Opiate Withdrawal – Symptoms And Treatment
In the United States today, opiate use has reached epidemic proportions. MedlinePlus cites that “In 2014 in the US, about 435,000 people used heroin,” an opiate that is exceedingly addictive. In November 2015, a revised publication by The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) stated that “More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers.” The publication continued to say “Opioid pain relievers such as OxyContin® attach to the same cell receptors targeted by illegal opioids like heroin.” This is why people abuse them in a manner that leads to addiction.
Opiates, which are also at times referred to as opioids (when in synthetic form), contain both legal and illegal drugs, both of which hold the potential for abuse, addiction and subsequent withdrawal. The former are prescription drugs, including morphine, oxycodone, codeine and others, while the latter includes heroin.
Opiate Abuse And Addiction Can Derail Your Life
When I was in college, I had a good friend named Paul (real name withheld) who began experimenting with many different drugs, including a variety of pharmaceuticals. Though he tried numerous other opiates, due to his access (he stole them from his step-father), he quickly became addicted to Oxycontin. Paul was very charismatic—he gave credence to the cliche “the life of the party,” so for a long time, this larger-than-life persona masked the underlying travesty of his addiction.
I remember sitting on his bedroom floor one day while he was teaching me to play chess. He looked at me, a quiet desperation flickering beneath the more predominant defiance within his expression, and said something along the lines of “but I can’t talk without them, I can’t say anything worthwhile, or be social without them.” It was in that moment, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, that I realized he had a very serious problem.
Things progressed from there and eventually he became fearful and realized that he was in deep. In addition to his deteriorating health, he had lost his serious girlfriend and suffered the consequences of poor performance at both work and school—all due to his drug addiction.
The first time I saw him in withdrawals was very frightening—he was sweaty and agitated, with circles under his eyes—he hadn’t been sleeping. As time and his withdrawals progressed, it seemed I spent more time talking to him through a closed door—the nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea kept him in pretty close proximity to the bathroom.
After his first attempt at quitting, he was afraid to try again because of the uncomfortable symptoms that resulted. He also struggled with the psychological implications of the addiction, something that continued for some time even after he was finally able to overcome his addiction.
The thing is, he choose to undergo withdrawal alone and was therefore unsupported by individuals trained to offer the expert and attentive care that is crucial at a time like this. I saw the toll that this took on him. Eventually, he used for the last time—but this was after many failed attempts—likely due in large part because he had been striving to do this alone. The good news is, he did turn his life around—today he holds down a good job he enjoys—one that he’s had for over a decade. He’s bought a house and has a steady relationship with a partner who understands his past and supports him in his future.
What Are The Symptoms Of Opiate Withdrawal?
Opiate withdrawal, also called “dopesickness” is a set of symptoms that occurs after a person either abruptly ceases or significantly decreases their opiate use. This is because a person’s body has become physically dependent on the drug, and in its absence, certain processes within the body that were altered by the constant presence of the drug become offset, resulting in what we call symptoms. When someone is physically dependent on a drug, they will experience withdrawal due the reasons we noted above and may also experience a tolerance, which means they will require an increased amount of the drug to experience the same desired results.
Dependence is different from addiction. NIDA elaborates on this, stating “Physical dependence is a normal adaptation to chronic exposure to a drug and is not the same as addiction.” It is important to note that physical dependence can occur within an addiction. NIDA makes this distinction, noting that an addiction “is distinguished by compulsive drug seeking and use despite sometimes devastating consequences.”
Both may result in withdrawal, the symptoms of which we outline here:
- Cravings, both physical and psychological
- Restlessness or agitation
- Tremor or shaking
- Involuntary leg movement
- Difficulty regulating body temperature, characterized by sweating or cold flashes
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose or watery eyes
- Muscle aches and joint or bone pain
- Abdominal cramping
- Gastrointestinal difficulties, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Having Support During Withdrawal Can Make This Time Easier
Even though Paul eventually found happiness, sobriety and stability, he might have avoided his multiple attempts at sobriety and found these things sooner had he had the support of a treatment facility such as ours. We employ knowledgeable and compassionate professionals who are acutely aware of the demands and treatments surrounding opiate withdrawal. In addition to this, due to our finely-tuned methods of treatments, he may have avoided feeling the entirety of such symptoms as we listed above.
We can help you have a better chance at this success—not only can withdrawals from opiates be exceedingly uncomfortable, but, as MedlinePlus, a resource offered by the National Library of Medicine states, “Withdrawal from these drugs on your own can be very hard and may be dangerous.”
Even people who are using an opiate for a medically prescribed reason may suffer a withdrawal—some may even be totally unaware of why they are feeling discomfort or sickness. This is because, as we’ve noted above, withdrawal is caused by the body’s physical dependence on the drug, which can occur with this use in addition to illicit opiate use. Some people who use prescribed opiates, in a manner as instructed by their doctor for pain management, may also need assistance during withdrawal. This depends on their level of physical dependence.
I had another friend on this end of the spectrum who suffered from opiate withdrawals. In the course of two months, she had two major surgeries on her spine and the surrounding areas. The surgeries didn’t take, and due to this and the healing process, she was in massive amounts of pain. She later had more surgeries. At various points, her doctors prescribed her opiates, including morphine and Dilaudid, for fairly extended periods of time, so she could function enough to take part in the care of herself, her children, her home and her livelihood. Subsequently, she developed a physical dependence on the drug.
The first time she needed to cut back on her medications, she choose to do it on her own—she essentially shut herself in the bathroom, lying in the bathtub on a pile of blankets, for several days, while people looked after her children—she told me it was a very terrible time, as the withdrawal symptoms were very intense. The second time, she proceeded under the advisement and supervision of medical professionals, a decision that made a world of difference—her symptoms were significantly alleviated compared to the first time, and she was much more comfortable throughout the process.
You don’t have to undergo withdrawal alone, that’s why we’re here—to offer you outstanding care and inspiring support while you go through this crucial time.
Some drugs don’t require a detoxification period before treatment ensues. Opiates are not one of them. They exert a powerful influence on your body’s physiology, namely by affecting your central nervous system (CNS) and the neurotransmitters in your brain. The impacts on your physiology is what causes withdrawal. Your body has become accustomed to the drug, and when it is suddenly gone, or the amount lessons, your body reacts.
We want you to be once again healthy and overcome your addiction in a safe and supervised way, which starts with detoxification. With our help, you can undergo detox care in a supervised medical facility where you will have the support and oversight of our highly trained and compassionate team of medical practitioners, 24 hours a day.
Here at Turning Point, we utilize medication-assisted treatment by administering Suboxone (Buprenorphine) Therapy to our clients who come to us with an opiate dependence. Not only does this help to alleviate cravings, it can also quickly and effectively help to alleviate opiate withdrawal. NIDA describes buprenorphine as “a long-acting partial agonist that acts on the same receptors as heroin and morphine, relieving drug cravings without producing the same intense “high” or dangerous side effects.”
We’ve made this our treatment of choice for good reason. A partnership between NIDA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) called the Blending Initiative issued a fact sheet on buprenorphine treatment for opiate dependence that compared treatments, which stated “When patients receive buprenorphine instead of clonidine to help them with opioid withdrawal, they are more likely to succeed.”
Your success and sobriety are our number one priorities. In addition to this treatment, we offer in-depth counseling aimed at providing you with emotional and mental support, as you might also be struggling in these ways during your withdrawal. It might be frightening to consider the amount of time or life that passed while you suffered from an addiction, or you might be overwhelmed when you think about how to live a life drug-free. Before, as a drug user, you may have self-medicated, instead of dealing or coping with situations.
We can help you to learn how to accept what is behind you, while embracing the positive changes and hope that is before you, things that our treatment allows you to achieve.
Don’t Walk This Path Alone
Though the majority of symptoms that result from an opiate addiction are simply very uncomfortable, encountering withdrawal on your own can be very dangerous. Remember: your chance of recovery increases if you receive the proper care and medical attention during the detoxification and withdrawal processes. If you or anyone you love exhibits any of the aforementioned symptoms, or if you’re concerned about the onset of withdrawal when you or your loved one stops or decreases use, contact us today.