Opioid withdrawal can be one of the most difficult things a person will do in their lifetime. Many people who hear about addiction to prescription opioids underestimate the difficulty of stopping the drug and trying to live a normal life. The first problem is the physical side effects and symptoms of withdrawal, especially if the person with an addiction tries to go “cold turkey” and give up immediately, rather than gradually reduce their dosage and wean themselves off the drug.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms
Opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable for some people. They will usually manifest as intense flu-like symptoms that can last for days or even weeks. During this period of time, it’s very tempting to end the suffering by just going back on the opioids, so real commitment is involved in trying to give up.
The symptoms will be more intense if the person tries to go cold turkey. In this case, the symptoms of opioid withdrawal include the following:
• Restlessness, often in the legs
• Difficulty sleeping
• Muscle aches
• Bone pain
• Cold sweats and shivering
• Nausea and vomiting
To avoid withdrawal symptoms, it is best not to stop the medication cold turkey. Working with a doctor can help people concerned with addiction find alternatives, and the best ways to wean themselves off of the painkiller.
A structured program of decreasing the dosage over a period of 3 months to a year might work best, depending on how long they have been addicted and how much they are taking. During that time, support through a recovery program or support groups (including peer support) can be helpful.
In some cases, rehab is not successful, for a number of reasons. The person might not see their addiction as a problem (yet), but have been pressured into trying to end their addiction by (well-meaning) friends and loved ones who want their “normal” person back again.
In other cases, they are in rehab because they have hit rock bottom, meaning they have a greater struggle to recover and live a life free from opioids. They might have damaged relationships, lost their jobs, gotten into trouble with the law, and so on.
They might have gone so low they feel like a “loser,” and someone who is weak and pathetic to have gotten hooked on a drug. This is of course not the case. As we have said, opioids are so powerful they can actually remodel the brain and becoming habit-forming in as few as 3 days.
Rehab requires real effort on the part of the recovering addict, and it is not always a straight line from addiction to recovery because in addition to the pain that probably caused them to start taking the medications, (and the condition might still be present and therefore still have to be treated in some way), there might be other underlying issues as well.
In addition to the physical dependence, there is also psychological dependence. The person fears they will not be able to manage without the drug, especially in reference to chronic pain. In these cases, exploring natural pain relief options can help. Dealing with the various fears through counselling such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), also known as “talk therapy” can also help.
Therapy can also help a person regain their sense of self-esteem and control over their own lives.
They might also believe they can only get well and stay well if they take a pill, a common thought amongst many people, who often pressure doctors into giving them prescriptions even though they might not be of any use (a situation which has also resulted in the growing problem of antibiotic overuse).
They might also be in denial about their addiction. Most people think of a “drug addict” as looking and acting a certain way, while they seem to be functioning well and practicing good self-care.
However, taking them off the drug will show a very different picture, one that some addicts are not prepared to face.
• Long-term symptoms
• Even after an addict has recovered from opioids addiction, they might still experience one or more of the following symptoms for some time after they have given up:
• Constant tiredness, even after resting
• Poor sleep habits
• Trouble with decision-making