“I’m going to be a father in less than a month and want to be clean when my baby girl gets here. I’ve taken opiates on and off for about 6 years now and have been addicted for 2 this October. My daily dose usually consists of 180 mg. Oxy or 20-25 lortabs, whichever is available. Sometimes dilaudid but thats rare. I’ve never injected (thank god) and usually just crush and swallow the pills on an empty stomach. sometimes I’ll pop a 2 mg. Xanax with it but not too often.
Is there anything I can do to make withdrawals less intense? I’m not expecting a miracle but would like to be able to function. THANKS In advance.”
Hi Sean! First, the good news: opiate withdrawal is rarely fatal. The bad news? It can make you wish you were dead. Gastrointestinal upset, pain, anxiety and insomnia are just part of what makes opiate withdrawal notoriously difficult, both mentally and physically. Fortunately, there are ways you can ease the individual symptoms to make the journey easier.
ACUTE PHASE: Weeks 1 and 2
The acute phase is primarily physical, with symptoms attacking virtually every body system. I’ve broken it down into individual symptoms to simplify things a bit.
Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Imodium (loperamide) is a godsend for patients in opiate withdrawal. It belongs to the opiate family and resembles Demerol in structure, though it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier to cause intoxication. It works by slowing peristaltic contractions in the intestines that cause diarrhea, cramping and other unpleasant symptoms. GET SOME NOW.
Ginger and peppermint tea are great remedies for nausea. These natural but highly effective nausea aides are safe and effective for most everyone. If they fail, dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or another antihistamine may provide relief. If vomiting and diarrhea are present, an electrolyte replacement drink like Pedialyte or Gatorade can help prevent dehydration.
Anxiety/Insomnia: Benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium can be helpful, but are available by prescription only and carry a risk of addiction if abused. Use with caution. Kava, valerian root and passionflower are excellent benzo substitutes that work in a similar manner to produce muscle relaxation and mental tranquility. The National Institutes of Health states that passionflower is an effective adjunctive treatment for opiate withdrawal when taken with the prescription drug Clonidine.
Joint and Muscle Pain: Avoid using other opiates to treat pain, as this will only lead to a new addiction. Instead, accept that some pain is to be expected and take OTC painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen at night to relieve acute pain and fever. Warm baths, heating pads and other forms of heat therapy can relax tense muscles and provide temporary relief.
POST-ACUTE PHASE: Weeks 3-5 and on
The physical hell of acute withdrawals are over. Congratulations. Depression, boredom and emotional instability are now the biggest challenges you’ll face, along with the occasional longing for opiates to relieve these symptoms. Here are some tips for regaining balance in the mind, body and soul after kicking:
*Exercise daily. Not obsessively or religiously, but regularly. Strenuous exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, which act as the brain’s internal opiate. (The word “Endorphin” is derived from “Endo,” meaning internal, and “Morphine”). Exercise is also a great outlet for frustration and stress and can be helpful in boosting mood and self-esteem, according to Mayo Clinic. Bike riding, swimming, jogging and team sports are a great place to start.
*Go outdoors. Breathe in the fresh air and soak up the sunlight. Sunlight is needed for the production of serotonin—the brain’s primary mood regulator. While direct sun exposure can be dangerous, 5 to 10 minutes daily is okay for most people. Anything beyond that requires sunscreen.
*Eat right. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats is a great way to support a body and mind that are recovering from addiction. Diets high in fat, sugar and artificial ingredients like MSG have been linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety, so skip the Big Mac and soda and reach for a flame-grilled chicken breast, whole grain bagel and green tea instead.
*Laugh. This one is self-explanatory. Watch your favorite comedy, reminisce with old friends or run through the sprinkler in your swim trunks–anything to awaken your child-like spirit.
*Work hard, play hard. Immerse yourself in a job or project that makes you feel proud and motivated. Not all rewards are instantaneous, but hard work DOES pay off. At the end of each week or month, reward yourself with fun drug-free outings, small purchases or other fun indulgences.
National Institutes of Health: