Preparing for the Worst: 7 Need-to-Know Withdrawal Symptoms for Opioid Consumers and Solutions

Opiates or Opioid drugs are used to treat pain, especially when a patient may be experience prolonged periods of intense pain. You may be familiar with one of these kinds of drugs after you’ve undergone surgery, like having a wisdom tooth or teeth removed. One medication commonly given after a wisdom tooth removal is Vicodin, which is an opioid drug.

While these drugs have their place in maintaining a patient’s comfort during periods of intense pain, they are also prone to causing physical dependence and possibly substance abuse if the dependence is not addressed. This tends to happen when a patient uses these drugs over a prolonged period of time. Over time, drug tolerance can take place, the drug starts to lose its effect at a current dose, and the patient needs to take more to relieve themselves of pain. This is when the physical dependence happens. When the patient finally stops taking the drug, the patient goes into the withdrawal stage. During this stage, withdrawal symptoms will manifest. These symptoms can take a short time or a long time to subside, so it is best to be prepared.

1. Agitation

A patient may present symptoms of increased agitation. They may be easily irritated, quick to anger, or even confused. States of agitation don’t necessarily need a trigger. The patient can experience it suddenly as well as over the course of time. While the patient is dealing with any residual pain, agitation will be expected to occur. If you suspect that the patient’s agitation is turning to delirium, check with a health care provider immediately as it is a medical issue.

2. Anxiety

Patients going through withdrawal may experience increased anxiety. They may exhibit an increased tendency to worry or panic. It will be easy for the patient to become stressed during this time, and it can arise either suddenly or happen over the course of time.

3. Insomnia

Those going through withdrawal may experience insomnia. When this occurs, a person undergoing withdrawal may have trouble sleeping at night, waking too early, exhibiting signs of depression, and having trouble focusing or paying attention.

4. A runny Nose, Increased Tearing, and Sweating

While these may normally sound like flu or cold-like symptoms, if the patient is not feeling sick but is exhibiting these symptoms, it is likely due to withdrawal. Other flu-like symptoms include muscle aches.

5. Abdominal Cramping

Patients in withdrawal may experience painful cramps in their abdominal area. This is one of the late-stage symptoms of withdrawal, and while the patient may complain of discomfort, it is not life-threatening.

6. Diarrhea

Along with cramping, there may be occurrences of diarrhea. Again, if the patient is not actually sick with the flu or cold, it is likely part of the withdrawal symptoms and will subside once the withdrawal has ended. This is another late-stage symptom and should be taken as a sign that recovery is in sight. Withdrawal symptoms will feel worse before they get better.

7. Nausea and Vomiting

During the late stage of withdrawal, the patient may experience periods of nausea and bouts of vomiting.

While these are not life-threatening on their own, it is wise to be wary of possible aspiration of stomach contents into the lungs. This can cause dangerous lung infections. The vomiting and the previously mentioned diarrhea can also cause dehydration and chemical imbalances in the body. Measures should be taken to ensure that the patient is well-hydrated and is okay after vomiting.

Solutions and Treatment

Trying to make it through withdrawal alone and without assistance can be incredibly hard. It can also become very dangerous for the patient if he or she ends up falling back on opioids in an attempt to dispel the symptoms of withdrawal. That’s when it becomes substance addiction and the patient will require immediate intervention.

When getting treatment for withdrawal, the patient may be given medication as well as counselling. But perhaps one of the most important pillars of treatment will be the personal support that the patient gets from friends and family, for they will be the ones that will help oversee recovery at home.

There are a variety of medications that may be prescribed to help with withdrawal. Methadone is one that helps relieve symptoms while also assisting with detox. It works as a good long-term medication for opioid dependence and can be decreased over time as the symptoms begin to subside. It can take a long while for symptoms to completely disappear, however. Sometimes, it takes years for methadone to bring a patient to full recovery.

Buprenorphine is another treatment for withdrawal and can even shorten the length of the detox process. This may also be used as a long-term medication for opioid dependence like methadone. When combined with another medication like Naloxone, it can help prevent dependence and misuse.

Clonidine helps fight the symptoms of anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping. These are all symptoms that happen mostly in the early stages of withdrawal. It is important to note that this drug does not reduce any symptoms of cravings.

Naltrexone is used to help prevent relapse. Preventing relapse is just as important as recovery from withdrawal, as a person returning to opioid dependency or abuse can set that person back to square one.

There are various detox programs out there that can assist a patient in recovering from opioid use and withdrawal, such as the Waismann Method. Be sure to research into these programs before making a decision or suggesting one for you, a loved one, or a patient that’s going through this.

In Closing

Whether this involves you, a loved one, or just someone you know, even after detox, other forms of long-term treatment may be needed to ensure that relapse does not happen. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery enable individuals to find meetings and gain the support of a community of others recovering or who have recovered. And of course, the best kind of support will be the support and encouragement that you can give to that person. Or if it’s yourself that’s recovering, the family and friends you choose to keep around you.