Opioid Withdrawal and Treatment Options
The fear of opioid withdrawal is a powerful motivator to keep seeking out heroin or prescription painkillers in order to stave off the inevitable. The endless cycle of seeking, using and recovering from opiates is frustrating and exhausting, and it dramatically reduces your quality of life and sense of well-being.
Why Withdrawal Symptoms Set In
Chronic opiate abuse causes changes in the brain’s structures and functions as the brain works to compensate for the regular influx of the drug. These changes may reach a tipping point where the brain begins to function more “normally” when opiates are in the body than when they’re not.
When this occurs, withholding the drug will cause suppressed brain chemicals to rebound, and as a result, withdrawal symptoms will set in as the brain’s way of saying it needs the drug to operate properly.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Opiate withdrawal causes intense flulike symptoms. These include:
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
- Profuse sweating
- Intense cravings
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot and cold sweats
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, most people who try to detox from opioids without medical help return very quickly to using simply to make the excruciating opioid withdrawal symptoms stop. The good news is that a high-quality treatment program will be able to connect you with two solid alternatives to suffering through withdrawal.
Option One: Medical Detox
Medical detox is a supervised detox protocol that involves administering medications to make withdrawal less uncomfortable.
Clonidine is the most commonly used medication for opioid withdrawal. It reduces the intensity of certain symptoms, including anxiety, muscle aches and sweating, by 75 percent. Hydroxyzine is typically prescribed to alleviate nausea, and loperamide treats abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Buprenorphine reduces the amount of time it takes to detox and alleviates the intensity of symptoms.
Once detox is complete and brain function has begun to return to normal, various intensive therapies address the issues underlying the addiction and foster the healthy lifestyle changes needed to enjoy successful long-term recovery.
Option Two: Medication-Assisted Treatment
Medication-assisted treatment, also known as maintenance therapy, involves administering daily doses of safer and less-addictive opioid medications to wean you from opioids over time. This prevents the onset of withdrawal symptoms and staves off cravings so you can focus on learning the skills and strategies needed for long-term recovery.
According to an article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review, maintenance therapy is considered to be the cornerstone of successful opioid treatment.
Three maintenance medications have been approved by the FDA for treating opioid dependence. Methadone is the best-known. It’s slow-acting, and it doesn’t produce the euphoric effects of opioids. The other two medications are buprenorphine and naloxone, which are combined to create the maintenance drug Suboxone.
Recovery is Possible
Making the decision to enter treatment is often the hardest part of the recovery process, but this doesn’t mean that the opioid withdrawal process is easy. It takes a lot of hard work, but in the process, you’ll learn a great deal about yourself, repair damaged relationships, develop coping skills and strategies and address any trauma or mental illnesses that contributed to or resulted from the addiction.
If you’re ready to live free of addiction, the hard work you put in during treatment can transform you, bringing meaning and purpose and dramatically improving your quality of life and sense of well-being.