Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms – What You Need to Know

In this post the doctors at New Life Medical Addiction Services discuss Opioid Withdrawal symptoms

Many people ask the doctors and clinicians at New Life Medical Addiction Services about opioid withdrawal symptoms. In this post we explain what opioid withdrawal symptoms are and how they factor into the decision to quit using these addictive drugs and the treatments that are available.

To begin with, opioids are drugs that are commonly prescribed to treat pain, especially for injuries, surgeries, etc.  The opioid class of drugs includes both opiates, which are drugs made  from opium poppies and include heroin, morphine, opium, and codeine, and synthetic opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone.

The opioids which are most commonly prescribed by a physician include:

Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)
Oxycontin (oxycodone)
Dilaudid (hydromorphone)

Heroin, which is also an opioid, is an illegal drug. Methadone is another opioid that is sometimes prescribed to treat pain but may also be used to treat withdrawal symptoms in people who have become addicted to opioids.

While opioids are very useful in the treatment of pain and in pain management, their misuse can result in physical dependency and addiction. When the pain management is no longer medically needed, many patients have tremendous difficulty in ceasing the use of these drugs.

When someone decreases the amount of the opioid they are taking or stops taking it altogether, they can experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. This is especially true if the patient has been using these medications at high doses for more than a few weeks.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be categorized as mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe. The New Life Team can determine the actual level by evaluating a patient’s opioid use history and symptoms.

How Do Opioids Work?
Opioids attach themselves to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. Whenever opioids attach to these receptors, they have an effect on those systems.

The brain actually manufactures its own opioids. These drive a range of targeted effects, including reducing pain, lowering the respiratory rate, and helping to prevent or alleviate anxiety and depression. However, it is important to recognize that the body doesn’t produce opioids in large enough quantities to suppress major pain. Because of its tight metabolic regulation,  the body never produces opioids in large enough quantities to cause an overdose.  Opioid drugs radically shift this paradigm.

What Are The Causes Of Opioid Withdrawal?
When someone takes an opioid for an extended period of time, their body becomes used to the effects. Over time, their body needs more and more of the drug to achieve the same effect. This phenomenon can be very dangerous and considerably increases a person’s risk of accidental overdose.

Furthermore, prolonged use of these powerful substances changes the way nerve receptors work in the brain, and, over time, they become dependent upon the drug to function.

Many people become dependent on these drugs in order to avoid pain or withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, people don’t even realize that they’ve become dependent, and they may mistake opioid withdrawal symptoms for the flu or another condition.

When someone becomes physically ill after ceasing to take an opioid, it can be an indication that they have developed a physical dependence on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s physical response to the absence of the drug.

What Are The Common Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms?
The opioid withdrawal symptoms someone experiences will depend on the amount of the drug they were regularly using and the amount of time they have been on it. Furthermore, the duration of withdrawal symptoms is determined by multiple factors. Because of this, everyone experiences opioid withdrawal differently. However, there is an average timeline for the progression of symptoms.

The early symptoms typically begin in the first 24 hours after someone stops using the drug. These include:
Muscle Aches & Soreness
Runny Nose
Excessive Sweating

After the first day or so, a range of more significant symptoms can manifest, including:
Elevated Heart Rate
High Blood Pressure
Abdominal Cramping
Vomiting & Nausea
Dilated Pupils
Vision Issues

Although they can be very painful and unpleasant, symptoms usually begin to improve within 72 hours, and within a week a patient should notice a significant decrease in the acute symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

The amount of time a patient’s symptoms last depends on the frequency of use and severity of the addiction, as well as individual factors like overall health.

Some researchers believe that full recovery requires a period of at least 6 months of total abstinence, during which the person may still experience opioid withdrawal symptoms.

How Is Opioid Withdrawal Diagnosed?

To diagnose opioid withdrawal, New Life’s Doctors will perform a physical examination and ask questions about the patient’s symptoms. We may also order urine and blood tests to check for the presence of opioids in the patient’s system. We will also ask questions about past drug use and medical history.

Available Treatments For Opioid Withdrawal
Since opioid withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable, many people continue taking these drugs to avoid unpleasant symptoms, or they try to manage these symptoms on their own. However, medically focused withdrawal treatment in a controlled environment like New Life’s can make a patient much more comfortable and lead to a higher chance of success.

Most mild withdrawal symptoms can be treated with aspirin, acetaminophen, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.

Getting adequate amounts of fluids and rest are important. Other medications such as loperamide (Imodium) can help with diarrhea and hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril) may ease nausea.

Serious opioid withdrawal symptoms may require other medications or even hospitalization. One medication used primarily in the inpatient setting is clonidine. Another is suboxone, which is a combination of a milder opioid (buprenorphine) and an opioid blocker (naloxone) which don’t produce most of the addictive effects of other opioids. If injected, this combination will cause immediate withdrawal, so it is less likely to be misused than other formulations. When taken by mouth, this combination can be used to treat symptoms of withdrawal and can shorten the intensity and length of detoxification from other, more dangerous, opioids.

Methadone is another drug that can be used for long-term maintenance therapy. Methadone is still a powerful opioid, but it can be reduced in a controlled manner that’s less likely to produce intense withdrawal symptoms.

Rapid opioid detoxification is an option, but it is rarely used. It’s done under anesthesia with opioid-blocking drugs, such as naloxone or naltrexone. There’s some evidence that this method decreases symptoms, but it doesn’t necessarily impact the amount of time spent in withdrawal.

What can I expect in the long term?
If you or someone you know has stopped taking a drug and are experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms, it is important to see either a primary care physician or the doctors at New Life Medical Addiction Services. We are conveniently located in Marlton, New Jersey and we are ready to help.

Call us today at: 856-942-3700 or send us a Text Message.

Call Now