What Are Opioids?
Opioids are developed derivatives of opium, which originate from the poppy plant. Opioids are a broad class of drugs typically prescribed to manage moderate to extreme pain symptoms. The term narcotics is used to discuss both opioids and opiates.
Examples of opioid drugs include:
- Oxycontin (Oxycodone)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)
- Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
What Causes Opioid Withdrawal?
Over time, your body becomes less sensitive to the effects of opioids. This tolerance causes the body to need larger doses of the drug to achieve the same effect, and it can increase the risk of overdose and death. After a while, your brain thinks it is functioning normally while on the drug, and will function abnormally when they are absent from your system.
Many people become dependent on the drug to avoid the pain of withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to not even realize that you have become dependent on the drug and mistake withdrawal symptoms for the flu or other condition.
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Even people taking opioids as prescribed can experience building a tolerance to them. About 24 percent of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, because individuals develop their tolerance at different rates it is hard to tell which withdrawal symptoms will occur when they stop taking the drug.
For those that become dependent, when going through withdrawal a condition known as acute opiate withdrawal is frequently experienced. This condition occurs are a result of lowering doses drastically or stopping completely. It occurs because without opioids in the system the brain goes through a large dopamine (happy hormone) deficiency.
Signs And Symptoms Of Withdrawal From Opioids
While there are many factors that can help identify opioid withdrawal, the following are the five more common symptoms:
- Flu like symptoms
- Agitation & Anxiety
- Depressive/dysphoric state
- Excessive sweating
Runny nose, body aches, and diarrhea are all common flu-like symptoms felt during withdrawal from opioids. When the body is deprived of opioids it causes a chemical imbalance.
This imbalance leads to multiple body systems, including the immune system, to function abnormally.
2. Agitation & Anxiety
This is also thought to occur due to the chemical imbalance in the brain. The lack of opioids leaves the brain wanting more dopamine release and no way to get it.
These symptoms are thought to be dependent on how strong a tolerance a person has developed. The higher the dose that was accustomed to the longer the fall will be during the withdrawal process. This can cause extreme mood swings which then trigger the onset of anxiety in someone detoxing from opioids.
Insomnia is thought to occur more due to the pain of withdrawing from the medication than anything else. It is devastating to the body though, because it can amplify the other symptoms that are present.
4. Depressive/Dysphoric State
These symptoms are also a result of the chemical imbalance in the brain when opioids are removed. The lack of dopamine, compared to the amount the body now considers to be normal, wreaks havoc on the mood center of the pain. It can cause extreme sadness or dissatisfaction in a person experiencing withdrawal.
5. Excessive Sweating
This often occurs in people withdrawing from opioids. As the body tries to remain in homeostasis with the brain, it is affected by the chemical change as well. The body can sweat during all hours of the night, which can contribute to poor sleep too.
Other opioid withdrawal symptoms to be aware of include:
- Increased heart-rate/ blood pressure
- Goosebumps on the skin
- Dilated pupils
Opioid Withdrawal Timeline
The average person could experience the above symptoms somewhere between 12 and 30 hours after the last dose of drugs. In most cases, these symptoms are experienced for four to 10 days. However, if withdrawing from an extended-release opioid, symptoms can last up to 21 days or even longer.
It is not always true that withdrawal symptoms end there though. After the acute symptoms disappear, there can be extended withdrawal symptoms or post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).
This recovery can last for months at a time and include symptoms like:
- Depression and anxiety
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Mood swings and diminished decision-making skills
Treatment For Opioid Addiction
Tolerance, dependence, and addiction can all lead to experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is a different experience for each individual and depends greatly on the exact substance and the level of its use. Because this has become such a widespread epidemic, there are currently a wide variety of treatments.
These include medication-assisted withdrawal using smaller and smaller doses of extended release opioid derivatives such as methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone).
Opioid addiction can also include the use behavioral therapies such as:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – therapy based on the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about the substance and its effects on the individual.
- Motivational interviewing – Is used to find what would motivate a person to change and go through recovery.
- Contingency management – provides tangible rewards for remaining drug-free, and recovery-oriented to disway further use of the drug.
- Family therapy – works to educate family members regarding substance and use issues and improve relationships with the individual in recovery and their family.
Each therapy has its focus, but they all aim to assist the person going through treatment of this addiction to get their lives back.
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If you would like to find out more about possible symptoms of opioid withdrawal and treatment for opioid addiction, contact us today. One of our specialists is standing by 24/7 to assist you in finding the treatment that is best for you or your loved one.