Opioid Withdrawal – It’s A Necessary Evil If You Want To Kick Your Habit
The thought of having to endure withdrawal is terrifying if you are addicted to opioid substances like heroin, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Oxycodone, or Fentanyl. You may be ready to kick your habit, but you’re terrified of what will happen if you do. This is what keeps you hooked even though you want to quit.
You know that if you stop suddenly using your drug of choice, your system will react in violent protest. Basically, your body will physically complain once it no longer has the drugs. These complaints come in the form of very intense withdrawal symptoms.
Opioid withdrawal is difficult to navigate – even for those who consider themselves ten-feet tall and bulletproof. Words cannot express how uncomfortable it is. It will bring even the most physically strong and mentally tough people to their knees. More importantly, it can be life-threatening or cause serious medical complications if it is not properly treated.
Let’s talk about withdrawal. Yes, we know you want to avoid the detox process at all costs. But, you just can’t. You HAVE to go through it if you want to break the chains of your addiction. Undergoing detox is a necessary step in the process of getting sober.
That being said, we want to educate you about withdrawal. The more you know, the better off you’ll be. Plus, we can offer you a few suggestions that will make detoxing at least a little more bearable. We’ll talk about opioid withdrawal supplements, the benefits of a professional medical detox, and Medication-Assisted Treatment. Now, let’s get down to the very serious business of getting you on the road to recovery.
What’s The Difference Between Opiates and Opioids?
Before we move forward, we feel it is important to answer this question. For many years, there was a distinction made between opiates versus opioids. This is no longer the case.
Opiates are considered anything naturally derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin, morphine, and codeine are examples. In the past, the term “opioid” was used to describe synthetic substances that are manufactured using opium AND chemical additives. These include Oxycodone, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl.
Needless to say, using the terms “opioid” and “opiate” led to much confusion. People were constantly asking the difference between the two and using these words interchangeably. Many made the mistake of thinking there was a difference between being addicted to one versus the other. This caused people to believe there was a different withdrawal process for each type of substance.
To clear things up, doctors and substance abuse experts have started using the blanket term “opioids” to describe any substance that is opium-based. This minimizes confusion. It helps people to understand that it really doesn’t matter if you are hooked on heroin or abusing Fentanyl. Withdrawal symptoms are the same and addiction treatment follows the same course of action.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk more about opioid withdrawal.
What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?
Addiction is a complex brain disease that profoundly impacts the way the body and brain work. We don’t want to bog you down with a lot of scientific data. But, we do want to give you a basic understanding of what happens when you get hooked on opioids and you try to stop using them.
To keep it simple, we want you to know that opioids interfere with your system’s natural processes. They are central nervous system depressants that slow down brain function and affect other major organs in your body.
When you become addicted, your body relies on opioids to function. If you don’t take whatever amount of opioids you usually take in a given day, your body will kind of go “haywire.” It won’t know what to do without the addictive substance. Neurotransmitters in the brain will begin to misfire, which causes your system to react violently. This results in withdrawal.
What Is It Like To Withdrawal From Opioids?
Everyone experiences opioid withdrawal differently. Some experience certain symptoms while others do not. The physical pain and mental anguish are much more severe for some than it is for others. There are a number of different reasons for this.
Your overall health, what kind of drug you have been taking, how much you have been using and for how long, whether or not you smoke cigarettes, how much alcohol you drink, and other factors all play into the withdrawal process.
However; it is important to recognize that if you have been abusing opioids for any length of time and you stop taking them, your life WILL be turned upside down for awhile. Withdrawing from narcotic painkillers is pretty much the same as heroin withdrawal. It is a miserable experience.
- Opioid withdrawal symptoms might include:
- Extreme cravings for more of your drug of choice
- Runny nose
- Head-to-toe body aches
- Stomach pain
- Migraine headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbance
- Lack of motivation
- Loss of mental focus
- Brain fog
- Extreme anxiety
- Overwhelming depression
- The need to isolate and withdraw from social relationships
- Extreme fatigue and physical exhaustion
- Seizures, coma, or death (in extreme cases)
Again, the severity of these symptoms and how long they last varies from person to person.
What Is The Opioid Withdrawal Timeline?
There are two phases to withdrawal: the acute withdrawal phase and the post-acute withdrawal phase.
Acute withdrawal happens immediately after you stop taking your drug of choice (usually 6-24 hours after the last dose). It lasts up to two weeks. This is the most dangerous stage. During this time, seizures and other health complications are the most likely. It is also the most physically upsetting part of the process. Without help, most people relapse during acute withdrawal because they can not bear the discomfort of the symptoms.
The post-acute withdrawal phase sets in about two to four weeks after you stop taking opioids. It can last for as long as six months. During this time, you will still not be fully restored to health. You will experience lingering withdrawal symptoms. Cravings, anxiety, fatigue, and depression are typically the biggest obstacles to recovery during post-acute withdrawal.
Can You Go Through Opioid Withdrawal Cold Turkey?
Sure, you CAN go through withdrawal cold turkey, but you shouldn’t. It can be very dangerous. And, why would you want to? Let’s get completely honest. Opioid withdrawal basically makes you feel like you cannot function as a human being for at least a week to 10 days. Things do get better after that, but it is a slow process and an uphill journey.
During acute withdrawal, even the most basic task (like holding your head up) feels almost completely impossible. You will travel back and forth from your sweat-soaked sheets to your toilet for several days. You will writhe in pain and could potentially foam at the mouth. You will cry, you will shake, you will sweat, and at some point – at least once, if not continuously – you will wish you were dead. You may even contemplate suicide.
We say this not to scare you. We just want to be honest with you about the ugly truth of opioid withdrawal. It is a very dehumanizing experience.
The bottom line is that you have four options when it comes to going through withdrawal. You can quit cold turkey, you can go through a professional medical detox, you can try and manage the process with opioid withdrawal supplements, or you can get on a medication-assisted treatment program (MAT). We’ve already told you that quitting opioids cold turkey is NOT a good idea. Let’s discuss your other three options.
OPTION 1: Consider Professional Medical Detox
We recommend a medical detox to everyone who is abusing heroin or opium-based painkillers. We say this for three main reasons:
- As we have previously mentioned, opioid withdrawal can have dangerous consequences. Although it is somewhat rare, people do die when they undergo the detoxification process without professional help. Also, having a seizure and going into a coma are very real possibilities when you suddenly stop using opioids. For these reasons, it is always a good idea to detox safely at a rehabilitation facility or detox center.
- Opioid withdrawal is one of THE MOST unpleasant experiences a human being will ever endure on planet Earth. Mothers who have kicked heroin or painkillers without professional help have said it is more painful than childbirth and it lasts MUCH longer. There is no reason to subject yourself to this kind of pain if you don’t have to.
- Finally, the detoxification period is only the first step in getting help for an addiction to opioids. There is a lot of hard work to do once you have gotten the stuff out of your system. By going to a professional medical detox, you position yourself to continue with drug rehab. This is your best chance at learning the skills you need to manage cravings and ensure ongoing recovery.
Here’s the bottom line. If you detox on your own, you are setting yourself up for failure. Most people who want to kick opioids think it is a simple matter of quitting the drugs. This is a half-truth. You don’t just simply stop using your drug of choice, go through a few days of detox, and move on with your life. It much more complicated than that.
Statistics show that those who go through a medical detox followed by addiction treatment have a much higher success rate for staying off opioids than those who don’t. This is because rehab teaches coping skills, relapse prevention strategies, and provides ongoing support.
Medical Detox and Opioid Withdrawal
A medical detox happens at a rehabilitation facility or detox center under the direct supervision of a doctor and medical staff. Patients are monitored around-the-clock to ensure that withdrawal is completed safely to reduce the likelihood of medical complications. This may last from three to ten days (sometimes longer depending on the circumstances.)
During the detox process, medications are administered to promote comfort and wellness. These may include tranquilizers, sedatives, anti-seizure medications, antipsychotics, and sleep aids. Medication is an integral part of this type of withdrawal process. It helps lessen painful symptoms and cravings and lowers the chances of seizures and other health risks. You cannot get these prescription medications without a doctor. They are not sold over the counter or online.
Once detox is complete, the patient is given the option of continuing on with addiction treatment services for heroin addiction or prescription painkillers. Rehabilitation is highly recommended, although many recovering people often think they are strong enough to stay sober without help. As explained, we think this is a mistake. In fact, this decision almost always guarantees a relapse. We encourage anyone who is addicted to opioids to pursue ongoing addiction treatment after withdrawal.
OPTION 2: Take Your Chances With Opioid Withdrawal Supplements
If you are absolutely hellbent on going through withdrawal on your own, we want to you to be well-informed. Knowing which opioid withdrawal supplements to take will make all the difference. Plus, we will recommend a few holistic practices that can help.
However; we want to remind you once again that going through detox on your own can be dangerous and even have deadly consequences. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND a professional medical detox. That being said, we understand that you might have your reasons for wanting to withdraw at home. So, we want to give you some tools to ensure your comfort.
If you are going to go through withdrawal at home, we encourage you to get a friend to stay at your place during the first seven to 10 days. It is good to have someone on standby. You may need to be taken to the hospital because you are having a seizure or you could choke on your own vomit and need an ambulance (it could totally happen). Plus, you will need someone to provide emotional support and help you resist cravings.
When it comes to quitting opioids on your own, some people make the decision to completely stop using at once. Others choose to taper off slowly over a period of time and then stop. This decision is completely up to you.
Now, let’s talk about opioid withdrawal supplements and some holistic practices that can aid in the withdrawal process:
Vitamin B complex is a combination of all the helpful B Vitamins and is sometimes combined with Vitamin C. Going through the withdrawal phase can create excitement in the nervous system. Vitamin B can help balance this system so you feel more relaxed.
Here is how B Vitamins can help with withdrawal:
- Vitamin B1 reduces fatigue. It promotes mental clarity and helps the brain regain orientation. Withdrawal is exhausting and disorients the brain. B1 helps with this.
- Vitamin B2 is known to decrease the severity of migraine headaches. It also calms the hand and leg tremors that usually happen in the first few days.
- Vitamin B3 helps aid the body in flushing toxic chemicals. (You may have never thought of it this way, but opioids are toxic to your body). This vitamin also helps to calm the stress hormones of the adrenal glands, which helps reduce anxiety.
- Vitamin B6 aids in the production of the chemical serotonin, which is one of the brain’s “feel good” chemicals. This helps with depression. Opioid addiction robs your brain of its natural feel good neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 helps reactivate them.
- Vitamin B9 is essential to the overall health of your brain. During withdrawal, your brain is going to be sick. This vitamin helps restore balance and cognitive ability.
You can buy a good Vitamin B-Complex at the grocery store, online, or at a health food store.
Calcium and Magnesium
Taking calcium and magnesium together is recommended as an opioid withdrawal supplement because they help to relax the central nervous system. This soothes twitchy, aching muscles and head-to-toe body aches. You can take these two supplements in pill form. They are available at most grocery stores.
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, also known as GABA, is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps calm over-excited nerves and activate natural pain-blockers. If you are going to detox at home, you definitely want to get some of this stuff.
Without the presence of opioids, your nerves are going to be working overtime. This can lead to excruciating pain throughout your body. GABA helps to block pain and soothe overactive nerves. The best GABA products are bought at vitamin shops or health food stores.
Melatonin is a sleep aid. The brain produces this hormone naturally to induce sleep. However; opioid withdrawal causes insomnia and messes with the brain’s ability to produce this hormone. This can be brutal during the first few days when you want nothing more than to sleep through the detox process. Melatonin is useful for getting the rest you need during what is absolutely a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting experience.
Water and Gatorade
During detox, you want to drink plenty of water and alternate with Gatorade or some kind of electrolyte drink. Your body is going to be very dehydrated during the withdrawal process and you need water and electrolytes to hydrate. Plus, water helps aid the body as it works hard to flush the toxins from your system. It cleanses the liver.
Also, chances are, you are going to be vomiting quite a bit as you get the drugs out of your body. You need to replenish those fluids.
Foods That Help With Opioid Withdrawal
Proper nutrition is essential to the detoxification process. Eating the right foods can have a positive impact on alleviating symptoms. You may not want to eat during the first few days. But, try and force yourself. Eat things that are easy on the stomach but will give you nourishment.
Also, cravings will feel a lot like hunger. Instead of giving into the cravings, fill your body with food that gives it the nutrients it desperately needs.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Low sodium saltine crackers help calm the nausea
- Broth-based soups
- Foods low in saturated fat
- Dark green, leafy vegetables like kale and broccoli help cleanse the liver
- High protein foods help support brain function
- Fruits and veggies that are high in fiber (this will help regulate your bowels)
A Few Words About Kratom
Many people are turning to Kratom as an opioid withdrawal supplement. Don’t do it. It is not regulated by the FDA and it is illegal in a number of states. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the claims that this stuff helps with detox.
Plus, you should know that this substance has led to a number of deaths. Plus, it is addictive. And, there was a recent outbreak of the Salmonella virus in several Kratom products. You may have heard that it is some kind of miracle cure, but the risks far outweigh the potential benefits. You would be better off taking vitamins, eating right, drinking water, and riding out the storm.
It may seem corny, but aromatherapy actually does help relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms. Pleasing smells can affect the brain in a positive way. This helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. You may consider getting some lavender oil to smell when the symptoms feel unbearable or consider burning some incense. You would be amazed at the effect aromatherapy can have on your system when it is distressed.
This is another holistic way to help aid the withdrawal process. If you have never tried meditation before, don’t be intimidated. Learn to meditate. It is really just a simple matter of breathing intentionally and clearing your mind. Believe it or not, meditation can actually help you transcend pain and discomfort. Needless to say, this is highly beneficial during detox.
Want some more natural remedies to help with opioid withdrawal? Check out this article.
OPTION 3: Taper Off Slowly With Medication-Assisted Treatment
If you don’t want to go to a medical detox or take opioid withdrawal supplements, you can always choose to slowly taper off your drug of choice with Medication-Assisted Treatment. MAT works by replacing whatever drug you have been taking with prescriptions like Methadone or Suboxone.
While under the care of a physician, you will slowly reduce the amount of opioid replacement drugs you are taking. This lessens withdrawal symptoms and reduces cravings. While you are tapering, you will also go through some kind of substance abuse treatment (outpatient is an option) and get counseling. This teaches you how to maintain your sobriety in the long run.
The problem with MATs is that they are addictive. You will experience some level of withdrawal as you lower your dosage. You might stay on Methadone, Suboxone, Subutex, or other Medication Assisted Treatments for six months to a year. Many people do not want to do this. They want to kick their habit and get into recovery right away.
If you think MAT might work for you, talk to your doctor about your situation. Explain that you are addicted to opioids and that you want to quit. If they don’t prescribe this medication themselves, they will be able to point you in the right direction.
Opioid Withdrawal – Just Do It!
You may have a sincere desire to stop the madness of your addiction, but you are afraid of going through detox. The problem is, the only way to stop using drugs is to stop using drugs! And, when you quit, you will go through withdrawal. This is the first step on your recovery journey. You cannot get sober without first going through some discomfort. We wish there were another way. But, there is not. (At least not yet!)
The thought of withdrawal can be scary. We get that. But, here’s what’s even more terrifying: spending the rest of your life addicted to opioids or dying from a drug overdose.
If you are ready to give up the drugs, we sincerely hope you will consider going through a medical detox. If you decide to withdraw at home, we wish you the best of luck. If you think you would benefit from MAT, call your doctor. Whatever you decide, do it fast. Every day that you continue to use opioids is another day lost. And, the truth is – it could be your last.