may also affect the secretion of other pituitary hormones. The potential consequences of hypogonadism include decreased libido and erectile dysfunction in men, oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea in women, and bone loss or infertility in both sexes. Opioids may increase or decrease food intake, depending on the type of opioid and the duration of action. Additionally, opioids may act through the sympathetic nervous system to cause hyperglycemia and impaired insulin secretion. In this review, recent information regarding endocrine disorders among opioid abusers is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Endocrine System / drug effects*
  • Endocrine System Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypogonadism / chemically induced
  • Hypogonadism / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Opiate Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / physiopathology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Opiate Alkaloids