Opiate withdrawals can occur when someone with a long history of using narcotics like heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, Norco, Percocet, methadone, Dilaudid, Opana, and other opiates stops or drastically reduces their consumption. The opiate withdrawals occur because the person’s body has developed a physical dependence on the drug. Due to the increased tolerance associated with most opiates, someone who has been using them for a sustained period of time has had to increase their dosage to either relieve the physical pain they experience or achieve the same euphoric state they are seeking. When the person with an opiate dependence stops taking the drug opiate withdrawals can set in and feel much like a severe flu.
The time it takes for the physical dependence to develop can vary from individual to individual, but it is directly related to the amount of the opiate they have been consuming. Roughly 9% of the population in the United States is believed to have misused opiates in their lifetime. This includes prescription opiates like Vicodin and Oxyconin as well as illicit street drugs like heroin. So opiate withdrawals can happen for people from any segment of society and can include people that have unintentionally become physically dependent while they were being treated for pain in the hospital or another medical setting.
Early symptoms of opiate withdrawals include increased agitation and anxiety as well as other emotional distress resulting in insomnia. Physically, a person can experience muscle and joint pain, sweaty palms, and runny nose. Later on during opiate withdrawals a person may experience abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, and pupil dilation. Most forms of opiate withdrawals will begin 12 hours after the last usage, but for some opiates like methadone the opiate withdrawals won’t begin for as much as 30 hours.
Treatment for opiate withdrawals is focused on reducing or alleviating the symptoms as well as supportive care like counseling or monitoring. The goal of treatment for opiate withdrawals is to make it is more likely that the person going through opiate withdrawals will choose to live drug free as opposed to going back to opiates for relief of the withdrawal symptoms. The treatment protocol for opiate withdrawals could include mild sedatives to reduce anxiety as well as nausea medication, and one of the best solutions to reduce the muscle and joint pain is soaking in hot water-either a hot bath or even a Jacuzzi tub.
Some programs offer rapid detox for opiates which alleviates the pain associated with opiate withdrawals by sedating the person throughout the most difficult withdrawal period. There is no evidence that these programs actually reduce the time spent in opiate withdrawals, and there have been several documented cases of deaths associated with the procedures. One of the most common symptoms of opiate withdrawals is vomiting, and as a result many people under sedation in a rapid opiate detox program have aspirated their vomit. There is a significant risk of death when someone vomits under anesthesia so many drug treatment professionals think the risks far outweigh the benefits. Additionally, without counseling there is no opportunity to reveal the reasons behind a person’s desire to choose opiates over living drug free-if the cause of their dependence was intentional misuse of opiates.
If intentional misuse of opiates was the cause leading up to opiate withdrawals, then ongoing counseling or some other form of drug treatment is highly recommended. Most accidental overdoses occur in people who have recently gone through opiate withdrawals or opiate detox treatment. Because the opiate withdrawals reduce your tolerance to the drug, people that have recently gone through opiate withdrawals can easily overdose on much smaller dose than they are used to taking. So, longer term residential care or attendance at 12 step meetings like NA/AA is generally recommended to reduce the chance of relapse.
While opiate withdrawals from drugs like heroin, Oxycontin, Methadone, and others has some pain and physical discomfort associated with it, prolonged usage of opiates usually has only one outcome-premature death. Seeking help from a professional drug treatment provider can ease the opiate withdrawals and make transition to an opiate free life much more comfortable.