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Opioid Withdrawal

Here at Rehab Recovery, your addiction recovery journey is our number 1 priority. On this page, we will discuss the danger of opioid withdrawals, signs to look out for and treatment you or a loved one can receive.

    Opioid Withdrawal

    Without professional treatment, opioid withdrawal can be very dangerous and even fatal. If you are struggling with opioid addiction, speak to a helpline adviser today by calling Rehab Recovery on 0800 088 66 86.

    Taking the first step can often be the most difficult, but we are here to help.

    From inpatient rehabilitation to outpatient treatment, we can source a local programme best suited to your needs.

    What are opioids?


    Opioids are a substance often prescribed for their painkilling abilities. This also means they are very addictive and cause physical dependency very quickly.

    The term opioid includes opiates such as heroin and opium that are extracted from the poppy seed as well as synthetic and semisynthetic opioids like oxycodone and methadone.

    Examples of prescription opioids include:

    • Morphine
    • Oxycontin
    • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
    • Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen)

    Although prescription painkillers can be very beneficial in treating pain, they have the ability to cause addiction if misused.

    It is estimated that 5.4% of adults in the UK between the ages of 16 to 59 have misused a prescription-only painkiller at some point in their life. Painkiller misuse is more prevalent in younger ages with around 7.2% of 16-to-24-year-olds admitting to misusing a prescription painkiller in the last year. [1]

    What is opioid withdrawal?


    If you suddenly stop or attempt to decrease your opioid consumption, you may experience withdrawal symptoms.

    This often occurs when people stop taking prescription medication after several weeks or if they can no longer access illicit substances such as heroin.

    When you take opioids for a long time, the body goes through changes and becomes very dependent. Withdrawals occur when your body is struggling to process the sudden cessation.

    Opioid withdrawal is typically divided into four categories: mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe. This is determined according to a medical professional.

    The withdrawal symptoms you experience will depend on the severity of your addiction.

    Everyone experiences withdrawals in a different way; however, the most common symptoms of opioid withdrawal are:

    • Anxiety
    • Runny nose
    • Insomnia
    • Sweating
    • Aches and pains
    • Excessive yawning

    After a day or two, the symptoms can become more intense and include:

    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhoea
    • Cramping
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Rapid heart rate
    • Dilated pupils leading to possible blurred vision
    • Goosebumps on the skin that don’t fade

    Withdrawal symptoms, though painful, often improve within 3 days though they can develop further if left untreated.

    The onset of withdrawal symptoms differs depending on the kind of opioid you are addicted to. Heroin is usually eliminated from the body quicker meaning symptoms are likely to begin within 12 hours of the last use.

    With methadone, for example, it can take over a day for symptoms to begin.

    Many studies show that opioid withdrawal symptoms can still show even at 6 months in recovery.

    Babies of those who are addicted to opioids or have abused them whilst pregnant will also likely experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

    • Digestive issues
    • Vomiting
    • Seizures
    • Issues with feeding
    • Dehydration

    How do opioids affect the body?


    Opioids work by attaching themselves to receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. By doing this, they can exert their full effects.

    The brain produces its own opioids which help to decrease pain, prevent anxiety and depression, and lower the respiratory rate of the body.

    However, these opioids are not mass-produced which means that the brain can’t produce enough to help heal the pain of a broken arm, for example.

    The brain can also not produce enough of its own opioids to cause an overdose. This can only be done through recreational drugs or medications that are designed to mimic natural opioids.

    These artificial opioids can affect the body in multiple ways such as:

    • Affecting the brainstem which can lead to breathing problems and excessive coughing
    • Opioids also affect the limbic system of the brain which controls emotions causing feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria
    • Opioids affect the spinal cord and send messages from the brain to other areas of the body ultimately reducing pain

    What causes opioid withdrawals?


    Like with any addictive substance, if you take it for a long enough period, your body builds a tolerance and becomes desensitised to the full effects.

    This means that over a short time, your body will require a higher dosage of the drug for you to feel the effects. This increases the risk of overdose and is very dangerous.

    Continued use of opioids can cause permanent damage to the brain and cause the receptors in the brain to be damaged beyond repair. This can cause you to become dependent on the drug in order to function on a day-to-day basis.

    If you stop taking opioids and find that you feel sick or flu-like, this is most likely a sign that you are physically dependent on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the body reacts to an absence of opioids.

    Often, with opioids, many people don’t even realise they are addicted. This is usually the case with prescription medication where people take a lot to help manage intense pain.

    Because opioid withdrawals initially present in a flu-like way, some individuals just think they are experiencing a common cold.

    What are the treatment options available for opioid withdrawal?


    If you are addicted to opioids, we recommend reaching out to our team. Without medical support, your opioid withdrawal could be very painful and even life-threatening.

    By calling us today, we can help source local treatment in a rehab facility within your local area. Here, you will receive the very best support and can withdraw from opioids safely and in a secure environment.

    Withdrawing within a medical setting can help you to feel a lot more comfortable and leads to greater chances of long-term sobriety.

    In rehab, you can also receive prescription medication to help ease opioid withdrawals. Whilst aspirin and ibuprofen can be useful in mild withdrawal cases, clonidine, methadone, and naltrexone are most commonly used.

    Clonidine belongs to a class of medications known as antihypertensives. It works by blocking certain chemicals in the brain that trigger activity in the nervous system.

    This ultimately reduces uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, runny nose and watery eyes.

    It also helps to calm restlessness and anxiety making the detox process shorter than if you were to attempt to manage it at home without medical supervision. [2]

    Methadone is mainly used to treat heroin dependence and helps to alleviate intense withdrawals such as shaking and flu-like symptoms. Methadone can be used in two ways when stopping heroin consumption:

    1. Maintenance therapy

    This is where you change your heroin consumption to a heroin substitute (in this case, methadone). You will then stay on a stable dose of methadone for the long term.

    2. Detoxification

    This is where you will switch from heroin to methadone before gradually easing all consumption. This means that eventually, you will be from both substances.

    Methadone works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It also blocks the ‘high’ feeling from heroin, morphine, and other opioids like oxycodone. Instead, it provides a similar feeling and keeps withdrawals at bay.

    Naltrexone blocks the effects of opioid medication and is often given as an injection to prevent relapse once a month.

    Naltrexone injections are considered only part of a comprehensive treatment programme as during this time your body will be a lot more sensitive to opioids.

    Continuing to abuse opioids whilst receiving naltrexone injections can lead to overdose and sudden death.

    Whilst these medications can ease opioid withdrawal symptoms, they are not a cure for addiction. Medication is most successful when used simultaneously with inpatient treatment and therapy.

    What is an opioid overdose?


    Opioids affect the brainstem which helps to regulate breathing. If you take too many opioids, mix opioids together or with other substances, or take a high dose, you will be at a very high risk of overdosing.

    The most common signs and symptoms of opioid overdose are:

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Pinpoint pupils
    • Limp body
    • Vomiting or choking noises
    • Clammy skin
    • Pale skin
    • Unconsciousness or struggling to stay awake

    It is estimated that, globally, there are over 500,000 deaths related to drug use every year and more than 70% of these deaths are directly related to opioid misuse.

    In recent years, many countries have experienced an increase in opioid overdose, this has been an especially prevalent social issue within the United States.

    In the US, many drug overdose deaths were related to the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

    Fentanyl is a very strong opioid used as both a pain reliever and an anaesthetic. It is considered around 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.

    What are the risk factors for opioid overdose?

    Some individuals are at a higher risk of opioid overdose, examples are:

    • Those who take opioids intravenously
    • Those who have a diagnosed opioid use disorder
    • Those who have begun to take opioids again after a period of sobriety or abstinence
    • Those who use prescription opioids that are not meant for them
    • Those who take a very high prescription of opioids each day
    • Those who take opioids with alcohol and other substances
    • Those with a diagnosed medical condition such as HIV, a mental health disorder, or liver/lung disease

    Can opioid withdrawal be reversed?


    To help individuals who have overdosed on opioids, the emergency drug Naloxone was created. Naloxone, known by the brand names Prenoxad and Nyxoid in the UK, is a medicine that reverses an opioid overdose very rapidly.

    It does so by attaching to the opioid receptors and reversing the effects.

    The effects of naloxone are not permanent and only last around 20 to 40 minutes, this means it is important to remember to call 999 if you witness an opioid overdose.

    In the UK, Naloxone cannot currently be purchased over the counter and is available via prescription only. Many people are campaigning for it to be more widely available as this would help to save many lives from opioid overdose.

    At the moment, drug services can provide Naloxone, and anyone can use it in emergency circumstances.

    Are there complications with opioid withdrawal?


    If not treated correctly, you are very likely to experience opioid withdrawal complications. The two most common forms of complication are nausea and vomiting.

    Breathing vomit into the lungs can cause very serious issues and can lead to pneumonia.

    Diarrhoea is also a very common symptom and can lead to circulatory problems and a heart attack. This is because the body has lost lots of fluids and electrolytes which leads the heart to act abnormally.

    Replacing fluids after vomiting and diarrhoea can prevent these complications. Even if you only feel nauseous, it is recommended to keep up your fluid intake.

    In conjunction with these withdrawal symptoms, it is likely you will experience joint and muscle aches during this time.

    Again, these challenging withdrawals can be managed effectively by choosing Rehab Recovery.

    Reaching out to Rehab Recovery

    We know better than anyone how hard it can be to reach out for addiction support. Many of the Rehab Recovery team have experienced addiction first-hand and know how difficult it can be to acknowledge your problem and seek help.

    However, we are here for you and can help you overcome your opioid addiction. Opioid withdrawal can be very challenging and painful to combat without professional help.

    For support for both your physical and mental health during this time, call us today on 0800 088 66 86.

    We can talk you through your options for treatment from inpatient rehab to outpatient care. It’s never too late to reach out for assistance.

    Without professional support and medical care, you could experience fatal opioid withdrawal if your physical dependence is already severe. To avoid this, we strongly recommend choosing Rehab Recovery.

    From safe detoxing to a combination of traditional and holistic therapy, the private rehab clinics we work with an offer it all and can help you achieve long-lasting sobriety and a new outlook on life.

    Contact us today.


    [1] Current UK data on opioid misuse

    [2] Clonidine and naltrexone. A safe, effective, and rapid treatment of abrupt withdrawal from methadone therapy


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