Addiction to opioids such a heroin, morphine, and prescription pain relievers is a problem that affects millions of Americans. For many, seeking help isn’t an option they’ve considered. For others, stopping is a real issue, and the withdrawal process can be difficult to get through.
In fact, when you’re trying to overcome opiate addiction, withdrawal can be a major roadblock. Whether you have been living with an opiate addiction for a long time or were given opiates during a hospital stay for pain, the addiction you’re experiencing is due to a developed dependence—you take the opiate drugs to reduce and fight back against the symptoms of withdrawal. It’s a cycle, and breaking that cycle is not an easy one.
Learning about what you are experiencing and what to expect during opiate withdrawal will lead you to one step closer to overcoming your addiction.
What is an Opiate Addiction?
Have you ever seen the movie Babel, with Brad Pitt? His wife is shot, and they get stranded in a Moroccan village, fighting against all the odds to keep her alive. At one point her pain is so intense that she’s handed opium to smoke.
Or perhaps you are a Game of Thrones fan? How many times have you heard them speak about milk of the poppy when someone is in pain? Opium eases pain. It is also the origin of opiate and opioid drugs.
Why the two different names? An opiate is a natural pain reliever drug derived from opium. An opioid is a pain reliever drug that is synthetic.
Heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl are all names of drugs that aim to reduce pain. In a controlled place, like a hospital, they serve a role and help patients through the pain. The reason why both opioids and opiates become addictive is how they interact with the human body— they make contact with receptors through nerve cells, travel to the brain and nervous system, and the result is a mix of both pleasure and relief from pain.
Now we know the origins of both opioids and opiates, but just how prevalent is opioid abuse?
2.1 million people in the United States were suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin. While close to a quarter of people who try heroin get addicted to it, heroin addicts that seek treatment are in the minority, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reporting only 20% of heroin addicts actively seeking treatment.
From recreational or medicinal reasons— the use of opiate drugs on the rise:
- Between 26.4 million and 36 million are affected worldwide.
- In the United States, 2.1 million people are affected.
- Deaths from prescription pain reliever overdose have quadrupled since 1999.
- Every 25 minutes, one baby is born suffering from opiate withdrawal, a five-fold jump since 2000.
Opiate and opium use in the U.S. is increasing, and so are issues related to its abuse. So much so, that it’s now officially a disorder.
Opioid Use Disorder
Since the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) living with an addiction is no longer referred to as a substance abuse or substance dependence— it’s been replaced by the term disorder, and it now includes information on opioid use disorder.
Diagnosis may range from mild to moderate to severe, and is based on having two of the following within a 12-month period:
- Lack of Control – Using opiates or opioids more or over a longer period than was intended.
- Inability to Stop – Although you may have a desire to stop, you are unable to do so, and continue to use it despite physical, mental, social, or interpersonal problems caused by its use.
- Loss of Time – Losing time to activities related to getting high or recovering from its effects.
- Craving opiates and opioids – Having a strong desire or urge to inject or ingest opioids.
- Inability to Fulfill Obligations – Especially at work or school.
- Loss of Interests – Reduced social and recreational activity due to the use of opioids and opiates.
- Reckless Behavior – Getting high and putting yourself or others at risk for physical danger.
- Tolerance – Many people report just not getting high from opioids or opiates anymore, but still wanting to use it. Or having to use more to get the same high.
- Withdrawal – Symptoms of withdrawal, as listed below.
Opioid and Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal can start 12-30 hours after the last use. In the beginning, you may feel agitated, and anxious. Physically, you may experience muscle aches, insomnia, sweating, a running nose, and excessive yawning along with tearing. Once you get past these initial opioid withdrawal symptoms—which can be confused with the flu— you may experience further symptoms including nausea, abdominal cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, dilated pupils, and goose bumps.
Tips for Dealing With Withdrawal Symptoms
Dealing with withdrawal from opiates and opioids can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Here are four tips and tools to help get you through it:
- Take a warm bath.
- Drink plenty of water to help you flush toxins and avoid dehydration.
- Drink cranberry juice to help purify, cleanse your body, and aid your kidneys.
- Eat yogurt with active cultures to help diarrhea.
- Avoid acidic fruits or spicy foods.
- Drink Gatorade or another rehydration drink to replace electrolytes. You can also create your own drink to hydrate.
- Eat bland foods, like toast, rice, and bananas.
- Use Pepto-Bismol (bismuth).
- Establish a sleep routine.
- Expose yourself to the sun to reconstruct your natural sleep cycle or circadian rhythms.
- Have a support group.
- Have family and friends to talk to about your feelings.
- Know you are not alone.
Get Professional Help
Overcoming an opioid addiction isn’t easy. If you don’t think you can make it through withdrawal on your own, get some professional help. Reach out to our trained staff to see how our individualized treatment programs can help start you on the road to recovery, and provide you with a safe way to detox from opioids.
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“Dramatic Increases in Maternal Opioid Use and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). N.p., 01 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2016. <https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/dramatic-increases-in-maternal-opioid-use-neonatal-abstinence-syndrome>.
“NIH Fact Sheets – Heroin Addiction.” NIH Fact Sheets – Heroin Addiction. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2016.
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“Treating Comorbid Opioid Use Disorder in Chronic Pain.” (2016): n. pag. Web. <http://pcssmat.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/5B-DSM-5-Opioid-Use-Disorder-Diagnostic-Criteria.pdf>.