Coping with Opiate Withdrawal

Coping with Opiate Withdrawal

Coping with Opiate Withdrawal

Withdrawal can be a tough obstacle in overcoming opiate addiction. According to Medline Plus, about 9 percent of Americans abuse opiates at some point during their lives. Unfortunately, many people addicted to opiates cannot stop. Some refuse to get help, while others find the withdrawal process too difficult to overcome. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that only 20 percent of heroin addicts actively seek treatment.

Overcoming this type of drug addiction is not impossible. The fact is that you can cope with opiate withdrawal. Learning about the process is key to knowing what to expect. Your doctor will recommend measures for long-term success.

Treating Opiate Addiction

Heroin addiction is just one facet of opiate abuse. Other forms of opiate addiction can include the abuse of:

  • codeine
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • oxycodone

These types of drugs are typically used as prescription medications to treat pain. But long-term use can lead to dependence. If your body gets used to the drug, you can start to have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. People addicted to opiates keep taking the drugs to stop these symptoms. The danger is that many users take increased doses, and will go to great lengths to obtain the drugs illegally.

The only way to stop opiate addiction is to stop taking the drug. The withdrawal process is inevitable. Not taking opiates can lead to withdrawal since your body’s used to them. There is no one single treatment method to detox from opiates. You will be monitored closely by a team of medical professional who will help alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms Vary by Stage

You’ll experience withdrawal symptoms as opiates leave your system. During the early stages of withdrawal, you may experience:

  • anxiety and irritability
  • muscle pain
  • body aches
  • tiredness and insomnia
  • sweating

During the final stages of withdrawal, early symptoms can increase in severity. You may also have new symptoms like:

  • chills
  • stomachaches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea

How Long Do Symptoms Last?

People addicted to opiates go through different withdrawal stages during detox. The amount of time depends on the severity of the addiction, as well as individual factors. Your overall health can play a factor in recovery. The amount of time your symptoms last depends on your last opiate use, as well as the frequency and severity of patterns of use. It can also vary by opiate type. According to Medline Plus, you might feel uncomfortable 12 hours after using heroin, and 30 hours after abusing methadone. The first week of treatment is the worst. Be prepared for some symptoms to last several weeks.

Some specialists point out that recovery requires at least a period of six months of total abstinence during which the person may still experience symptoms of withdrawal. This is sometimes referred to as "protracted abstinence." It is important to discuss ongoing symptoms with your health care provider.  

Treating Withdrawal

Certain treatment methods can decrease the length and severity of symptoms to ease the opiate withdrawal process. Your doctor may suggest medications like:

  • clonidine hydrochloride to treat common symptoms
  • naltrexone to reverse and treat heroin overdose
  • naloxone to reduce symptoms
  • anesthesia for quick detox

Your doctor may also prescribe buprenorphine to prevent relapse after detox. It’s sometimes combined with naloxone during treatment. In severe cases of methadone addiction, a physician may prescribe the drug and gradually decrease the dosage over time to reduce dependence naturally.

Support is key to coping with opiate withdrawal. While family and friends can help, you may consider professional assistance as well. Support groups and individual counseling are some options.

Potential Risks During Treatment

The overall benefits of opiate withdrawal certainly outweigh any risks. Overcoming drug addiction will decrease your risk of premature death. Still, it’s important to understand the few risks involved:

  • excessive vomiting, accompanied by dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • loss of electrolytes
  • aspiration (breathing in vomit)
  • lung infections from aspiration


Opiate withdrawal can be painful. Many addicts quit before the process runs its course. Abusing opiates soon after attempting to quit increases your risk of death as your tolerance to the drug decreases with periods of abstinence. Sometimes, when people experience a relapse, they attempt to resume use by using the same amount of the drug they had previously used prior to quitting (the amount that they needed to achieve the desired affect).

As difficult as it is, withdrawal itself is generally not life threatening, but should be medically supervised to assure safety as there have been case reports of seizure during the withdrawal process. 

Some people addicted to opiates also have trouble with the law. The NIDA estimates that 200,000 heroin addicts go through correctional facilities every year. Withdrawal is just one step in the opiate recovery process. Set up a plan for long-term success after opiate withdrawal. This can include support groups, as well as mental health treatment.

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