What Is Opiate Withdrawal?
Opiate is a term technically referring to naturally-derived opioids, such as morphine. Opiates in the strictest sense come from poppy plants, and they are then turned into medical pain relievers. Opium, a recreational drug, is also an opiate. Opioid refers to a synthetic or semi-synthetic drug that replicates the chemical structure of an opiate. Opioids include prescription pain relievers like hydrocodone and oxycodone, as well as semi-synthetic heroin.
For the most part, the term opioid is used to cover both naturally-derived and manmade opioids. All of these drugs bind to opioid receptors in the central nervous system. When they do this, opioids change how the person taking it senses pain and how pain signals are sent to the brain. There are other effects as well, many of which are negative. For example, opiates and opioids are considered highly addictive. They can cause constipation, nausea, vomiting and respiratory depression. Respiratory depression can be fatal.
Along with psychological addiction, prescription opioids can also lead to physical dependence. With physical dependence, a person’s body and brain are dependent on the presence of the substance. When a dependent person tries to stop using the substance, they go through what’s called withdrawal. Opiate withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and difficult to go through. Opiate withdrawal is an essential part of eventually making a successful recovery from addiction. Even when someone doesn’t misuse opiates or opioids, and only uses them as prescribed, they can become dependent.
The earliest signs of opiate withdrawal include anxiety, agitation, runny nose, sweating, insomnia, aches and pains. As someone goes into the later stages of opiate withdrawal, the symptoms can evolve. Later symptoms include cramping, diarrhea, goose bumps, nausea, and vomiting. Opiate withdrawal doesn’t usually become deadly, but it is physically and mentally uncomfortable. For most people who misuse these drugs, opiate withdrawal begins within about 12 hours after the last dose.
Various medications can be used on an inpatient or outpatient basis to help people go through opiate withdrawal. Two examples are methadone and buprenorphine, both of which have effects similar to opioids. These medications can help reduce or shorten symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Clonidine is a medicine that can help with the physical and psychological effects of opiate withdrawal, such as reducing anxiety and cramping. Clonidine doesn’t reduce opiate cravings. Naltrexone is a useful medication to prevent relapse, and it can be given as a tablet or an injection.
If someone uses Xanax and then ends up relapsing on opioids, the combination can be deadly. Opioids and benzodiazepines used together can and often does lead to fatal respiratory depression because both slow the central nervous system. Also, Xanax is highly addictive just like opiates. If someone is regularly using Xanax to help them get through opiate withdrawal, they may replace one addiction with another. For someone who becomes dependent on Xanax, withdrawal can be even more severe than it is with opiates and opioids. It would be rare that a medical professional would advise the use of Xanax for opiate withdrawal. No one should ever try to self-medicate during opiate withdrawal either, because it can be deadly.
To learn more about medically-supervised detox, and what options are available as you go through opiate withdrawal and treatment, contact The Recovery Village. We offer different types of programs and options that can help you or your loved one recover from physical and psychological dependence to opiates.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.