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Coping with Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

shoeless woman sitting on the floor next to a chair while experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms

Coping with opioid withdrawal symptoms can be difficult. Knowing what to expect and how to manage the symptoms can help to alleviate some of the stress and emotional aspects of detox.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a drug classification that includes naturally derived opiates such as heroin and synthetic opioids like oxycodone. While these drugs are highly effective at managing severe and chronic pain, they are also extremely addictive. Even patients that receive a prescription from their physician and use their medication as recommended build a tolerance over time and could become dependent on the medicine.

Even though patients that follow their doctors’ instructions can develop a dependence, you have a much higher chance of developing an opioid use disorder if you misuse prescription opioids or partake in illicit opiates. Whether a dependence or addiction develops due to the long-term use of a prescription medication or illicit opioids, stopping can lead to some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids’ Effect on the Brain & Body

The reason opioids are such a useful pain treatment is that they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, blocking the pain signals that are transmitted between the brain and the body, resulting in dulled pain. Additionally, opioids cause an increase in dopamine activity, which reinforces the behavior with the reward of euphoria or a gratifying rush of pleasure.

The reasons that opioids are one of the best pain management options are also why these drugs are so addictive. Individuals feel a significant decrease in pain, and opioids make them feel good, too. Unfortunately, long-term use can cause users to develop a tolerance, meaning the dose that triggers that euphoric feeling no longer has the same effect. This often leads to increased amounts to obtain that same feeling.

The good news is doctors are now aware of the dangers of opioid use and how highly addictive it is, so most won’t increase a patient’s dose. Some won’t even sign off on an additional refill. Some people who use opioids may switch to illegal drugs like oxycodone, heroin, or fentanyl when they can no longer get their prescription painkillers. This is dangerous because these drugs can be dangerous and deadly.

What is the Difference Between Dependence and Addiction?

Dependence and addiction are easily confused and often used interchangeably, but they are different. Physical dependence means that someone has built a tolerance to a substance and will experience withdrawal symptoms once they cease their usage. Someone can be physically dependent on a substance without being addicted. However, addiction is usually not too far off if they don’t stop their use.

Addiction is much more serious, as it causes changes to the brain, resulting in behavioral changes. The addict’s substance of choice becomes their top priority, neglecting other aspects of their life. They often exhibit irrational behavior when they don’t have access to the substance they are addicted to.

What to Expect- Detox and Withdrawal from Opioids

The way individuals experience opioid withdrawal varies depending on a few factors, including the type of opioid, length of use, and the dosage they are taking. Each individual’s timeline for opioid withdrawal is unique to their personal experience with opioids as well.

Short-acting opioids, including heroin, morphine, and immediate-release versions of opioid painkillers, provide about 8-12 hours before the beginning of the detox symptoms and timeline for withdrawals. Once the medical detox begins, withdrawals can last up to 10 days. With long-acting opioids, withdrawals start around 36 hours after the final dose and can last for 14 or more days.

The most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Severe pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Cravings for opioids
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased body temperature
  • Chills
  • Racing heart

Coping with Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

While the severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary from one individual to another, there are two ways to cope with opioid withdrawal symptoms. The first way is to weather the symptoms solo, without professional medical assistance, which has benefits and drawbacks, but far more of the latter than the former. The other way to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms is to work with a trusted local addiction expert and treatment center. 

Choosing to deal with detox and withdrawal on your own is a recipe for an uncomfortable, possibly painful, and ultimately difficult experience that has a very high chance of ending in relapse. This is because you’re under intense stress and are trying to get through what could be a potentially medically complicated situation without medical help. 

With professional help, you may be able to leverage medication assisted-treatment. The medication-assisted treatment uses one or more approved prescriptions to help manage the withdrawal symptoms and the cravings that result from detox.

How to Manage the Symptoms of Withdrawal and Detox

The best way to manage withdrawal symptoms and detox from opioids is to work with a local treatment center like Agape on a treatment plan that includes medication-assisted treatment. Medications like buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone can help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and associated cravings. 

Not only can these medications help make the symptoms easier to deal with, but they can shorten the withdrawal and detox timeline. When the detox process is less stressful and uncomfortable, the patient is likelier to continue with the treatment program and follow-up care. This leads to better outcomes in the long term.

The Safest Way to Detox & Withdrawal From Opioids

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, getting help is essential. Working with addiction experts is the best way to detox safely and effectively. There’s no better time to start than now. Reach out to Agape today, speak to an addiction counselor about your needs, and start your recovery today. 


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