Withdrawal From Drug Addiction

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If you’re considering withdrawal from addiction to an opioid (also called opiate) drug — a prescription painkiller such as oxycodone or illegal narcotics such as heroin — you probably know that you have a difficult time ahead. But you may not know how much help for drug withdrawal is out there, ready when you are to help you achieve your goal.

You’ll find important information here to start you on your way.

Note: When the word “drug” appears in this article, it means an opioid drug.

What Causes Drug Withdrawal Symptoms?

Using opioids over a long period of time changes how the nerve cells in your brain work. They start needing the drug just to do their normal tasks, and when they stop getting it, especially “cold turkey,” they trigger the symptoms of withdrawal.

How Uncomfortable Are Drug Withdrawal Symptoms?

Drug withdrawal generally isn’t life-threatening, but becoming drug addicted does set you up for possibly very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. It’s good to know about and prepare for them ahead of time, so you’re less tempted to give up and backslide into your addiction.

Drug Withdrawal: Phase 1. During the first 24 hours or so, you can expect to experience the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Tearing eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Excessive yawning 
  • Excessive sweating

Drug Withdrawal: Phase 2. As you continue your withdrawal, you’ll likely experience:

  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dilated pupils (and possibly blurred vision)

No question, you’ll be uncomfortable during this time. But don't give up!

Your symptoms should start to improve after about 72 hours — and you can look forward to feeling much better, close to your normal self, after about a week.

Drug Withdrawal: Phase 3. As you “settle in” to your withdrawal experience, you may also experience some long-term withdrawal symptoms or, more properly, withdrawal issues, since they tend to be expressed by emotions and behaviors.

Main Withdrawal Methods

First, understand that successful drug withdrawal starts with support. You shouldn’t be alone in your struggle, which can be dangerous if an emergency arises.

Detoxification (“Detox”) Facilities. Here’s where you can get all the support you need, not only for your drug withdrawal but also for your general health. In a detox facility, you’re:

  • Safe, with trained people around to take care of you
  • Following a personalized treatment plan
  • Monitored by medical professionals and given treatment when needed for symptoms or complications
  • Helped to follow a healthy daily routine, including staying hydrated and eating properly
  • Provided with constant encouragement along with help planning how you’ll continue your recovery when you leave the facility

At-Home Withdrawal. For some people, drug withdrawal at a detox facility isn’t the first choice because of, for example, real or imagined loss of social status, inconvenience, financial problems, or fears about the level of comfort (or even about the other patients).

If that sounds like you or someone close to you, withdrawal at home may be an option, as long as you’re not alone and you keep handy 1) your doctor’s contact information (including an out-of-office phone number) and 2) the numbers of friends, family members, and other healthcare professionals you may need to reach quickly. Of course, don’t forget 911 in an emergency.

Here are some tips for withdrawing from drug addiction at home:

Stock up on foods and beverages you like — especially beverages. It’s very important not to let yourself become dehydrated during this time. If you do, you could end up in the hospital. Of course, drink plenty of water. You might also consider electrolyte-replacing drinks, such as Gatorade or even Pedialyte.

You can also use over-the-counter (OTC) medications and products to help you cope with your symptoms. These include:

  • Loperamide (Imodium) for diarrhea (which contributes to dehydration)
  • Meclizine (Bonine or Antivert) or dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) for nausea
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or an NSAID such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for relief from muscle pain

Just be sure to take these products only as directed and never more than the recommended dose. If they aren’t doing enough to relieve your symptoms, contact your doctor.

What Else Should I Know?

Do everything you can to feel safe and comfortable. Have lots of enjoyable distractions around, such as movies, books, and video games; a fan for if you start sweating a lot; and extra bedding, for the same reason. If you’re alone in your home or apartment, make sure that someone close to you knows you’re starting the withdrawal process and that he or she will check on you at least once a day.

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  • Case-Lo C. “Home remedies for opiate withdrawal.” Healthline.Com (2014).
  • Case-Lo C. “Opiate withdrawal.” Healthline.Com (2015).