Medications for Opiate Withdrawal

Unmanaged opiate withdrawal can be a significant obstacle to receiving treatment for and recovering from opiate addiction. Opiate withdrawal refers to the symptoms and side effects that occur when someone stops using opiates after developing a physical dependence on them.

Physical dependence isn’t necessarily the same as addiction. When someone is physically dependent on opiates, their body has become accustomed to the presence of opiates. When they stop using those opiates suddenly, their body tries to readjust, which causes opioid withdrawal symptoms. Psychological addiction describes a chronic disease in which someone’s drug use is compulsive and out of their control. Dependence can occur with or without an opioid addiction.

To begin inpatient or outpatient opioid addiction treatment, a person must first go through opiate detox. Once all the drugs are removed from a person’s system, that person can begin treatment. During a medical detox, there are certain prescription and over-the-counter medications that can be provided. These medications achieve three primary goals: they address drug cravings, alleviate physical withdrawal symptoms and help manage psychological opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxing from opiates usually isn’t deadly, but it is often painful and uncomfortable. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches and pains, intense drug cravings, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Symptoms are often severe for people who have used large amounts of opioids over extended periods. During a medical detox, patients who are dependent on opioids can receive the medications that are right for them in a safe and comfortable environment. Personalized, professional detox is the best way to increase the chances of making it through detox successfully and to reduce the likelihood of a relapse. One medication used for opiate withdrawal is Catapres.

What Is Catapres?

Catapres is a brand-name prescription medication. While it is often referred to by the generic name clonidine, it is also available under the brand name Kapvay. The FDA approves the medication for the treatment of high blood pressure. In some cases, it is also used to treat other conditions, including ADHD symptoms. Catapres is believed to decrease heart rate and relax blood vessels, which allows blood to flow more efficiently and deliver oxygen to the body’s systems.

Many primary uses of Catapres are off-label, which means the FDA hasn’t approved Catapres for these uses, but doctors frequently prescribe it for reasons outside of what is FDA-approved. Some of the main off-label uses of Catapres include treating restless leg syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and hot flashes. Prescribing Catapres for opiate withdrawal is another common off-label use.

Why Is Catapres Used for Opiate Withdrawal?

Prescribing Catapres for opiate withdrawal may be helpful in several different ways. Unlike many other medications used for opioid withdrawal that can themselves be addictive, Catapres is not an opioid agonist, which means that Catapres doesn’t activate opiate receptors at all.

Taking Catapres for opiate withdrawal is also believed to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Catapres is thought to act on certain nerves in the brain to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety or changes in mood. Catapres can also reduce impulsivity and increase attention and focus, which can help reduce mental drug cravings.

While Catapres does have benefits for the opiate withdrawal process, it can’t help with all withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms not aided by the use of Catapres include insomnia, muscle aches and physical cravings for opioids. The medication also comes with a number of adverse side effects, including low blood pressure, drowsiness, fatigue, dry mouth and headache.

In many cases, a person will take Catapres for opiate withdrawal in conjunction with other medications to manage symptoms holistically. It’s important to never take Catapres or any other detox medication without a prescription from a doctor. After completing detox, one can then enter a treatment program.

A supervised detox program is the best way to go through opiate or opioid withdrawal. During supervised detox, a team of medical professionals can track important vitals like fluid levels and heart rate. Doctors can also prescribe the right medications to mitigate symptoms. Medical detox can also reduce the risk of complications and relapse.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opiates, reach out to The Recovery Village. We can walk you through exactly what to expect in detox and treatment. We can also answer specific questions as you work toward recovery.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.