Chronic pain is a major public health issue in the United States today. To deal with it, many doctors prescribe opiates and opioid-based medications. Many people feel their lives improve because these medications help them go about their daily lives as they used to before pain became a daily obstacle.
Opioid painkillers were supposed to be the ultimate answer to an important problem.
Unfortunately, for some people, their prescriptions are the problem, leading them down a spiraling path to addiction.
As the negative effects of opiate abuse pile up, a person might try to quit using them however they can. They may even consider detoxing from opioids at home if that is the only option they think they have. Quitting opioids is not like stopping the use of an over-the-counter drug, however. Medical detox is always recommended to safely stop opiate use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says 21 percent to 29 percent of people who get prescriptions for opioids misuse them. More worrisome is that up to 80 percent of people who use heroin misused opioids first.
Public health, medical, and addiction experts now say the excess prescription of painkillers has led to today’s opioid crisis. To give you the big picture, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says 11.5 million people misused opioid painkillers in 2016. Some prescription painkillers that were misused are:
People can become tolerant of or dependent on opioids regardless of how they come across them. When this happens, it is easier to misuse opioids to satisfy the physical need for them. Abuse can quickly escalate, rapidly leading to addiction.
According to the Mayo Clinic, using opioids in any manner can quickly lead to dependence. Opiates trigger the release of endorphins, the natural way your body makes you feel good. Once the opioids wear off, you start to crave this sense of well-being.
If you keep taking opioids, your body will stop producing its own natural supply of endorphins because the drug will be doing this job on your brain’s behalf. This is dependency, but it does not mean you are addicted.
As your body continues to change because it is now used to opiates, you will eventually stop deriving as much pleasure from the same dosage as before. This is called tolerance.
The repeated use of a drug changes the reward circuit in the brain. A person may think it is fine to seek out a drug even if it poses financial, professional or personal challenges. Other people may want to quit using opiates, but they may not be able to do so without professional help. The compulsion to keep taking the drug overtakes their desire to quit.
If someone decides they want to stop taking these drugs, they must be careful because suddenly stopping opiates can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. The safest way to detox from opiates is with medical assistance. Most often, this can be done as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program.
Withdrawal is the body’s way of balancing itself out after a person with physical dependence stops taking a drug suddenly. The mildness or severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how long a person has been taking opiates, the dosage they have been taking, and various other personal factors.
Opiate withdrawal symptoms, such as those listed below, can be very uncomfortable:
Research from the University of New South Wales, Sydney says withdrawal can be lethal in some cases. Those who vomit or get diarrhea can become dehydrated. This could lead to a rise in sodium levels in the blood, which might cause heart failure.
If you decide you are going to detox at home, you will have the best chances of success if you prepare. Again, professional medical detox is always recommended for opiate withdrawal, as detoxing at home can lead to various health complications.
In addition, relapse is very likely for those who attempt to detox without medical assistance. Due to the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, people often return to opiate use, and overdose is a possibility.
If you opt to detox at home regardless, make sure you have a support system in place. A friend or loved one should monitor you during the entire process, so they can call 911 if any complications arise. They can also call for emergency help if you insist on taking opiates to make the withdrawal symptoms dissipate.
Talk to your physician before you attempt to stop taking opioids. They are in the best position to help you detox safely. Physicians can also help you find a treatment center or program that works for your goals.
If you aren’t abusing opiates, but a physical dependence has formed with legitimate use, your physician can set you up on a tapering schedule. You’ll slowly reduce your dosage over time to safely wean off the medication. During this time, your physician may work with you to identify alternative pain management techniques.
After getting medical approval, you may opt to detox at home despite recommendations against it. There are some methods you can use to reduce the severity of symptoms. Registered nurse Rachel Nall offers many suggestions to Medical News Today that can help those who face withdrawal at home.
Take over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce fevers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). Cold compresses from washcloths soaked in cold water can reduce high temperatures. Taking cool showers or baths can also help. Some people experience chills instead of a fever. It is best to dress in several layers of cotton or another type of fabric that absorbs sweat. The layers can be removed as you start feeling better.
People who suddenly quit using opiates start to crave them. It is important to resist these urges to use, but it’s incredibly hard to do without support. While a medical detox program will have staff on hand to help, you should at least have friends and family around to support you if you opt to detox at home. Engage in other activities to distract from cravings. Listen to music, go for a walk, or work on a craft or other hobby.
Negative thoughts will inevitably arise during detox, particularly when withdrawal symptoms are at their worst. Acknowledge these thoughts and remind yourself of why you are quitting use of opiates. Again, ask a friend to help keep you accountable and motivated.
Many over-the-counter and prescription methods can help you deal with gastrointestinal issues during withdrawal. Imodium is an OTC medication used to treat diarrhea, and it can be found easily at most drugstores. Zofran is a prescription medication that reduces feelings of nausea and alleviates pain. In addition, eat bland foods and soups that are easy on the stomach. Avoid processed or fatty food. Stay hydrated to replace electrolytes lost due to vomiting or diarrhea. Pedialyte is a good electrolyte source. Sports drinks also have electrolytes, but they are not recommended because they have a lot of sugar, which could worsen diarrhea.
If you decide to detox from opiates at home, have someone with you who is prepared to call 911 immediately if needed.
Medical detox is not the same as addiction treatment. You will still need addiction treatment at a facility after undergoing detox if you have been abusing opiates.
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