The current opioid epidemic in the U.S. makes it more important than ever to understand the basics of what opioids are, how an individual can get addicted to them, and what treatment methods are most effective.
Opioids are a group of drugs that consist of synthetic and natural painkillers that come from the poppy plant. Doctors prescribe these type of drugs to patients that are in chronic or intense pain to help reduce or alleviate that pain.
Often, these medications are prescribed after surgery, a tooth extraction, or chronic pain associated with illness or disease. However, opioids are highly addictive.
Common opioids are:
Though opioids do a good job at relieving pain, it’s easy to develop a tolerance for the medication. This means that in order to get the same pain relief, someone must take more of the drug to get the same effect. As a result of the increase, some people go on to become addicted to opioids.
Additionally, there are illegal opioids, such as heroin, that people get addicted to as well. Once addicted, many find it challenging to stop using because the withdrawal symptoms can be quite intense.
Going through opioid withdrawal can be daunting – so much so that the fear of enduring the symptoms keeps some people from trying to get off of them at all. However, the withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening in and of themselves. It will be intense and uncomfortable, but it’s not usually dangerous unless other drugs are being used. Then, the danger level increases.
Here are some of the more common opioid withdrawal symptoms:
The amount of time someone will go through withdrawal from opioids will vary from person to person. However, this is a general timeline to review:
The first two to three days of withdrawal will be the worst symptom-wise. If you’re coming off short-acting opiates, symptoms may start about 12 hours after the last dose. If you’re using long-acting opiates, symptoms may start within 30 hours of the last dose. Early symptoms may include:
At the height of withdrawal, more daunting symptoms can occur, such as:
When you hit day four, you should have already experienced the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. However, you’re still not out of the woods. At this time, you may still feel tired and have some digestive issues. You may not have an appetite or have a tough time keeping food down. Take heart, though, because each day you should be feeling better.
When you’re nearing one week free from opioids, you’ve gotten past the roughest patch. Still, some opioid withdrawal symptoms may linger. This post-acute withdrawal phase can last upward of one to two years. While the physical symptoms may have subsided, it’s the mental or emotional symptoms that can be troubling long-term. Things like anxiety, difficulty sleeping, cravings, and depression may set in, as well as increased sensitivity to pain. Continued recovery treatment can help minimize or alleviate such symptoms.
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There are various factors that contribute to the length of time an individual will experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. Some of these include:
Someone who has been abusing an opioid for a long time may have to endure worse symptoms than someone who’s been abusing them a short time.
For example, those who have used opioids long-term may experience the brunt of withdrawal symptoms for four to five days, while short-term users may feel some relief after three days.
Detoxing from opioids help your body get rid of the toxins associated with whatever opioid was being abused. The brain can become quite addicted to opioids, and they create changes in certain parts of the brain that re-wire those circuits that have to do with moods and rewards. The brain gets used to the dopamine boost and the relaxed feeling associated with the drugs.
So, when the brain isn’t feeling that “high”, relaxed feeling anymore, it becomes confused and anxious, but that’s only temporary. Once the body eliminates the toxins, the brain, and the body even out, leaving the person feeling much better.
The first step toward freedom is to get through the detox withdrawal symptoms. It’s important to get the actual opioids out of the body. Undergoing detox can occur at a detox center or an inpatient treatment center that offers detox services. There you will be able to receive medication that can help decrease the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms.
Due to the unique challenges in dealing with opioid addiction, and because of the increased risk of accidental overdose, opioid addiction treatment that offers medication and continuing care is important. There are inpatient and outpatient treatment centers available to help with opioid treatment.
For heavy users, inpatient rehab is recommended. You will have 24/7 medical monitoring. You may also receive mental health counseling, attend a support group or family sessions, receive nutritious meals, and create a relapse prevention plan. If chronic pain is an issue, a pain management plan will be formulated to help contend with any lingering pain. The length of time at the facility will vary depending on different factors but could be anywhere from one to twelve months.
Intensive outpatient treatment is another option, which is similar to inpatient treatment, except you won’t be living at the center. Rather, you’ll live at home and attend sessions ranging from once a day to a few times a week. You will receive much of the same treatment as an inpatient center, with the exception that you won’t have around-the-clock monitoring. The length of time one may attend outpatient treatment ranges from a couple of months to a year or more.
Regardless of what type of treatment center you choose, you may be given maintenance medication to assist with the harshest of the withdrawal symptoms. Common medications include:
These medicines act a lot as the opioids do on the body, except the person doesn’t feel that euphoric feeling that they would on the other opioids. Such medication oftentimes helps users get off the harsher opioids, and eventually, they’ll be weaned off the substitute medications as well.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, know that treatment is available. You do not have to live enslaved to opioids any longer. You may hesitate to reach out for help out of fear, but know that professionals have been trained and are more than willing to assist you in getting free from addiction.
You can learn to live once again without having to rely on opioids. With qualified substance abuse professionals, a willing heart, and a strong supportive network, you can break this cycle of detox and relapse. Please, reach out today and give us a call. We’d love to discuss your treatment options and help you get on the road to recovery, and of course, freedom.
NIDA. Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2019, Febrary 26) Opioid Addiction. Retrieved from https://familydoctor.org/condition/opioid-addiction/
healthline. (2019, July 12) Withdrawing from Opiates and Opioids. Case-Lo, C. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal
WebMD. (2020, August 8) Opioid Addiction Treatment. Casarella, J. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/breaking-an-addiction-to-painkillers-treatment-overvew
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience. (2007 December) Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Kleber, H., MD Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202507/