What Relief Options are Available For Opiate Withdrawal?
Opiate withdrawal can be uncomfortable, and in some cases, it can lead to serious health complications. As a result, medical detox is needed. Therapies that can help include:
- Nutritional support, through diet and/or vitamin supplements
- Hydrotherapy, including baths and whirlpools
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Anti-nausea medications
- Topical analgesics
- Natural sleep supplements
- Antidiarrheal medications
- Replacement medications, including methadone and buprenorphine
The symptoms of opiate withdrawal ” whether the opiates in question are prescription drugs or heroin ” can be extremely uncomfortable.
Although these symptoms are eased through monitored medical detox programs, they can still make detox frustrating to undertake. According to an article in ACP Hospitalist, the symptoms may include:
- Muscle aches
- Restless leg syndrome
- Runny nose
- Digestive discomfort
- Dilated pupils and tearing
- Goose bumps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Agitation and anxiety
For many of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal, there are a number of tips and tricks that can be used to bring relief from the discomfort and make the detox process easier. In addition, there are some methods of care that can be considered based on how they specifically counter the action of opiates in the brain.
There are also some methods that, while they may promise relief, can cause complications in the recovery process. These should be undertaken under a doctor’s care to provide optimum safety during detox.
Opiate detox should never be attempted without medical supervision. Oftentimes, replacement medications are needed as well as medical intervention to ensure the safety of the individual detoxing. For all opiates, including prescription painkillers and heroin, medical detox is required. An inpatient treatment program that offers medical detox can provide the most effective care to ease the discomfort that comes from opiate withdrawal.
Tips and Tricks for Managing Symptoms
The following are some standard treatments for the symptoms of opiate withdrawal that resemble cold and flu symptoms.
Again, at-home detox for opiates is never recommended; seek medical detox at a professional treatment program to ensure a safe and healthy detox experience.
- Healthy eating and vitamins: During both addiction and withdrawal from opiates, the body can experience a number of nutritional deficiencies. According to a study in the Iranian Journal of Public Health, people who have been addicted to opiates may have deficiencies of calcium and magnesium, which can contribute to muscle pain and spasms. Low potassium is also implicated in restless leg syndrome. Eating light, healthy meals can help improve nutritional balance. For example, eating bananas increases potassium intake.
Taking a multivitamin or supplementing in areas of deficiency can help with recovery and ease symptoms.
- Hydration: The excessive sweating and diarrhea that accompany opiate withdrawal can leave a person dehydrated. Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help prevent the additional discomfort that can be caused by dehydration.
In many cases, using an enhanced hydration beverage, such as sports drinks, can help restore some of the electrolytes that are also lost when a person is dehydrated.
- Hot baths: Many individuals in recovery from opiate addiction report that taking a hot bath is a helpful trick that can improve the experience of some withdrawal symptoms. Muscle aches and pains, headaches, and back pain can be relaxed away by soaking in hot water, and the relaxation can help improve sleep. Epsom salt added to the water aids in soothing sore muscles.
Avoid hot baths during episodes of fever; in this case, a heating pad can be helpful to soothe achy muscles while keeping the rest of the body cool.
- Entertainment: The symptoms of opiate withdrawal can be overwhelming. Distraction can bring a welcome relief from the continued discomfort and frustration of the detox process. In addition, laughter can cause the body to release endorphins that help ease multiple withdrawal symptoms. Funny movies, books, games, and time spent with supportive friends can all provide needed distraction from withdrawal symptoms.
Other Methods of Symptom Relief
The following methods are perhaps not as intuitive as the ones listed above. However, they have value based on the action of opiates in the brain and the body’s natural responses to the treatment methods.
- Exercise: Exercise can help relieve a number of symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Opiate drugs act on the brain through a specific pathway that is normally occupied by some of the body’s natural chemicals ” endorphins. These are the hormones that the body makes when we exercise, which help create a sense of elation, also known as the “runner’s high.”This sense of elation is what makes opiate use so attractive and can lead to addiction.
Because of this connection, when an individual who is struggling with opiate addiction is going through withdrawal, exercise can be a great way to relieve some of the symptoms. For example, in one study from the journal Physiology & Behavior, rats who ran on a wheel were less likely to demonstrate anxious behaviors both during addiction and during withdrawal than rats that remained sedentary.
Exercise may even contribute to a better outcome in opiate detox. As reported in the journal Pharmacological Reports, a study showed that addicted rats that exercised were less likely to dose themselves with heroin that they could access, demonstrating that exercise may help lower the desire or need for heroin.
In addition to these benefits, exercise can help reduce the occurrence of restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Because of these outcomes, exercise in concert with treatment of opiate withdrawal can be extremely beneficial in managing withdrawal symptoms.
- Acupuncture: Some studies seem to demonstrate that acupuncture can help individuals dealing with opiate withdrawal to manage their symptoms and even reduce cravings for the drug. For example, a study in Neuroscience Letters found that opiate-addicted rats that were given acupuncture were less likely to demonstrate morphine-seeking behaviors.
The hypothesis about how this works is that acupuncture affects dopamine release in the brain; this can counter the effects that opium has on dopamine release, helping to lower the body’s desire for opiates.
While some analysis of the research behind acupuncture for opiate use questions the ability of this method to prevent cravings, such as one meta-analysis from Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture is still considered by some to be useful in helping individuals ease the discomfort of individual withdrawal symptoms. It can help individuals relax and feel a diminished level of discomfort from these symptoms, making the detox process easier and more comfortable to manage.
Use of MedicationsThere are many tips and tricks for opiate withdrawal found online that risk complications or the onset of additional addictions if not monitored through professional medical detox. The use of over-the-counter medications is often recommended; however, medications should only be used as part of a controlled, reputable treatment program when advised by a doctor.
Some of the symptoms of opiate withdrawal are common and can be helped through medications that can be obtained over the counter.
For example, diarrhea that sometimes occurs with opiate withdrawal can be eased using a non-prescription diarrhea medication, such as loperamide (found in brand names like Imodium AD). Other nonprescription medications and supplements for opiate withdrawal symptoms that could be taken under the care of a professional treatment program include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin
- Anti-nausea formulations like Pepto Bismol
- Topical analgesics such as Ben Gay or Tiger Balm
- Natural sleep supplements such as melatonin or Valerian root
Because any over-the-counter medication has the potential to interact with other drugs, a doctor can help to make sure that the individual is avoiding anything that might interfere with other medicines that are prescribed to address the addiction.
Detox Program Support
The experienced doctors and therapists who provide professional treatment for opiate detox understand the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms and can advise further helpful tips and tricks to aid with opiate withdrawal.
Using these methods in concert with a managed, compassionate, and professional treatment program can help ensure that recovery from opiate addiction is less uncomfortable and ultimately more successful.