Opioid Withdrawal

Navigating Opioid Withdrawal: Understanding the Journey to Recovery

Opioids, a class of narcotic drugs, encompass both legally prescribed substances like Vicodin and illegal drugs such as heroin. Categorized into three types—opiates, semi-synthetics, and fully synthetics—these substances pose a significant threat to public health.

The Opioid Epidemic: A Gripping Reality

The United States grapples with an alarming epidemic of opioid addiction. In 2016, approximately 2 million Americans battled addiction to prescription painkillers, while an additional 591,000 faced the scourge of heroin addiction. Over the last two decades, opioid overdose-related deaths have quadrupled, claiming almost 450,000 lives between 1999 and 2018. The inception of many addictions often ties back to legitimate medical reasons, such as surgery, injury, cancer, or chronic conditions, leading to the prescription of opioids. In 2017 alone, over 191 million opiate prescriptions were issued, with common drugs including methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

How Opioids Affect the Body

Opioids, naturally produced by the brain, interact with receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. They serve various functions, from influencing emotions to reducing pain. Due to the inherent risk of addiction, physicians exercise caution, resorting to opioids only for severe pain cases. However, the potency of opioids, while blocking pain effectively, elevates the risk of overdose.

Overdosing on Opiates

Opiates, as depressants affecting the central nervous system, slow down heart rate and breathing. Excessive intake can lead to respiratory failure. Beyond overdosing, opiates induce unpleasant side effects like constipation, nausea, drowsiness, and memory issues. Additionally, between 8% and 12% of opioid users may develop an addiction, exacerbating the gravity of the crisis.

Unmasking Opioid Addiction: Recognizing the Signs

Identifying opioid addiction necessitates recognizing key signs, including persistent cravings, changes in sleep habits, drowsiness, weight loss, decreased libido, social withdrawal, hygiene neglect, flu-like symptoms, and financial troubles. Individuals addicted to opioids struggle to abstain from usage, manifesting these signs in their daily lives.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal: A Progressive Timeline

Given the physical dependency many opioid users develop, ceasing usage triggers withdrawal symptoms. Prolonged use causes the body to adjust, requiring larger doses for the same effect. Withdrawal symptoms emerge when users abruptly stop, with the severity influenced by usage duration and dosage. The withdrawal process unfolds in a typical timeline:

First 24 Hours:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Aches and pains
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Chills and sweats
  • Sleeplessness
  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent yawning

After 24 Hours:

  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Goosebumps and chills
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blurry vision

After 72 Hours:

  • Conditions begin to improve
  • A sharp decrease in withdrawal symptoms by the end of the week

Timeline Variability: Factors Influencing Withdrawal

The duration of withdrawal varies based on the drug’s half-life and individual habits. Heavy, frequent users experience more severe symptoms than those with lighter, shorter-term use. Gradual tapering off, rather than sudden cessation, is advisable, often with medical supervision. Some specialists believe true clarity is achieved after at least six months of abstinence.

Complications of Opioid Withdrawal

Withdrawal entails unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramps, joint pain, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure. Severe cases may lead to complications like aspiration pneumonia from vomiting, dehydration from diarrhea, and cardiovascular issues.

Treatment Approaches for Withdrawal

Medical support is crucial during withdrawal, whether from prescription opioids or illegal substances like heroin. For mild cases, outpatient care, guided by a physician, may suffice, involving OTC drugs, rest, and fluids. Moderate to severe cases may require hospitalization, with medications like clonidine used to alleviate symptoms. Additional medications such as diazepam, hydroxyzine, loperamide, dicyclomine, naltrexone, and Suboxone may be employed based on the severity of withdrawal.

Seeking Help for Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals fearing withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing opioids should consult their doctor for a tailored plan. For those in the New England area requiring intensive care, The Granite House, a residential drug rehab facility, caters to both men and women over 18. The experienced team, including licensed clinicians, designs individual treatment plans, combining a 12-step curriculum with holistic approaches. From physical detoxification to emotional healing, The Granite House equips clients with tools for sustained recovery, offering a supportive community, nutritious meals, and a comprehensive continuum of care. Clients leave with renewed hope and strategies to conquer addiction, marking the beginning of a transformative journey.