DISCLAIMER: Opioid detoxification treatments should only be handled by qualified medical professionals. The information provided below is only meant for educational purposes and should not be substituted for advice from a licensed physician.
Never before now has learning the best methods for coping with opioid detox been so important.
Not only are more people than ever currently addicted to opioids, the proliferation of prescription painkillers has increased the potential for abuse even further. In fact, nearly 4 out of 5 heroin users report that they had previously abused prescription opioids.
Given how widespread the problem is today, educating yourself on the ins and outs of opiate detoxification is crucial to understanding the process, knowing what to expect, and to finding the right kind of support for your opiate tapering and detox symptoms.
Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms: A Comprehensive List
The symptoms of opioid detoxification are sprawling and varied. And while these effects aren’t actually life threatening, many people consider detoxing from opiates to be one of the most unbearable experiences imaginable.
In fact, one of the leading reasons many sufferers of opiate addiction end up relapsing is the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms alone. Many people simply can’t stand them.
But as with any other challenge, the more you know what to expect, the better you’ll fare when it comes time to face the music.
Here are the early opiate detoxification symptoms provided by MedlinePlus:
- Increased Tearing
- Muscle Aches
- Runny Nose
Further into the detox process, new symptoms tend to arise including:
- Goose Bumps
- Abdominal Cramping
- Dilated Pupils
- Rapid Heartbeat
The Opiate Withdrawal Timeline
Like most processes involving the body, the length of time for opiate detoxification is different for everyone. Body size, age, immune health, length of addiction, intensity of opioid abuse, and a host of other factors all contribute to varying opioid detoxification durations.
But for the most part, users will more than likely experience three separate stages of opiate detox, which we’ve outlined below.
1. Acute Withdrawal – This phase typically begins around 6 to 30 hours since the last dose of opioids. It is marked by the early symptoms discussed above (muscle aches, runny nose, agitation, etc.).
The onset time of these symptoms depends on the level of addiction as well as the substance of abuse. Abusing short-acting opioids like heroin will result in a shorter onset while detox from drugs like methadone may start closer to the 30-hour mark.
This phase usually lasts around 72 hours.
2. Long-Term Withdrawal – The second phase brings with it a host of new symptoms including goose bumps, nausea, and vomiting.
This stage is usually referred to as the peak because the prior phase’s symptoms typically become more severe and they overlap with the new symptoms as well. As such, you’ll likely experience the worst day of opiate withdrawal during this phase.
This stage can last anywhere from 4 to 20 days, depending once again on the level of opioid addiction and the substance of abuse.
3. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome – After the physical symptoms of withdrawal subside, opiate addiction sufferers may continue to experience a wide range of psychological disturbances as well. These may include:
- Desensitized Emotions
- Sleep Disturbances
- Lack of Initiative
These symptoms are usually made worse by exposure to stress and may last for months or even years.
Not everyone will experience this stage of detoxing from opiates and a lot of research still needs to be done on the topic. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t yet recognize the disorder at all, even though it’s been reported by many in the recovery community.
The Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale Protocol
The variation of opioid detox experiences makes it difficult to anticipate just how uncomfortable the experience will be. Plus, it can also cause problems for the medical professionals tasked with guiding opioid users through the withdrawal process.
That’s why many doctors use the Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale (or COWS) to help gauge the intensity of a patient’s withdrawal symptoms. This assessment assigns a point value to the severity of eleven different symptoms including restlessness, body aches, and sweating.
At the end of the assessment, the patient’s points are added together and their total places them on a scale of withdrawal severity ranging from mild to severe.
So, the question is, how does the COWS protocol actually help?
First off, it’s one of the best ways for communicating with your doctor exactly how intense your symptoms of opiate detoxification really are. That means they’ll be better able to cater your treatment to your specific needs.
Many doctors also require at least a 5 to 16 COWS score to start Suboxone or Subutex, medications used to reduce the severity of the symptoms. Otherwise, the patient might be launched into a state known as precipitated withdrawal where such symptoms are produced rather than prevented.
How Bad Is Opioid Withdrawal?
The short answer here is: it depends.
Just as the timeline for opiate detoxification depends on a wide range of different factors, so too does the intensity of the symptoms. As such, a single individual’s opioid detox experience can end up being vastly different from someone else’s.
But no matter what level of dependency your body has built up for opioids, the truth is that detoxing is likely going to be an incredibly uncomfortable process. Here are just a few ways people have described it.
“Basically feels like I’m being continuously hit by a train. Like…this is hard to explain. It’s sort of like the moment of impact — the train slamming in to my body at a million miles an hour — being stretched out for 4 – 5 days or however long I’m sick, PLUS, sneezing, yawning, and [soiling] myself at the same time.”
“For me it’s like the world is ending, but on my body… the worst pain I can imagine feels like it’s coming from the bones in my legs… desperate… time slows down to a grueling pace… fire ants climb onto my body and every time my skin is touched in any way the ants bite”
“Shaking violently in fetal position, irritability, feelings of hopelessness… this will never end. Can I die from this? I’m dying someone help… It was like 5 days of a broken leg untreated with pain pills, but all over the body.”
A Quick Disclaimer on Opiate Withdrawal Protocols
Given the hellish descriptions of opioid detoxification, you’re probably wondering what helps with withdrawals from opiates? There are several options available. You can enlist the help of a medical professional, you can buy opiate tapering and detox medications over the counter, you can try alternative therapies, or you can go completely cold turkey.
Not all withdrawal methods are created equally though. And while the market for at-home opioid detox is growing due to the swelling opioid epidemic, the truth is that many of these products simply aren’t actually effective and may actually be dangerous.
The FTC, for example, just slapped Sunrise Nutraceuticals, LLC with a $235,000 fine for making deceptive claims about their at-home opioid withdrawal treatment, Elimidrol.
It’s important to realize, then, that opiate detoxification is an incredibly complicated process. And even if a remedy does subdue certain symptoms, treating withdrawal from opioids effectively takes experience, skill, and medical knowhow.
As such, if you or someone you know is trying to overcome their opioid addiction by detoxing, the absolute best way to ensure success and sobriety is by enlisting the help of a medical professional. And knowing just what to look for when choosing the right center for you is absolutely key.
Opiate Withdrawal Medication to Ease the Symptoms
Many opioid addicts go into the detox process with one major concern: how to quit opiates without withdrawal symptoms. And while it’s true that symptoms vary in severity among different people, completely eliminating such symptoms entirely can be tough.
That being said, there are a variety of medications that can be used to help ease the symptoms. The major players according to health information services giant Healthline are clonidine, Suboxone, and methadone.
Clonidine is a sedative that’s especially instrumental in treating the anxiety, muscle aches, and restlessness that accompany opiate withdrawals.
Suboxone is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. Being a partial opioid agonist itself, the buprenorphine in this medication can help to reduce the uncomfortable effects of opioid withdrawal and the naloxone keeps it from being abused.
Methadone is also a popular treatment option for heavy opiate users and is widely considered to be more powerful (and addictive) than buprenorphine. However, this is still a milder type of opiate that’s not nearly as addictive as substances like heroin, OxyContin and Hydrocodone.
A Few Notes on Opiate Withdrawal Medications
While the use of these medications is scientifically proven to be part of the most effective way of quitting opiates, there are a few things to remember before using them.
First off, all of the above-mentioned substances are prescription only. That means you’ll have to see a licensed physician by entering into a rehab facility before you can start using them to reduce your symptoms.
Second, these medications are part of an approach to addiction treatment called Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). And while using such substances can have a significant effect on the reduction of opioid tapering symptoms, they can also spur on entirely new addictions as well.
Buprenorphine and methadone, for example, can in fact be used to get high and may eventually cause physical dependence and addiction down the line. As such, it’s crucial that anyone being treated with these medications realizes the importance of following the prescriber’s directions 100%.
Failing to do so may end up simply replacing one terrible addiction for another debilitating problem.
Over the Counter Opioid Withdrawal Medications
As your body goes through withdrawals, one of the best ways to help lessen the effects is by giving your body the nutrients it needs to stay strong. That’s why taking certain opiate withdrawal supplements and multivitamins can be instrumental in preventing relapse. Look for supplements with Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, and Magnesium as well as B6.
What’s more, certain over the counter drugs can also be used to treat specific symptoms of opioid detox.
For muscle and body aches (one of the most unbearable effects of opiate tapering and detox), aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen can help ease your pains.
Diarrhea and nausea are two other very common side effects of withdrawal. In fact, many people report that they are actually some of the most inconvenient, especially when trying to figure out how to quit opiates while working a full-time job.
For these problems, frequent use of Imodium and anti-nausea drugs like hydroxyzine can be incredibly helpful.
Tremors can also be quite common during the detox process. Anyone experiencing this side effect in particular may find relief by upping their potassium intake. Seek out potassium rich foods like bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes or find a supplement that nourishes your body with more of this helpful nutrient.
Once again though, be sure to always take these medicines according to the suggested dosages. Taking more than the recommended amounts can lead to a host of medical problems like liver damage, kidney failure, and even heart disease.
The Thomas Recipe – For Opiate Withdrawal
For many people trying to quit at home, the Thomas Recipe is one of the most popular home detox opiate withdrawal remedies. This guide for self-detox from opiates was originally published on online forums for addiction sufferers and has since gained quite a following.
It should be noted before moving on, however, that this recipe is in no way meant to be a definitive guide for opiate detoxing and has not been scientifically evaluated. As such, consult a medical professional before trying this method.
There are six main ingredients to use in the Thomas Recipe:
- A benzodiazepine like Valium, Klonopin, Librium, Ativan, or Xanax
- L-Tyrosine (a health supplement)
- A wide-spectrum mineral supplement that includes the full daily allotment of Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, Magnesium, and Potassium
- Vitamin B6
- A hot bath, Jacuzzi, or hot shower
The Thomas Recipe Process
The multi-vitamin supplement should be used immediately in conjunction with the benzodiazepines to produce sleep.
While you’ll want to take the multi-vitamin throughout the process, you should only take the recommended dosage of the benzo while continuing to taper it off each day. The main goal is to get through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms using the benzodiazepines and then removing them entirely.
Use the Imodium and hot baths throughout to combat the diarrhea and muscle aches respectively.
After the most intense symptoms have subsided (around day 4 or 5, depending on the opiate of abuse) you shouldn’t need the benzodiazepines anymore. Instead, you’ll want to counteract the resulting lethargy and depression with about 2000mgs of L-Tyrosine one hour before breakfast along with the B6.
And finally, try to get as much exercise as you can as soon as possible. It’s a great way to flood your body with natural endorphins and is a healthy habit to help keep you sober after detoxing.
Ensuring You’re in Good Hands During Opioid Withdrawal
While there are a many pros and cons of detoxing from opioids at home, it’s worth remembering that the best means of successfully kicking the habit for good is by checking into an actual rehabilitation center.
There, you’ll be looked after by a dedicated staff and qualified medical professionals that will not only help make the process more comfortable, they’ll also ensure you have the strategies you need to help cope with future cravings and avoid relapse.
The only thing you have to worry about is finding the right program for you and taking the first step towards a cleaner life.