Home Remedies for Opiate Withdrawal

Written by Christine Case-Lo | Published on July 21, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on July 21, 2014

Opiate Abuse and Withdrawal

More than 12 million people in the United States reported using prescription painkillers for non-medical use in 2010. Prescription painkillers, also known as opioid pain relievers, include oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and others.

Many people who abuse these painkillers become dependent. Some even move on to abusing illegal narcotics, such as heroin.

If you stop using opiates after becoming dependent, you’ll likely experience extremely uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. In fact, many people continue abusing drugs in order to avoid the difficult symptoms that come with detoxification.

Though opiate withdrawal is not normally life threatening, the process can lead to difficult symptoms. Some effects of withdrawal can even cause serious health complications. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms may also depend on your level of dependence.

Going through withdrawal is challenging. But breaking your dependence is a vital first step in living a healthier life.

How Does Withdrawal Work?

If you use opiates for an extended period of time, your body becomes desensitized to the drug. You’ll need more of it to feel its effects.

Extended use of opiates changes the structure of nerve cells in your brain. These cells will begin to need the drug just to function properly. But when you stop using opiates abruptly, your body will react, leading to symptoms of withdrawal.

Opiate withdrawal occurs in two phases. The first includes a number of symptoms, such as:

  • muscle aches
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • tearing eyes
  • runny nose
  • excessive sweating
  • sleeplessness
  • excessive yawning 

The second phase is marked by:

Theses initial phases can be followed by long-term withdrawal symptoms. Long-term symptoms are often less physical in nature and may involve emotional or behavioral issues.

Finding Support

It can be dangerous to go through withdrawal alone. Seek help from your doctor or other medical professionals.

Detox facilities can monitor your health and make the process safe and more effective. A care facility can provide a personalized treatment plan. Medical professionals provide important monitoring and can treat you if you have extreme side effects or if you experience dangerous complications. A facility will also work to ensure that your recovery lasts. 

A detox facility can provide medications to help ease the withdrawal process. You may find that medications like clonidine can diminish some of your symptoms. Librium is sometimes used to diminish significant agitation. Chloral hydrate or trazadone might be used to help you sleep. If you go through withdrawal without treatment, you won’t have access to these valuable resources.

Food and drink may seem repulsive during severe withdrawal. This can lead to dehydration and other complications. In such cases, going through withdrawal at home may be impossible and medical intervention is required.

At-Home Options

When you’re dependent on opiates, your body is used to having them in your system. Your body might also build up a tolerance to many of the drug’s side effects, like dryness and constipation. Stopping taking opiates may cause a strong reaction.

If you try to go through withdrawal on your own, you’ll need to be prepared. Try to slowly taper off opiates before you go off completely. This might limit the intensity of your withdrawal. However, given the compulsive nature of addiction, most people find self-regulated tapering to be impossible, often leading to a full relapse into addiction.

Dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea is common and could lead to serious health complications.. Many people end up in the hospital with dehydration when they’re going through withdrawal. Drinking plenty of hydrating fluids during withdrawal is very important Electrolyte solutions, such as Pedialyte, may help keep you hydrated.

Over-the-Counter Help

Using the correct doses of over-the-counter medications can help. Consider loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea. If you’re experiencing nausea, you might try medications like meclizine (Antivert or Bonine) or dimenhydrinate (Dramamine). You can also try antihistamines like Benadryl. Aches and pains that seem to crop up everywhere can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or NSAIDS like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil).

Withdrawal symptoms can last for days to weeks. If you have a couple weeks’ worth of medications, you can avoid the need to go out for more. But be careful not to use these medications in amounts greater than the recommended dose. If the regular dose isn’t helping, make sure to discuss the issue with your doctor.

Alternative Support

Though there isn’t much evidence regarding the use of vitamins and supplements in treating the effects of opioid withdrawal, some studies investigated complementary medicine, such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

In the case of acupuncture, the reported studies demonstrated reduced withdrawal symptoms when combined with certain medicines. The report of studies on Chinese herbal medications found that the herbs were actually more effective at managing withdrawal symptoms than clonidine was.

Stay Comfortable and Safe

People who have gone through withdrawal recommend trying to stay as comfortable as possible. Keep your mind occupied with movies, books, or other distractions. Make sure you have soft blankets, a fan, and extra sheets. You may need to change your bedding due to excessive sweating. 

Make sure a friend or family member knows that you plan on attempting the withdrawal process. Beyond support, you’ll need someone to check on you. Be cautious of “recipes” and anecdotal stories described in online forums. None of them have gone through rigorous testing for safety or efficacy.

It’s important to keep your mind occupied and engaged. Try to do things you enjoy to increase your body’s endorphins. This can improve your chances for long-term success.

Treat yourself to some chocolate. Get outdoors and exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block. Whether you’re in a treatment program or battling withdrawal on your own, be positive and believe that you can overcome your dependence on opiates.

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