Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal

Most opiates are drugs prescribed as pain medications. Also called narcotics, these drugs are naturally derived from opium. Opioids are synthetically made to replicate opiates. Natural opiates include morphine, while synthetic and semi-synthetic prescription opioids include oxycodone and hydrocodone. The term “opiod” is also used as an umbrella term to describe the class of drugs containing both substances derived from the poppy plant and synthetic materials made to replicate them. Opiates and opioids have received a tremendous amount of negative attention in recent years. Throughout the 90s and into the 2000s, these drugs were often overprescribed. The result has been a surge in opioid abuse, addiction and overdoses.

Dependence and addiction are two of the most troubling and damaging side effects of opiate and opioid use, prescription or otherwise. Dependence can occur with or without addiction. Opioid dependence is a physical condition, while opioid addiction is a psychological disease. Physical dependence to opiates and opioids can develop in a short period of time. The body starts to depend on the presence of opioids quickly. When someone is dependent and tries to stop misusing opioids, they experience physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms are referred to as withdrawal.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

There are varying stages of opioid and opiate withdrawal, which occur as the drugs leave an individual’s system. Opioid withdrawal isn’t typically deadly, but it’s usually highly uncomfortable. The severity and length of opiate withdrawal depend on how often opiates were used, the type of opiates used and the overall health of the person using them.

The earliest stages of opiate and opioid withdrawal begin anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the last dose of the drug is taken. This varies based on the specific opioid. For example, heroin withdrawal symptoms start much faster than methadone withdrawal symptoms. During the initial stages of opiate withdrawal, a person will typically experience anxiety, irritability, aches and pains, drowsiness, sleep disturbances and sweating. A few days after the last dose, symptoms become worse and can include chills, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. For some people, symptoms of opiate withdrawal can last weeks or even months. This tends to be the case with psychological symptoms. For example, anxiety, depression and sleep problems can linger long after physical symptoms have subsided.

Opiate Withdrawal Treatment

For people to begin an opioid addiction treatment program, they have to completely abstain from or rid their body of toxic or unhealthy substances. Unfortunately, because of the discomfort during withdrawal, many people have a recurrence of use, also known as a relapse. Some treatments can be given during withdrawal to help ease symptoms. Medications include clonidine, naltrexone, methadone, buprenorphine and buprenorphine/naloxone. These are medications that can not just ease symptoms of withdrawal but can also curb cravings and reduce the risk of drug misuse.

Along with prescription medications, a program to assist an individual to abstain from or rid their body of toxic or unhealthy substances may include supplements and vitamins. One specific option is L-tyrosine for opiate withdrawal. L-tyrosine is an amino acid classified as a natural stimulant. It’s often referred to as a nootropic as well. Currently, L-tyrosine is not FDA approved. L-tyrosine may improve focus, reduce stress and support healthy brain chemistry, even under difficult situations. L-tyrosine for opiate withdrawal may also be helpful in encouraging the brain to start producing more dopamine.

Increased dopamine production is important because, during withdrawal, the brain is depleted of dopamine and struggles to produce it on its own. A lack of dopamine contributes to the psychological symptoms of opiate withdrawal, like depression. Along with L-tyrosine, other possibly beneficial supplements include Vitamin B6, magnesium and potassium.  Individuals who misuse opioids tend to have low levels of these vitamins and minerals. However, it’s important that people consult with their doctor before adding these supplements into their diet, as they can cause extreme side effects during withdrawal.

While L-tyrosine may help improve opioid withdrawal symptoms, doing an at-home cleanse to rid the body of drugs isn’t recommended. At-home opioid and opiate cleanses can be difficult and often increase the risks of a recurrence of misuse or other negative side effects. If someone is not successful with the cleanse, this can also increase the chances they will suffer an overdose. However, supplements and vitamins like L-tyrosine may be given safely in a medical facility with trained, experienced staff.

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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.